Learning to read: How late is too late?

Mansfield Library
There will be time enough to get here.

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of Penn Staters from HP, one of whom has become a friend over the last few years. His son has just entered Kindergarten and he is already reading. This is becoming more and more common, that children should be reading earlier and earlier, and we have all seen the videos where kids are reading from the age of 6 months with a special system that can be yours for only 4 payments of $19.95! Our son is entering the second grade and while he is reading very well now (he just passed/exceeded the standards test for beginning of the second grade) he only started reading last year. Was he behind? Are we bad parents?

Some would say the answer is yes, we are delinquent as parents. We should be getting our children to read as soon as possible to give them every advantage. Certainly we read with our children, often noted as the most important thing a parent can do for their development, from their earliest days on. But I am in agreement with Malcolm Gladwell who in an interview commented that this push for early reading is misplaced. Reading is not like a sport where repetition allows one to build upon skills and develop new ones. Sure, vocabulary will increase but it is not like one is developing better “reading muscles.”

Our daughter was also a bit slower at reading, but by the time she had finished second grade, however, she was reading all of the Harry Potter books then published. This summer she read constantly and wrote over 100 pages of her own fiction. I am not worried.

What my friend and I noticed was that his daughter is only three years older than his son whereas our daughter is six years older. His son saw his big sister learning how to read and joined in, wanting to do everything she did. From our son’s perspective big sis had always been reading and often read to him. There was not then the same challenge or incentive for him. Different context led to different results. Will his son be farther along by second grade than my son?

As far as reading goes, not likely. Just because you are already reading doesn’t mean that you are comprehending more difficult concepts. (Math is a different subject entirely, double entendre intended.)

Sports, as I suggested, are different again. My son is soccer mad and plays all the time. You can definitely tell the difference between those kids who have played soccer for the last two years and those just starting. But even there the learning curve is not so great that an athletic and focused child can’t become very good very quickly. Remember Tim Duncan, NBA two-time MVP? He didn’t play basketball until he got to college.

The moral of my essay? Care for your children, never neglect their education, and let them have a childhood.

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