In today’s modern world, there are two primary challenges that parents may face: (1) an increasingly accelerated school curriculum that puts pressure on children to learn fast and (2) a one-size-fits-all assembly education process based on age, rather than ability.
How soon is too soon?
There is no one correct answer for this since every child is different, but the skills that contribute to literacy later on begins developing as soon as a child is born. As they learn to communicate and are exposed to books for the first time, they are already reaching key developmental milestones for reading.
Naturally, parents will purchase early readers, educational toys and even introduce audio books and videos from a very young age — simply because we want the best start for our children’s education. However, the question to reflect upon is whether we are introducing literacy to them in a way that is appropriate for their young minds.
It’s not as simple as teaching them to recognise printed words, or reading them a bedtime story at night. It’s also about how you introduce words to them, whether they merely memorise the word or are able to fully comprehend its meaning.
When parents focus on teaching their children how to read, they often overlook a more critical objective — the one that helps to put their children on a path of lifelong reading success, which is teaching them to love reading.
Is your child reading to memorise or understand?
The human brain develops fastest from the time a child is born until the age of three years. During this period, children build their basic language skills so rapidly that it’s considered by many researchers to be one of the most impressive cognitive feats that a human brain can perform! By three years old, children who have been adequately and appropriately exposed to literacy, would have mastered the foundations of language. Both quantity and quality of exposure matter here.
Daniel Willingham, an author and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia has written extensively on how comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge. He maintains that if we start to teach children how to “decode” or phonetically read words when they are 5 or 6 years old, then they won’t learn comprehension till they enter primary school. It will be too late.
According to Willingham, “Reading and comprehension are not the same thing. There are times when you can read content out loud but not understand what you’re reading.” Proper literacy involves more than just reading – you also need comprehension and communication skills, ideally verbal and written. Otherwise, when primary school commences and texts become much more complex, comprehension will become even more challenging, and our children will struggle.
What’s the best way to get children to love reading?
Young children, even in infancy, will pick up skills that contribute to a stronger reading ability. While parents may not be as trained as teachers to teach children how to read, what we can do is to teach our kids pre-reading skills that promote readiness to read.
Ultimately, to teach children to love reading, parents must love to read themselves. Studies have shown that parents who view reading as fun, raise children who read better than parents who view reading as an academic skill.
Children will take a longer time to develop reading skills unless parents familiarise them with books at home. The more engaged parents are in their child’s early years education, the quicker fluent literacy will develop when the child does start reading longer texts.
What are some of the activities I can do with my child at home?
At this young age, it’s more important to show your toddler how much fun books, stories, songs and rhymes are. This is wonderful preparation for them to learn how to read and write.
Engage your toddler in discussion about the books and stories you’ve read together. Use different voices for different characters and encourage them to join in. When the story is complete, ask your little one what their favourite part was, and why. Then what part did they not like, and why. Singing lots of songs and nursery rhymes will help your toddler identify and hear the sounds in words. Drawing their attention to letters and sounds will help them become more aware of them, which is an important step in learning phonics.
Teach them the most important reading readiness skill.
Phonemic awareness is the best predictor of future reading success so this is also important for parents to understand before expecting a child to learn to read. It consists of a child’s understanding of rhyme and individual sounds in language.
That’s actually one of the key components of a child’s learning journey in GUG Preschool. GUG stands out as the only preschool in the world providing more than 270 curriculum-companion English and Chinese books! This is because we take early literacy development seriously and do what’s needed to help your child successfully meet the high expectations of Singapore’s education system. Our curriculum includes the award-winning Zoophonics, Smart Phonics Storybooks and Creative Readers & Writers workbooks – all designed with Gifted Education strategies to help your child achieve early reading and creative writing abilities. Our treasure trove of 200 English phonics readers and workbooks for N1 to K2 students were developed with expertise by our founder Deanne Chong-Duffield, a Master of Education in both Early Childhood Curriculum and Gifted Education.
Teaching children phonics actually promotes optimal growth without missing out on the playful rhymes and story drama, strong reading and writing skills and confident show-and-tell segments. Our innovative methods ensure that learning to read by phonics is not only appropriate for children as young as 18 months old, but will engage them in a fun and lively manner while importantly nurturing a love for reading. What children will gain goes way beyond the ability to decipher words on a page!
Prominent studies in UK, US and Australia conclusively show that how well children learn to read affects directly not only how successful they are in school but how well they do throughout their lives. When children learn to read, they have the key that opens the door to all the knowledge of the world. Without this key, many children are left behind.