Christakis wrote a book entitled The Importance of Being Little which focuses on how we are mismatching the needs of our youngest children with our expectations of them. As we saw with kids need for physical exercise, the abilities and needs of children have not changed; however, we are changing expectations to better meet the needs and concerns of adults. Vivian Gussey Paley after 40 years of teaching in early childhood has this to say about our current situation:
Teachers feel and know this tension and many do what they can to fight it. Do you see the predicament for the five year old? They want to do what the adults around them expect BUT they are not developmentally ready to do it. Some kids are developmentally able and should not be held back; however, to expect the large majority to be proficient readers at 5 and 6 is not appropriate. In fact, the average age to become a proficient reader is 8 years old! Do you see the disconnect? This is why many European schools are now swinging back to starting "real" school at age 7.
Some reading problems can be attributed to speech, processing and vision problems. Children who are struggling should be evaluated for these concerns, especially by age 7.
My oldest had speech problems and his reading confidence greatly improved as we addressed his speech issues. However, because of his particular issue, they would not even start therapy until age 7. Actually, in our district he wouldn't have received any assistance because he was not in the bottom 10% (he was in the teens). I am blessed because I was able to keep him home so that he didn't feel inadequate for two years because of something he had limited control over. My second son would probably also have been labeled - he has a gigantic vocabulary and can tell a whale of a tale - but he still flips letters and struggles. He is almost 7 and we are watching his eye sight with a doctor right now. He doesn't realize that he is "slow". It is typical for boys to be behind girls in this area - some times up to a year and a half behind. Now that I have a little girl I HEAR the difference every day.
If your child spends most of his early school life being labeled and fixed is it a wonder that they don't enjoy school or reading? As schools forgo reading aloud to allow for more instruction in basic reading skills you can see why kids who struggle are left behind on BOTH fronts. Spending more time on basic skills will not necessarily make them accomplish these developmental milestones faster - they just need to mature. Meanwhile, they are missing out on learning about other things and the motivation that they need to encourage them to want to read. So, what can you do?
The first step is to remember that age 8 is the average age of fluent reading. Try to soften the blows of the 80% of teachers (or really districts, law makers and test developers) who seem to expect this to be accomplished by the age of 6 or 7 at the latest. Honestly, teachers are just responding to the pressure around them. As a parent you need to oversee your child's education and do what you can to help them move at their own pace. I am also not advocating that you attempt to turn a teacher into your child's personal tutor by demanding her assistance - they are a classroom teacher, not a tutor.
Our goal is to help your child acquire the skill of reading without losing his will to do it. If you, as the parent and steward of your child's education, have a basic outline of skills and progress in reading you can better assist them through this process and talk knowledgeably with teachers. Tomes have been written on this issue. In the end, I think the best practical resource for parents is Uncovering The Logic of English (a book for adults) and the accompanying program. She focuses heavily on teaching phonograms and what other programs call "think to spell" - which means teaching kids how the language works - not just memorizing sight words. If you want to learn more there is a whole you tube channel full of resources.
There is a place for sight words (one, two, of, said - there are probably about 12 to 15 words that are honestly just CRAZY and frequent). At first, children who are taught to memorize lists of words may appear to start reading more quickly. However, by third or fourth grade, when you just can't memorize every new word, they struggle. Without the tools for tackling new words (phonograms, spelling rules, syllables, prefixes/ suffixes) they struggle with reading. Make sure that your child is learning the phonograms and not just sight words - please! I think (hope) that most schools use this more blended approach.
How do I make sure my child is learning the phonograms and spelling rules? What order should they be learning these concepts in?
Looking at the "scope and sequence" (a fancy phrase for what you need to learn and in what order you should learn it) of a few well respected programs can help you get a good idea of the general steps of progression and help you figure out where your child is in the process.
Logic of English's scope and sequence shows the concept introduced (phonogram and then spelling rules) and words that help support that concept.
Explode the Code is another easy to use, pick up and go worksheet program. They provide the whole scope and sequence in one page.
All About Reading and All About Spelling provides a very detailed scope and sequence.
Although not exactly a "scope and sequence" Teaching Reading With Bob books provides the phonics support you might want if you choose to supplement class work with these popular little books. These readers cover the basics, if you want to understand why they work this website will explain it to you.
I appreciate that these programs are leveled but not graded or tied to an age. You do move through levels but some students may be 4 and 5 when they learn it, while others master it at 6 and 7. So, you do need to work from the basic concepts (alphabet and consonant sounds) up to complicated phonograms (ough, tch, ci/si, etc.) and spelling rules.
Other Ideas To Support Reading and Spelling
One idea that you can use at home to supplement any program is the idea of a Spelling Journal. Assisting your child in making their own journal of difficult words and concepts can help them master the language. You can get a free journal here. If your child struggles with writing you can encourage them to spell with tiles and then copy from there, this is a key concept in the Montessori approach to reading and writing. This allows children to focus on one concept at a time - they spell the word with tiles and then focus on writing. You can use Scrabble tiles, Banangrams or free downloadable tiles.
If you want a straight reference book you might want The ABC's and All Their Tricks. This can help you answer all those questions that you might get thrown at you about the craziness of the English language.
Another book that is a bit more broad but very practical is The Three R's by Ruth Beechick. Her approach is simple but effective. Amazon says I bought it in 2011. I just re-read it this summer and I would have saved myself a LOT of heartache (and time) if I would have just trusted her from the beginning. She boils it down to the basics that your child should cover with tips on making it easier.
Finally, I want to remind you that your child will most likely learn in fits and starts. They will seem to get it for a while and then slow down. They are not little machines - so they will go through cycles. Don't freak out - just keep repeating until they assimilate and are ready to move on.
Encouragement is the main thing that your child needs as they tackle this difficult set of skills. Team with their teacher and help figure out where your child is and how to help them move to the next level - step by step. Remember to keep reading aloud at home so that they continue to learn regardless of their own reading ability. If you want more resources check out the pinterest page.
Coaching the Academics can build your relationship with your child and help provide her with a firm foundation to pursue her dreams.