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December 13, 2017

I Lay Awake Last Night: Should My Four-Year-Old Be Reading Already?

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mother-reading-to-child
I lay awake in bed last night, thrown into an anxious panic by this story about a four-year-old boy reading 100 books in a day. I'm lucky if my daughter wants to do the alphabet with me. As we parents are wont to do, I compared myself, and blamed it on myself. I haven't been pushing myself, or her, to focus very much on schooling. I felt like a terrible parent because I haven't made proper use of her young years and our time. I know a two-year-old who can apparently count to 14, and now there is this boy reading 100 books by himself, of his own volition!

All night my dreams were filled with crawling things on my pillow and all over the blankets, things keeping me back, things keeping my daughter back. When I woke this morning, I felt useless and pointless and simply a poor mother as I looked at my daughter's honey-coloured hair on the pillow beside me. I was not doing her intelligence justice, I thought. I was ruining her chances at success later in life, I cried. She's going to drop out of school because she can't read, I panicked.

I've been feeling under a lot of pressure lately, simply because of being a stay-at-home mom and all the responsibility that goes with it. I belong to several homeschooling groups and I feel quite left behind by it all. And even though my daughter and I are together all day, I feel like I don't spend enough time with her. Then you read about children the same age as your daughter doing something they're not doing, or hearing of children seemingly more advanced than your own, or hearing that early readers are more likely to enter a university and you're plunged into anxiety. It's ridiculous that in times like these we reach for Google to solve our anxiety problems. But that is exactly what I did. And it helped.

It turns out doing things that promote early literacy are more important than pushing your child to read. According to University of Michigan Professor of Education Dr Susan Neuman, there is no research that proves teaching your child to read early is either a good thing or a bad thing. She adds that the early push to get children to read, even from infancy, might be geared to the parents' needs more than anything else. And learning through play and conversations with parents is more effective at building the foundations of reading than showing flash cards to babies or wasting valuable play time at expensive early-age preparatory schools.

Most children only learn to read at age five or six.  In South Africa, children aren't even expected to be able to read in Grade R (age 6) yet; that's when they're only learning prewriting skills, routine, and social skills. I also have a gut-reaction when I hear about children doing things way before average - is it really the child, or were there Tiger Mother (or Father) involved, pushing them and hurrying them along for the prestige? Making notes of simple progress to compare to other children in the future? Why compare your child at all? (Says she, who just spent a sleepless night worrying)

But the most important things you as a parent can do before then is have conversations with your children using elaborative language, read to them as much as possible, and allow them to see how reading and writing are a part of daily life. I'm on par with these three things: my daughter is the only person I speak with all day long and I've been reading to her since she was a baby (sure, I read my horror novel out loud, but the point was that she heard language in action). She knows 12 sight words and can learn a new one in a week, recognises numbers and letters, speaks really well, reasons well (and is cheeky about it, too!) and even understands the basics of addition and subtraction - and right now I feel like I'm worrying about nothing. As usual. Especially since I know my child better than anyone else.

Further Reading:

Should My Young Child Already Be Reading?
What Your Child Should Know Age 4
How To Determine When Kids Should Start School

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