Updated: Dec 3, 2018
There is a widely held belief in this country (and many others) that if we start teaching children to read, write, and spell in preschool and kindergarten that they will be ahead of the game (and their peers) by first grade. We think that pushing our kids to start early will make them better and give them the edge.
But it doesn’t work that way, in fact it can be detrimental.
Children’s neurological pathways for reading, writing, and spelling are not formed yet at these young ages, therefore they are not equipped. In child development you can not miss, shortcut, or rush steps, it just doesn’t work.
Between 3 and 7 years old, predominantly the right side of the brain is developing. The right side of the brain is not where word reading takes place. The right side sees pictures and shapes and uses mental imagery to create the movie in their mind to understand the story. The left side of the brain is where we read words, it is responsible for decoding words into letters and phonetically sounding them out. This is true word reading. It is not until about age 7 that the corpus callosum fully integrates the left and right hemispheres of the brain to make reading complete for kids.
By making children read when they really only have access to the right side of their brain, they are forced to memorize what words look like by shape and guess, opposed to being able to sound them out. Not true reading. Also, when kids are focused on memorizing what the words look like by shape, they are not using their right brain to create the movie in their mind, leading to low comprehension.
What you might not know is that developing a strong sense of balance and proprioception (knowing where your body is), is a mandatory precursors to being a strong learner and student. Balance and proprioception are achieved through play, movement, and experiencing your surroundings, not through sitting still reading.
Don't get me wrong, I think being a good reader and spending lots of time reading is very important. Reading ability is probably the most important learned skill in our society. But the path to learning to read is counter-intuitive, the earlier we start them the harder it may be for them to achieve the skill of effortless reading needed to excel in school.
So how do we fix it?
Slow down. Let them use their body, play lots of games that require balance, help your child develop their balance and a sense of where their body starts and stops. Also, spend lots of time reading to them. Read to them so they can practice mental imagery in a relaxed environment. By reading to them, especially nursery rhymes, they train their ears to hear the slight differences in words, which is very important later when they are phonetically learning letters, sounding out words, and decoding words for spelling. (TV and videos can't give this to them.)
Until you have worked on this, your efforts for mastery in reading, writing, and spelling will be in frustration.
References used for this article include:
-Johnson, Susan R. MD, FAAP, "Teaching our Children to Write, Read & Spell", http://youandyourchildshealth.org/articles/teaching-our-children.html
-Davies, Douglas, MSW, PhD, Child Development: A Practioner's Guide, Third Edition
-Milne, Duncan, Neuropsyschologist, Teaching The Brain To Read