Read for Fun at Home (a.k.a. How to fight formal reading instruction in kindergarten)
I have a little secret for you.
Neither of the girls pictured above read when they were in kindergarten.
In fact, neither of them were truly fluent readers until the end of first grade. They both had excellent kindergarten and first grade teachers. Our school is one of the highest ranking public elementary schools in the state. I hold masters degrees in speech-language pathology and reading education. We are a family of book lovers. And neither of the girls read on their own until the end of first grade.
And now, if they have a spare moment, you know what they do?
You guessed it. They read.
There are any number of reasons for this. Good luck might be one of them. And the fact that neither girl has a learning disability. I attest, though, that one of the main reasons the girls are readers is that from the start and through to the end of their ‘learning to read’ process, my girls associated reading with happiness.
Both girls heard stories and nursery rhymes read aloud from birth. I would spend hours of those quiet early days reading. When the girls were a bit older, they were surrounded by piles of books as they played on their floor. There were times when books were used as blocks or as teething toys more than things to be read but books were there all the same. When the girls began to work on the art of reading, I supported what was going on in the classrooms, but more than that, we kept reading as a family. At that point, that meant a lot of reading aloud. When the girls were struggling through decoding work, I never let that be their ‘reading’ time for the day. I wanted them to understand that time was work and reading was, well reading. This way, reading was always something fun.
Now I am so grateful that I did rush the reading process and I am even more grateful that their school did not. I have not truly entered the Common Core debate here. Our district is fully implementing the CCSS and it’s associated testing this year for the first time so I taking these months to form my opinion on the topic.
That said when I read a piece in the Washington Post last week titled, “Requiring kindergartners to read- as Common Core doe- may harm some.” I knew I had to chime in on this topic.
The article summarizes a report commissioned by the groups, Defending the Early Years and Allicance for Childhood that states,
“Under the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) the snowball has escalated into an avalanche which threatens to destroy appropriate and effective approaches to early education. The kindergarten standards, in use in over 40 states, place huge emphasis on print literacy and state bluntly, by the end of kindergarten, children are to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”
Now, in all fairness, I am not certain how our kindergarten and first grade standards were written when my girls were younger. It is possible that we had similar standards but that we also had teachers who were able to appropriately interpret how to implement those standards in reality. It is possible that there are still classrooms where teachers are making wise decisions regarding their own individual little people but I attest that it is most likely getting harder to make those decisions.
I shudder when I imagine what might have happened to the girls as readers if they were forced to read in kindergarten. While it is tempting as I think about all of this to crawl under a blanket and never come out, I think instead that there an important message for me to share.
As parents, we play an enormous role in raising the readers in our house. If your child is being pushed to read too early in school, you can still control what reading looks like in your home. You can take any and all pressure off of ‘learning to read’ at home. You can model how fun reading is by always having a book of your own to read. And of course, you can read aloud every single day.
I know where I look at something as big and overwhelming as the Common Core, I am tempted to do nothing. Instead I say, let’s fight questionably inappropriate reading instruction in the schools but let’s not fight it in the school. Let’s fight it by filling our homes with reading fun.
I really love the direction you’re taking your blog, Stacey! Probably because I love reading and I’m right in the thick of that “learning to read” time with my son. My husband was a really early reader, and I know he’s a bit frustrated that our son isn’t showing more initiative to read on his own. He seems to get frustrated easily and give up. We read aloud to him a lot, and I think he enjoys it, but I’ve been trying to get him to try sounding out words in some really simple books, and he is NOT having it.
How old is your son Sarah? I feel like he may only be in kindergarten right? If so, I say keep reading out loud and don’t worry about the sounding out at all yet. Every child (and parent!) is so different but I really do believe that almost every time, it will all be ok…
My daughter hated sounding out words too at that she but now that she’s a year older she does it. I think so much has to do with confidence or a lack of. Just keep reading and making it fun. Like Stacey says, the rest usually comes in its own time.
Learning to read and loving reading does not usually happen simultaneously, although it did for me. I so agree wholeheartedly, Stacey, that love of reading happens at home, regardless of what our educators are doing. Great post.
Thank you Gloria! I bet your grand baby hears lots of great stories when she is with you!
It drives me crazy how standards seem blind to the fact that kids develop at different rates. I have one kid who pretty much taught himself to read in preschool and two who could barely read an easy reader at the beginning of second grade. They are all now (8th and 4th grade) voracious readers–for, I believe the same reasons you site: always surrounded by books, always having been read aloud to (from fun books), and having parents who read. But if the pressure had been too high in kindergarten, if they had been shamed or embarrassed about their slow rate of reading progress, how would they feel about reading now? Plus, there are lots of other things kindergarteners should be doing learning–sharing and running around and zipping their coats and playing in the mud.
Andrea- I love to read happy reading stories! And yes to the sharing, running and playing in the mud- it seems those days are gone…
Thank you for this Stacey, I completely agree! My daughter is in first grade and the pressure she has felt (and myself try as hard as I might to avoid it) the past two years to read has (nearly) ruined her enjoyment of reading. I try to keep things easygoing but I sense her worry over other kids readihg better/faster than she does. It makes me sad that Common Core is getting this so very wrong. But I do my best to keep her spirits up and the pressure off.
Dana- I am glad to hear that you are keeping your daughter’s love of reading alive! I hope you have lots more fun reading together!
This was a comforting post to read. My older son was such an early and voracious reader right from the start, my my youngest still hates to even try to sound out a word. Our school does not pressure them to read (or maybe he exerts more effort in the classroom than with me!), which I’m grateful for. He sits and “read” super hero and pokemon books at home, and so I’m hopeful he will still grow up to be an avid reader.
Erica- It really is totally amazing how different our children can be. Interestingly, my girls followed incredibly similar paths but I think this is rare. I am so glad to hear that your school isn’t pushing- I know there are schools and teachers who are making wise and thoughtful decisions that respect the individual child. It’s nice to hear of a first hand example.
I cannot express to you how much I love this. I am a school psych (now unexpectedly homeschooling) and I would tell parents all the time that the single best thing you can do is to read to your children- to instill a LOVE of reading. Reading is a skill that takes practice. In order to want to do that, you have to love it. Thank you!
Cait- Thank you so much for reading. I love what you say here- “Reading is a skill that takes practice. In order to wan tot do that, you have to love it.” I think I apply this idea all the time but I don’t think I have ever stated it so clearly! Thank you! And I just spent a little bit of time at your blog but will be back for a longer visit. Your story sound fascinating!
Thanks, Stacey. I have been enjoying yours as well!
Absolutely love and absolutely agree. Just shared this. I think that we as parents feel just as much pressure around getting our kids to read as the kids themselves do. To top it off, we feel utterly helpless most of the time in our abilities to aid the process (since, like with walking and talking, the child will usually end up dictating the timing no matter what). We might think, how much harm can we really be doing by insisting that our child read aloud to us for 20 minutes before bed, despite the fact that they are tired and don’t want to (because look, we think, they ARE getting better!). But I’ve seen firsthand with my son just how dangerous these “helpful” jabs can be, how much it reduces reading to a mere transaction, to something they are doing to please us or their teachers, rather than something they are discovering (and loving) for themselves! This is why I love my children’s Montessori School, where the kids have the luxury of time to develop and proceed at their own pace. They are largely encouraged to discover on their own the benefits of reading, such as wanting to join in a research project that a group is doing and needing to be able to add value of their own. Or wanting to do a science project but first having to rely on asking another child to read the instruction card for you. They begin to experience first hand the benefits—socially, academically, and personally–of reading. Now we need to get the Public Education System to build in the time and space for FIRST and FOREMOST developing internal motivation in our children around reading. But, sigh, a very daunting prospect given outside standards and the emphasis on testing.
Thank you! And just found your site. I tried to comment but for some reason it didn’t go through (problem on my end I think!) but we just read First Snow this week too and loved it! And both of my girls went to Montessori school and I couldn’t agree more. Montessori education does such a great job of making learning meaningful and important to children.
Thank you for this. My son is in kindegarten and I have lately been worried that his reading isn’t progressing as fast as I’d like. I shall now relax! I had been frustrated that in the evening he didn’t want to try and read books to me but instead wanted me to continue reading to him, I’ll keep reading to him as much as he’d like and know that this may create that lifetime love of reading!
Jamie- So glad my words helped you to feel better and I hope you and your son keep enjoying your reading time together!
I have such mixed feelings about this because my two older kids have been early readers, and it has brought them so much joy. I guess my mixed feelings come because I was the one who pushed them to learn to read (I definitely wasn’t forcing them, but “strongly encouraging.”) They didn’t just sit down and pick it up on their own. We did short little daily reading lessons, and it was seriously so much fun. I’ve treasured that time with them, and I’m so glad I was the one who got to witness the lightbulb click on.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m not against early reading. But I wholeheartedly believe that it is not a good idea for every child, and so I am against it being part of the standard curriculum for kindergartners and first-graders. I think it will do more harm than good to force children to read before they’re ready.
Did any of this make sense? I feel like I’ve just been rambling. Here it is in a nut shell: I’m not against early reading, but I am against making it a requirement for everyone.
Your comment makes a ton of sense Amy! If my girls had been receptive, I would have definitely taught them early. I am not at all against early reading if the child is ready. I just worry about the children who aren’t ready and the teachers who are being penalized for not meeting standards that aren’t developmentally appropriate for all children. It really is a sticky, messy situation!
hi thank you so much for this article, my son is 6 in April and just about to start year 1. He absolutely loves us reading books to him at night and then he looks through books on his own before he goes to sleep. However when is comes to trying to read himself as soon as he gets a word wrong he clams up gets cross and refuses to try anymore. You have just made my mind up that I will keep it fun at night with me reading to him. I’ll leave the “teaching” reading time separate but also will not push him, he’ll get there it’s just going to be a bit longer till his confidence grows!
Hi Karis- I really do think that most kids will come to reading on their own, when they are ready. I hope you and your son continue to enjoy your reading time together!
My daughter did not read in the beginning of 1st grade and there was talk about holding her back a year. She joined a reading recovery group at her school and just sailed. She became a very good reading and now is a Freshmen in college.
Thanks for sharing your story Ruth!