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Supacase's avatar

When should children learn to read?

Asked by Supacase (14488 points ) February 5th, 2010

My 4 y/o daughter is confusing me. She LOVES books. She will spend hours looking through them and telling herself or her stuffed animals the stories (she has several memorized) but she is resisting learning to read. I know she is not lagging behind in reading and I’m not worried about it. I just thought she would be more eager to really read her books.

I am not pushing it, but I have made a couple of attempts and sight word flash cards and sounding out simple words. As soon as she figures out I am trying to teach her to read, she is done. Should I continue to try or do children hit a point where they are just ready?

I will say she was like this with potty training. She knew what to do, but wouldn’t do it until enough time had passed that she felt it could be her decision. As soon as that happened, she never had an accident. She is very strong willed, to say the least.

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46 Answers

missingbite's avatar

Removed. Sorry.

gailcalled's avatar

They will let you know. Four is very young. Maybe she is feeling pressed by you?

…she felt it could be her decision. That’s the compelling part of your question.

When she’s thirty, it won’t matter whether she started to read at 4 or 6.

bean's avatar

when they are able to speak then you can start reading to them, and trying to teach them how.
reading to them will get them familiar with the language, and when they are able to speak they are now ready and have the capability to use words and understand them.

Likeradar's avatar

Not reading at age 4 is 100%, completely, totally, and wonderfully normal.

Loving books, looking through them, telling stories, and those other things your daughter is doing are excellent signs that she’s getting ready to be ready, if that makes sense. Let it be her choice, but be on the look-out that she’s ready to push her self further and keep doing what you’re doing. Read to her, provide her with plenty of books, ask her to “read” to you—doesn’t matter if she gets the words right at this point. :)

@missingbite How do you justify that answer?
@bean Reading to kids has great benefits even before the child can speak.

edit: Make sure you don’t pressure her too much- encouragement is great, but ideally children (and all people) look at reading as something enjoyable as opposed to something they have to do that adds stress.

jonsblond's avatar

Four is young. My oldest son was reading by the time he entered kindergarten, my daughter is now in kindergarten and is just learning to read. All children are different. Continue reading to her. This will help her learn to love books and she will be prepared once she enters kindergarten.

missingbite's avatar

@Likeradar Sorry, read the question wrong. My answer had little to do with the actual question. I should have slept more last night.

Judi's avatar

Every kid is different. My 3 year old grand son cal already sound out words. My son fought reading until he discovered “Goose Bump” books (2nd or 3rd grade) and now he is pretty articulate.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Have her “read” you a story! Ask her, when she is with her books, which is her favourite book, and have her show it to you or tell you about it. Meet her at her level. If she wants to move on to other stuff, it’s OK. She’s only 4. In these ways, it feels more cooperative and less of an imposition.

bean's avatar

@Likeradar yeye, I miss that part. reading to your child before they can speak is helpful

pjanaway's avatar

Derek Zoolander: So join now, ‘cause at the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, we teach you that there’s more to life than just being really, really, really good looking. Right kids?

wundayatta's avatar

At puberty???

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

I’m a fan of children learning to read when it’s right for them. My wife doesn’t agree. She forced my son to learn, and now he really doesn’t like it. I think if we had waited, he would have caught on on his own and maybe he would have liked it. In general, I think this society, and especially mothers, feel like they are in some competition to have their kid learn sooner than anyone else. I don’t think that attitude really helps our kids.

dpworkin's avatar

Early readers seem to have an advantage during the early years, but as their peers catch up, the advantage shrinks and shrinks until, at a certain point, it cannot be distinguished. My older children went to a Rudolph Steiner school, which has a strict policy about teaching reading. They ask parents to agree not to teach or encourage reading in any way until the child is, I think 7. We were quite worried about this, but now have two grown adults, both voracious readers.

My younger children insisted on teaching themselves to read rather early (between 4 and 5) and they seem to enjoy reading, too. So from my experience, I would say let your child set the pace until school imposes a schedule.

shrubbery's avatar

I think that she should be starting to read by now, but then again, I may be biased. I think I probably started when I was about 3, which is also when I started kindergarten. My cousin is 6, started kindergarten at the end of the year he turned 4 in, repeated it the next year, and is entering prep this year. I do not like the fact that he can’t read. He actually can’t read at all. He has trouble recognising letters, he does not look at books. However, if your daughter is looking at books and memorising the stories, this is surely a good sign and she will probably start soon. Just know that something like this is so variable, look at my two examples, and not to worry. I just wish my aunt and uncle would sit down with my cousin and read with him, which they don’t even bother. If you do that, as far as I can see it’s all good.

Grisson's avatar

I remember a Sesame Street book where Elmo or someone knew how to read but didn’t want to let his mother know because he was afraid she’d stop reading to him.

I’ve known kids who have done this, and one thing that worked was for the parent to reverse the role… “Would you read me a story?”

Even if the child isn’t really reading yet, you can still do this because most of the time they’ve memorized their favorite books anyway. (Try deviating from what’s written and see if I’m not right).

JLeslie's avatar

I wouldn’t worry. I think any time between 4–6 is pretty normal. It won’t make a bit of difference by 2nd grade when she started. She wants to have fun, and for her you are making it work I guess, or maybe it is a little bit of a power struggle at this point. School will take care of teaching her to sound out words. Oh, and maybe ask her if she wants to learn to write her name, or something like that. And, my neice used to like knowing and the first letter of her mommy’s name, and brothers name. So she started to know the sounds of the letters. When she would see a word starting with an A, she would say, “that is mommy’s letter.” So she started in a much simpler way, she did not seem able to jump right in and read.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My son is 3 and a half and every member of my family reads to him – he then memorizes all the books and looks through them and tells the story back as if he can read – sometimes he makes up new stories but I haven’t yet thought about him actually reading…we’re spelling out words together in Russian and in English but I am not too worried about his development in this area – I trust his Montessor pre-school completely to let me know if he’s not up to speed in any area…and they say he’s their brightest student…I am lucky to have a team of people there at the pre-school that are quite competent in child development.

JLeslie's avatar

Story: When I was little I loved curious George. I would make my mom read it to me over and over again. I was little, very little, could not read yet. My mom tells of one night, when she was exhausted, she had her eyes closed telling the story and I reached over and lifter her eyelid with my hand and said, “mommy, how can you read with your eyes closed?” My poor mom.

janbb's avatar

It’s much more important that your daughter is enjoying the act of sitting with books and telling stories at this age than that she learns the mechanics of reading. As others have said, it will not matter in the least by 2nd grade when she learned to read. The richness of language, the pleasures of books and stories are what she needs to be learning now.

Janka's avatar

She’s just four! You don’t need to try and teach her much anything except not to be rude or violent to people, at this point. Just keep on reading to her, sooner or later she will want to learn for herself, and it’ll be ever so much easier when it is her decision to. Teach her whatever else she shows interest to learning – be it housework or cooking or hammering nails into wood or god knows – but don’t worry about her not being interested in any particular thing.

(As a free hint, though; I learned to read at about her age without anyone specifically teaching me, by just watching the pages of some easy reader books when my mother read them to me.)

Civic_Cat's avatar

These Wikipedia articles might help:

John Holt(educator)
”... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.”

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

Literacy
footnote:
“John Taylor Gatto (2000–20003) The Underground History of American Education – A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into The Problem Of Modern Schooling, Chapter Three – Eyeless In Gaza, The Sudbury Valley School.
‘Something strange has been going on in government schools, especially where the matter of reading is concerned. Abundant data exist to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent, wherever such a thing mattered. Yet compulsory schooling existed nowhere. Between the two world wars, schoolmen seem to have been assigned the task of terminating our universal reading proficiency.’
Retrieved, February 2, 2010.”

Literate environment

I understand that in the old days, children would be taught to read around 9 or 10.

While Europe seem to have trouble with literacy here,
such was less so for
Sequoyah
“This was the only time in recorded history that a member of an illiterate people independently created an effective writing system. After seeing its worth, the Cherokee Nation rapidly began to use his syllabary and officially adopted it in 1825. Their literacy rate rapidly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers.”

I myself was pretty average in learning to read.
:-D

PandoraBoxx's avatar

She’s too young for drills, but you could label things in the house. Play a matching game, and see how many things she can match, as a scavenger hunt, and have a prize. Use short words, like clock, stove, sink, chair. Start with giving her just a few things to match, and that will give you an idea if she is decoding the letter patterns. Don’t help her unless she asks, and don’t force her to see it. If she’s tracking letter patterns in words, then she’s ready to do early reading activities. If she’s not tracking, it’s not time yet. Stick with letters, and pre-writing activities.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’ve told this story before, but maybe not here.

I was the youngest kid in my kindergarten class, having just skated in under the age-limit wire. So I was four years old for the first part of the year, with five-year-olds. (We didn’t start to read then. This isn’t really totally on your topic of “reading”, but it is related.)

My thing was numbers. When the teacher asked who could count the highest, everyone else tried (and failed) before they had counted even as far as twenty. This mystified me, because I could count quite well. But since I was the youngest, and one of the smallest, I didn’t volunteer until the teacher had called on everyone else to try, and then called on me.

I stood up and rattled off from 1 to 99 without a flaw. But I had no idea what came next… and everyone else did, and shouted out “one hundred!” So… I was the first kid in my kindergarten class to count to 99, and the last one to count to 100.

I’d say that your daughter sounds pretty normal (even to the stubbornness thing). In fact, you could use that to your advantage. Start reading to her from her favorite books, and… make up a new story as you go along. She’ll start reading just to show you where you’re wrong. (You have to use her strengths ‘against’ her in this way. Trust me; I raised two kids—with help—and one of the ways I got them to enjoy raw vegetables was to tell them that they couldn’t take them from my salad, “since those are just for grown-ups”. Then I’d laugh inwardly at their smirks when I got up from the table on one pretext or another and came back to find all of my broccoli, cauliflower and carrot sticks gone from my salad.)

Supacase's avatar

@JLeslie She does mention it if she sees the first letter of any of our names. She can also recognize and spell her own name which is kind of long.

@PandoraBoxx I like the idea of labeling!

I appreciate all of the answers, although I do feel a little like some (not all, just a few!) people are criticizing me. I thought I made it pretty clear that I am not worried about it and that I don’t push her. I was simply curious why a child who loves books so much was uninterested in being able to read them.

JLeslie's avatar

@Supacase I hope you did not feel criticized by me. You did make it clear you were not worried and did not want to push her :).

janbb's avatar

@Supacase If you thought it of me, no criticism intended at all.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Another thing you can do is to have her tell you a story, and write it in a book made out of printer paper. Just six or eight sentences. Hand her the book, and have her draw pictures for the story. I still have “I have the chicken pops” book that has drawing of her spots, front and back, and of an ice cream sandwich with a chicken head and feathers sticking out of it (the “pop”).

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

If she’s showing that much interest then she’ll probably be fine to start picking up on her own in another year but if you want to lead her to it sooner and overcome her stubborness then try this: whoever is in the house with her at the time, you all go around reading things to each other or even pretending. You might go to someone with a paper or small notebook in hand that suggests what you all might eat for dinner and that person will say, “that sounds great and yummy!” Curious kid will not want to be left out and if you all say that you’re reading to each other then you never know, she might want to try the game.

ubersiren's avatar

My reading specialist mother-in-law says that flashcards and other tools are not necessary and that the best way to teach a child to read is to keep reading to her. She will eventually pick words up here and there. Also, another hint she has given us is that it doesn’t matter what a child is reading as long as he/she is being exposed to the words. For example, my son loves to look at the cereal box in the morning and started asking what the words say. He now asks what the words on all food and other packages say. If your daughter likes to look at the calendar at home, you can read her the names of the months and days.

One thing that I have started doing with my son is pointing out what letter the words start with. Does your daughter know her alphabet? That would be a good place to start. I see above that you mentioned that she knows the first letter in your names… what I do with that is say something like “Mommy starts with ‘M’ and so does moose and macaroni.” This is been something my son has picked up on. It’s a start!

I just wouldn’t fret over it too much. You’re definitely doing a good job with her now. She’s still young, and once she’s in school she’ll learn.

Jeruba's avatar

In your place I would stop doing anything that suggested teaching and just leave her alone about it. I know this kid. She’d rather feel smart and triumphant than coaxed and obedient. Don’t steal her victory by turning it into submission to your will. She might even already know how to read, but dammit, mom, now she has to wait again to show it off to you until it feels like she came up with it herself. Every time you give her a little push (or anything that feels like a little push, such as following the words with your finger), the clock resets.

Even if you catch her reading aloud to herself, don’t pounce. Wait until she reveals her new skill to you.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Why push when you can pull? If you set the example by reading books, she will eventually follow. A pot boils when it’s ready. : )

sweethottaco's avatar

The younger you start teaching a child to read the better. Young children pick up on it faster and continue to advance with their reading too. Me I want to start teaching my child to read around the age of one.

Jeruba's avatar

Great point, @CaptainHarley. It dawned on me one day when my youngsters were well along in elementary school that we never modeled reading for them because we were always far too busy while they were awake. All our reading for pleasure took place after they went to bed. So I began deliberately to sit down with a book and just read for my own interest while they were up and around. I have no idea whether that made any difference, but it couldn’t have hurt.

I also made it a rule that they were welcome to read any book in the house—no censorship of any kind for us—but that I would discourage them from reading things I didn’t think they were ready to understand, just as my mother used to say ” That’s too old for you.”

My older son was dying to read, so I taught him as rapidly as he could take it. He knew all the letters by sight before he was two. My younger, just as bright but a very different personality, was in no hurry, so we didn’t rush him. Before school age, how fast you go really must depend on the child’s own inclinations and not on any arbitrary standard.

Response moderated
plethora's avatar

Your daughter has a mind of her own and seems to resist having things forced on her. I;m thinking I can identify with that. I was never taught to read. My mother simply read to me from the time I was a very young child, before age 3, and I memorized some of the stories and just naturally fell into reading sometime around age 5. My mother could read when she was 4.

Your daughter is very bright apparently. I would stop with the teaching and just let her use the books as she does….and read to her but don’t try to teach her. What you want to give her is a love of reading. Sounds like she is bright enough to learn reading when she is ready and will if you have instilled the love of it.

lilikoi's avatar

I learned to read when I was 4, according to my mother. I remember flashcards. I don’t remember if I liked reading back then, or not, but I do now. So….

I agree with @CaptainHarley (GA, btw) that you should read to her. There’s got to be stories out there that she will enjoy and be entertained by. Find those, and read them to her.

As others suggested, she may not like to be pushed or told what to do. Let her discover reading on her own terms.

plethora's avatar

@Jeruba Really good answer..:)

asmonet's avatar

Heh, if my mother were here she’d tell you your kid sounds exactly like me.
I took my first step, stopped then plopped down said foot and examined my feet intensely for the next few hours. At six months, I was done breastfeeding and would push her away when she tried. I decided when to read, when to be potty trained, all of it. My mom had no control other than to provide the resources and wait me out.

But I do remember starting with memorization. Shapes corresponding to sounds. And I think it helped my spelling tremendously. Spelling bee winner here. :)

My mother read to me, while holding my hand and pointing my finger or just hers at each words as she read calmly, clearly and at a constant easy pace. I can’t recall her ever breaking the flow of the words to sound things out or to emphasize sounds and syllables. She just read and I naturally picked things up along the way, eventually I would join in. I started like your daughter though, pretending to read trying to force the book to make sense sometimes and then just saying screw it, my mom’s chemistry book is totally about ponies now! I think she tried flashcards a bit too, but as she puts it I was ‘willful’ and wanted nothing to do with it for a really long time.

I understood what reading was, and began working towards it at three. By four I was reading, and two years later the biggest book I’d read was in the 2nd grade, Clan of the Cave Bear. I’m pretty sure, someone tore the pages with the big rape scene out ahead of time. :P My mom and my teacher had the same attitude as @Jeruba. Very little was off limits, you need to find what you like and you can’t do that if you’re given only someone else’s choices.

Based on this thread, I’m pretty sure I was ahead of the curve and once the first few pieces fell into place I dove in headfirst and read for hours everyday. But I don’t think four is too young to begin at all.

bean's avatar

I think overall, she will definitely pick up on reading, she sounds like a clever child don’t push it because she seems to be playing mind games with you – at this point she doesn’t want to learn, she doesn’t like how you are trying to show her how it is done (I’ve seen this a few times while baby sitting)
But she’s surrounded by a lot of communication such as adults talking to one another, the television or radio…. so there is no chance she will not pick up on it, and neither will she fall behind. At the moment she knows what she wants, let time pass and she’ll start trying to read her self, just support her a little, you don’t want her thinking ‘oh… mummy is trying to teach me again….quick, don’t look interested’ children often do the opposite.

Does she understand you well when you talk to her?
explain to her why you want her to try and read a book, say to her every one needs to do this at her age, be really nice about it and she’ll feel really eager to do it for you.

Supacase's avatar

Yes, @Jeruba, @asmonet @plethora – she is “willful” and has a mind of her own, no doubt about it.

@CaptainHarley I read pretty much every day and I read to her several times a day. I think if I want to attempt helping her at this point I should try reading to her like @asmonet‘s mom. I read and point, but I probably need to do some easier books.

@bean Oh, yes, she understands me and she asks me whenever I use a word she hasn’t heard before. She is the “why why why” child if there ever was one. Just before her 4th birthday, an education specialist (who has been visiting periodically since she was born) said her vocabulary, speech and conversation skills were more like a 5 year old.

I know she’ll get it. The thread has pretty much confirmed my suspicions that she is just determined to do it on her own terms. She likes to learn more than she likes to be taught, if that makes any sense.

bean's avatar

@Supacase haha, yeah you know what’s going on she’ll definitely pick up on it, she’s just relaxed and taking her time.
haha, I can also tell she’s taking this serious, she’s seems cautious too. Clever girl, I’ve seen most of the signs for clever in a child, she has a very good mind set, she’ll flourish in her own way.

bea2345's avatar

Your daughter sounds delightfully normal. Just read to her, every night before bed, in quiet moments during the day, and let her see you reading for pleasure.

jerv's avatar

Personally, I was already reading Readers Digest at age 4, though I had a little trouble with some of the bigger words (anything over three syllables).
However, most people weren’t even near my level of reading ability until at least the 10th grade, and many adults these days are not yet where I was by the 5th grade. Therefore, I may not be the best yardstick to measure against.

People learn at different rates. My take on it is that a 4-year-old with no/limited literacy is normal, as is a resistance to learning before you are ready at any age. Therefore, I wouldn’t worry as long as she learns some time in the next couple of years.

Also, I know people who actively avoid reading period and have an active dislike (bordering on visceral hatred) of books even though they are literate, non-dyslexic, and of normal intelligence. It’s doubtful that your daughter is like that; I merely bring it up to illustrate that people are different in temperament as well.

She will probably learn when she is ready, but there isn’t a snowball’s chance that she will learn until then.

Janka's avatar

“I was simply curious why a child who loves books so much was uninterested in being able to read them.” Sorry if I came through as criticizing, I did not mean that. Even most older children who already can read will enjoy being read to. At her age, Mom, Dad, or Uncle/Auntie telling the story might be as important as or even more so than the story itself. :) Take it as a compliment.

mattbrowne's avatar

When they are ready. Some show interest when they are four or turn five.

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