Making, and sticking to, the decision to not vigorously enforce reading and spelling during our children’s preschool years are definitely not easy. We have sometimes been a little bit anxious for our eldest, who turned four this year and does not know how to read yet, and write, for that matter. We have often second guessed ourselves and our decision in regards to her preschool years education. And we have gone back and forth between wanting to take things easy and slowly until the age of seven when children’s brains are deemed ready for reading, and responding to the pressure of the modern extra-young age literacy (in this part of the world we are living).
We agree that the ability to read and write is a wonderful skill, in fact it is the skill unique to human which sees to our species’ super fast advancement. But how early should this powerful skill be mastered by our little ones, scientists and education policy makers haven’t seemed to come to the same conclusion.
As my husband and I addressed our concerns over our daughter’s illiteracy at the moment, we eventually decided to pursue literacy less by enforcing the alphabet and phonics lessons, and more by reading to and cultivating appetite for good reads in her. There are two things which we consider as basic and important as we assess our approach to teaching a child to read: the purpose for literacy and the method to achieve that purpose.
It is a sad thing to hear fellow parents lamenting their preschoolers’ increasing lack of playtime as they need to go for their phonics lessons or English and writing classes. It is all the more saddening when the reasons for that are “so as to not be left behind in the primary school level” and “to be able to understand the questions asked in homeworks and tests when they go to Primary One.” The privilege of enlightenment is becoming a kindergarteners’ race and a banal requirement for first grader education system.
We believe the purpose of literacy is to enable one to understand other’s thoughts (this includes knowledges from informations to opinions), to express one’s own thoughts, and ultimately as people of faith, to understand the Scripture as God’s revelation and to share the Truth with others. As for the method, we are not convinced that it is more useful to train a child to read at the age of four than at a later age, say of seven, when studies suggest that children’s brains are more ready for literacy training. In his own words, the author of Math for Little Ones Alexander K. Zvonkin wrote, “Premature instruction is no more beneficial than premature birth.”
While waiting for the neurons to establish their pathways, we believe we can prepare the child for a lifetime love for reading – good reading, that is. It can be done by establishing a culture of reading in the family, where the parents read themselves and read to the child regularly. And just as is the case with putting a child into the habit of healthy eating, we should also ‘feed’ the child with good and worthy reads. As the famous writer C.S. Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”
It is also beneficial to exercise a child’s memory, especially during the preschool years when it is at its strongest. Children are able to memorize stories read to them, word for word, and they do it quite effortlessly to our astonishment. Fill their memory banks then, with good books, poems and stories of excellent virtues, and with the sacred verses of the Scripture. The vast vocabularies, writing styles and the taste of literatures they have committed unto their memory will without a doubt bring them far when they can finally decode and compose strings of letters by themselves.
While the ability to read and write things down tend to excuse us from exercising our memory, we see this illiterate time window as an opportunity to train our daughter’s memory. Because she cannot read her story books, she memorizes them. Likewise, this time window affords us the control over what kind of reads is poured into the minds of our children and at the same time the opportunity to bond as we read to them. Few are things that a child cherishes more than to sit on her parent’s lap with a good book being read to her. We know it is one we will miss so dearly too, because soon she will be reading on her own.