My dad was a slow walker, family lore has it that he did not walk until he was almost two. My grandparents took him to the doctor who assured them that he was fine; just that he hadn’t yet found a compelling reason to walk. My daughter, on the other hand, was a kind of early walker. She took her first steps as we were huddled as a family in our basement during a tornado warning. This was before smart phones, really, what else was there to do? Here is the interesting thing, if you met both today, you would not be able to tell who the late walker was and who was the early walker. They are both pretty good walkers.
At some point, learning became a race; a race to see how quickly we could get children to do something. This is especially true with reading. We are trying to get younger and younger children to read; despite research that shows that children become stronger readers when we use developmentally appropriate means to support their literacy learning, and a lack of research that shows any great value in early reading. Given the right supports, some children may read at four. Others might not read until they are six or seven (or even, eight). As long as there are no factors hindering learning, some children just take a little longer to make sense of certain concepts. Our goal should not be that all children are reading by five. Our goal should be that all children are given a strong foundation in literacy concepts and a supportive environment. As I look at the pressure we put on children, and by extension, teachers, I think if the Lillian Katz quote, “we are doing earlier and earlier to children what we shouldn’t do later” (isn’t she the best?).
There are some that say a baby that is born today could live to be 120 years old (although a recent report suggests that life expectancy has recently gone down because of obesity – but, that is a topic for another post). In the grand scheme of things, does it matter if a child has 113 years as a reader as opposed to 115? Research shows that the key is that children are reading at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade. There is no inherent value in creating a child who can read at the age of four; especially if we use methods that kill their natural curiosity and stifle a love of reading. That love of story is what will drive them to become strong readers.
Instead of pressure, unrealistic expectations, and didactic practices; there are lots of ways for early childhood educators to help children develop into strong readers and writers. We need to provide children with active opportunities to develop the skills they are going to need be literate adults. This starts with well-equipped and inviting libraries and writing centers in the classrooms. We support the development of these skills when we give children lots of opportunities to engage with words and letters in fun ways. We especially impact on children’s burgeoning skills when we acknowledge the work they do, scaffold their learning in developmentally appropriate ways, and do not force them into tasks they are not ready for in the name of speeding up the process (I see you tracing).
Children walk at their own time; we do not force a child to follow footsteps on the floor or practice walking over and over to try to get them to walk faster. Instead, we celebrate each step along their journey. When that baby gets up on all fours and begins to rock back and forth; he is on his way to being a walker. In the same way; reading and writing are a process; a complex mix of development and skill acquisition. We need to celebrate each step a child takes instead of trying to rush them through the stages. And, when that toddler picks up a book and holds it in her lap; she is one her way to becoming a reader. Honoring the process; that is what makes a strong reader and writer.
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
My book Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing or Amazon
Interested in hearing more? Consider bringing me in as a speaker for your next Professional Development event (you won’t regret it).