There’s a lot to worry about in the world these days and I’m a worrier, so I’m finding that my plate is quite full most of the time. I try to give each worry-worthy bit its own segment of the day but I’m running out of pie pieces to distribute as the list of necessary bits gets longer and longer. So I’ve decided to do something different to assuage my anxiety. I’ve decided to start thinking about the things I don’t need to worry about. Between that and a strong cup of tea, I figure I should be well on my way to earning myself a piece of real pie sometime soon.
It’s also Kindergarten open-house season right now as parents visit their preferred schools to try and decide where the best place will be for their little ones. It can be a confusing time and parents often have a lot of questions. One of the ones I heard most often on those nights, and still hear from parents of young children, is “How will you teach my child to read?” or its variation “When will she/he learn to read?”
The older and more experienced I get, the more this question falls into the category of “things-not-to-worry-about”. Now, I’m not suggesting that children don’t sometimes need adult help learning to read… some do. I’m just not adding it to my list of things to worry about. I’m also leaving off teaching children colours, numbers, shapes… all the usual “content” of kindergarten day plans.
My own observations as a teacher and a parent tell me that three things really matter in learning all this critical content: people, books, and materials. When children are exposed to adults who care about them, interesting books, and materials rich in possibility, they will, almost always, learn all of this content through questioning, listening, play, and observation. Very little, if any of it, will need to be explicitly taught.
My own daughter had almost no interest in print during her first year of Kindergarten. This year she can’t get enough of it. She is constantly asking how to write new words, she is finding familiar words in books, and she wants us to scaffold for her as we read aloud: “Which word is ‘six’ Mommy? Oh, that looks almost like ‘dix’ and they rhyme!”
I’ve observed the same pattern in child after child. The little boy whose only interest for the whole first year of Kindergarten was marble runs is reading independently halfway through his second year. The little boy who was so shy that he would hardly speak through two years of kindergarten is plowing through books and reading them aloud in grade 1. It happens. It happens all the time.
One of my children walked at 17 months, the other learned to walk in the Hong Kong airport just days after her first birthday (I was wishing for a few extra days of non-mobility, frankly). No one suggested remedial walking lessons for the first child. And yet, we expect reading to happen for children in a predictable way. We, parents of the latte generation, want our children reading based on our timeline and we get anxious if little Bailey isn’t exactly as precocious in learning his letters and numbers as small Sadie down the street.
Please, take it off your list. They’re going to get it – keep reading to them, show them that reading is something you love and they will love it too. Read for pleasure; there’s no better motivation for learning. Pretty soon you might find yourself wishing you had a few more weeks of iliteracy to luxuriate in, believe me… I’m stuck monitoring a complex points scheme that my children invented… apparently you get 300 points for pooping your pants and only 10 points for not whining. If you need me, I’ll be in the laundry room.