So many parents worry about when their children will learn to read. Will they read early, on time, or late? Will it be easy or hard? Many of these pressures are external and imposed by society. Our children learn with ease when they are developmentally ready and can enthusiastically approach a topic or skill for the joy of learning it.
In the United States, kids who don’t read by age 7 or 8 are considered late readers. There is grave concern in the schools that they won’t ever catch up, and usually they don’t. In contrast, children in Denmark don’t even begin formal reading until age 8. Of course, some kids do learn to read naturally on their own before then, without formal instruction. For the rest, instead of being introduced to formal reading and writing instruction at young ages, children who are not ready to read spend time in developmentally appropriate activities: climbing trees, riding bikes, doing gymnastics, playing dress up, and enjoying being read to by loving parents and caregivers.
One of my favorite books is “Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head” by Carla Hannaford. In the book she describes how respecting natural brain development patterns is so important in learning to read and write. By starting with a holistic processing format and moving to the details later, when the logic hemisphere is ready to handle it, kids learn to read with ease. Denmark, for example, after formally starting at age 8, has almost a 100% literacy rate.
The one question we don’t hear often in the reading worries is “Will my children like to read?” Pressuring young children who aren’t ready to read is stressful and often does more harm than good. It results in children who don’t like to read even when they finally can. On the other hand, children who learn to read when they are ready take on a challenge that is joyful and fun. They have a path that emerges from curiosity and wonder and are often reading complex chapter books in a short period of time.