Monday, 2 November 2009

Too young to read?

I came to reading very early in my life. My classroom was the bony comfort of my father's lap. As he read to me he would put his right forefinger under each word. He did not intend to teach me to read as such. It was just something he did in an effort to make me aware of the words on the page, something to help me make the connection between the black squiggles and the sounds he was making.
I was every bit as interested in those black squiggles as I was in the pictures because I was desperate to be able to read for myself. I wanted to know what was there. I wanted to be able to read my books over and over again.
My mother was of the "not now because I am busy" brigade. She was busy. I know that. I also suspect that she was not terribly interested in helping her eldest and most wayward child to read. She was an infants teacher and no doubt believed I would learn when I went to school. Why bother earlier?
Why indeed? How young is too young? There is a piece in this morning's paper about teaching babies to read - and I mean babies. An American is claiming that it is possible to teach a seven month old baby to read. I seem to remember something like this once before, a book and kit (expensive) designed to "Teach your baby to read". Why?
It seems to me that there is a vast difference between wanting to learn to read, the way I wanted to learn to read, and being deliberately taught to read at a very young age. Do you really need to learn to read at seven months? Is this just another case of "anything your child can do my child can do better"? Is it another case of, "if I teach him or her to read now then I will not have the boring task of reading them a bedtime story later"? Boring?
My father read to me long after I could read for myself. I found out about many of the peculiarities of the English language by working out the words for myself or watching his finger move from word to word. I knew about the difference between "enough" and "bough" and "two, too and to" long before I went to school.
School was not really what I expected. I was bored. My classmates could not read. You went to school to learn to read back then. It was a slow process. You were supposed to learn the letters and then to put the letters together. You had a first primer and then a second primer. You had little books in between and a "speller" with lists of words to learn. I know some of the others struggled. I was often given the task of listening to someone else try to read a page.
It is that which makes me wonder. If a five year old child finds it difficult to learn to read, and some do, why should it be easier for a seven month old baby? Can a baby really learn to read?
Do they have the physical skills, the vocabulary and the understanding of the world necessary for learning to read? I doubt it. I do not think it is desirable. I was about two before I could read. Eighteen months makes an enormous difference at that age.
Surely the best thing for a baby is a lot of sensible talk, the naming of objects, rhymes, looking at pictures. In the highly unlikely event they say, quite clearly, "I want to learn to read" then I would do what my father did. It was a highly satisfactory way of learning to read. It felt safe. That bony lap was strangely comfortable.

3 comments:

Tony said...

My daughter is 2 and four months. She is definitely NOT ready to read... However, she loves 'reading' and being read to. At some point she will start to experiment with letters, and I'll be able to help her. Until that point, I'm not really willing to interfere.

Of course, if she gets to the age of four and still only looks at pictures, I might change my mind...

catdownunder said...

Yes, I admit I was horribly precocious in that respect - and no way was I ready to read at seven months! The more I think about it the more idea does not appeal to me at all. They seem determined to take all the fun out of childhood.

Adelaide Dupont said...

That would be Glenn Doman of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.

He writes the words in red for the baby so that he or she can see, and there are 'stories' like Nose is not toes.

I didn't think you could learn to read much before eighteen months, though it is theoretically conceivable you could do it earlier, as soon as you can see and focus.

Objects and rhymes are terrific too, and lots of talk, or not so much talk. The important thing is that it be child-led, and the parents leave around interesting material, like magazines and newspapers, which may even be read before some books!