When and how children learn to read.

Very interesting lecture on when and how to get children reading from a Montessori point of view by Margaret Homfray. Some of the stuff she says is just good old common sense, but she also makes some very interesting observations about how literacy levels have dropped over the years despite the reduction in class sizes.

She makes some fairly straight forward points about how children whose parents allow and encourage reading, and have books in the house, are more likely to read and read well. This is a common sense statement that too many parents have forgotten. I have been to quite a few homes where books are not to be seen, or very few strategically arranged to look good but not be read.

She says in England 58% of English children are not reading by the age of 8 or 9.  She says her class size was 48 and sizes had been over 60 children before that and yet children of 7 or 8 could read. It would be interesting to know what exactly has gone wrong.

She criticises silly very early reading schemes for babies and toddlers who have not yet even acquired language. It is obvious that language acquisition must have been completed and language learning begun before a child can start reading-you would think, but it needed saying because so many people (including I might add the barmy British Govt) believe that the way to stop illiteracy is to force it on very little children.

Her main points are as follows:

  • Children do what parents do. If parents read children read. A cultured home leads to literacy.
    • Read with children and to them-but not too much.
  • Books should be chosen carefully and treated well.
    • Choose books with good English and well written.
  • Children must have acquired language.
  • Children learn to read best between the ages of 4 and 6.
  • Too early (pre age 4) and they get put off and anyway forget it all.
  • Too late, after age 8 children don’t read smoothly or quickly or build good reading vocab.
  • Reading makes you an independent learner.
  • Reading too late makes reading harder and slower. (I can remember the tough time a 15 year old lad who has missed his education had when he came to me to learn to read).
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12 responses to “When and how children learn to read.

  1. my father-in-law, a primary school headteacher, said that not infrequently children age 4 come to school and they dont even know the mechanics of a book; how you open it, the sequences the pages turn, that you read one page before the other! shocking!

    • It is sad, but I have always been amazed by the number of children who simply don’t have books at home.
      I have to admit I find our local library pretty awful as well.

      I wonder if those programmes on TV about doing houses up and making them look like show homes has had an effect. In our house books are everywhere and tend to get everywhere-not very ‘showy’-especially as children’s books come in so many shapes and sizes.

  2. Both of my kids were and are delayed in their speech and I think that has impeded their learning and reading. My son just finished speech therapy and is doing well and is now above the mean (at least according to the testing done by the therapist). However, I’m having difficulty getting him to read. He seems very reluctant and disinterested. We read and both kids have a book case full of great books in their rooms…thought this would help them be early readers, but each kid has their own time schedule I guess. My son just turned 6 and is almost reading, but instead of being pleasurable, it’s a chore for both him and me. Don’t know how to make it better for him. He wants to be read to, but fusses if I try to read with him. I think I’ve spent too much time on phonics and not enough time on read-aloud.

    • Swissy, are they books a boy would be interested in?

      • We used some Bob books early on, then have switched to easy readers that interest him, even some Scooby Doo which is his favorite. He likes to “look” at the books, but doesn’t want to expend the effort and read them. We tend to read more “boy” books then “girl” books, although we’ve read Little House.

  3. HURRAY for someone speaking publicly about baby reading programs! It seems so obvious to me that acquiring language must come first, but I guess parents (and governments!!! ???) just want to have the smartest baby on the block and will jump on anything that they believe might help that.

    I can’t imagine too much read-aloud. We do a lot of that, even today with older children. We all love it and it is a great family activity.

    3 out of the 5 reading kids in our family learned between 4 and 5, another was a bit “delayed” learning to read at about 6.5 (come to learn he is dyslexic) and the other was more delayed, not really learning to read until 8 or a bit older, but they all read well above level now. Our sons never loved reading until they became young adults. Our daughters have all loved reading so it has not been my experience that “delayed” reading, at least up until 8 or so, is a real problem (a 15 year old is a different case, I guess.) I think I remember reading a study that showed no benefit to early reading and that most older readers, after a year or 2, were reading just as well as their earlier reading peers. I’ll try to find that study.

    Our youngest isn’t quite 4 yet (will be in January) and I am very much of the “better late than early, better on time than late” philosophy. He handles books daily and gets read to frequently throughout the day (there are 5 of us to read to him!) and still, he will hold the book upside down, turn pages from back to front, start in the middle, whatever. I don’t know that not handling books properly at this age is really a problem… if you can’t read, what difference does it make where you start or stop or whether you like to see the pictures upside down or not?

    I do think good literature is very inspiring and promotes reading like twaddle can’t. One thing I always tried to do is keep good quality books around (No Twaddle!!) This has become easier and easier over the years as our budget has expanded and now we have a fairly extensive library of great picture books and classics. (but I will disclose that some of the children have read things like “Twilight.” and spy novels. Does Harry Potter count as “great literature”?? LOL!)

    Finally, I am ASTOUNDED at the thought of class sizes as high as 48 to over 60!!!! We here in America get excited about 23 in a class!

    Sorry for the ramble!

    • I was in a class of just over 40 when I was in Primary School. But as Smiley says below-we behaved.

      I am building up quite a collection of twaddle free ‘living books’ as we go along.

      My older three were all delayed readers; Josh had a language delay which put back his reading a bit but the other two are both dyslexic which has effected their reading quite a bit. Iona certainly wasnt reading by age 6 and Alex was struggling badly when I pulled him out of school aged 14. He caught up (he’s very bright IQ 136) but neither he nor Iona are fast readers and they need longer for written stuff.

  4. hi
    When i was growing up in the 80s, we did not have Tv. I didnt like reading but mum and dad were always reading and one day i picked up an Enid Blyton at about 7 or 8 an from then I have been hooked.
    Suffice to say if the parents are always wacthing TV, the child is not going to read books.

  5. About class sizes, in India we had 60 to 65 students in class and pin drop silence and attention to the teacher. Discipline is something children need to learn at home. Sadly in Canada and USa and most of the Western world teaching kids discipline is frowned upon. If you dont teach a child discipline, he isnt going to have the discipline to read a book. watching TV and the computer requires no discipline, reading a book and penmanship does.

    • I think this could be the root of the problem. The main reason so many teachers demand smaller classes and extra adults is the behaviour of the kids.
      I am teaching my son to sit quietly and to listen; it’s a skill he has to learn. Far too many children in school have never learned to do this. TV is so passive that they don’t know how to engage in their own learning.

  6. For the child who does not like to read, audio books can be a real blessing. My 18 year old reads exceptionally well, but really, really hates to do it and always has. No explanation. Just that she doesn’t like to read. (Personally, I think it is because she cannot read and draw at the same time, and drawing is her first love. She spends most of her free time hunched over her art work)

    Our house is full of books of every kind; classics, biographies, histories, great literature and a smattering of twaddle just for fun! But she also has Asperger’s and topping that off with just being naturally stubborn & quirky, well, there’s our Lu.

    But, she will listen to books on audio and enjoy books that way. I often borrow them from the library (because she would NEVER show interest in any topic or title) and when I start listening, she will move to the room with me and sit to listen. I get a lot of great literature in her that way 😉 She can draw and listen.

    *I don’ t think it should be used in place of reading everything, most especially in a younger child, but it can be a real relief for a child who simply doesn’ t like having to sit still so long to read. Often the people who are reading the stories are stage or screen actors, too, and put a lot of life into the words they are reading.*

  7. Margaret Homfray has some interesting points. I especially like the point of having a home filled with reading even from the parents. And the advice about handling books with care. But I learned a few other tips with my kids when i was teaching them that I would like to share with all of you.

    When I first taught my children to read, I used a method of phonics, but quickly realized this worked for my eldest but not my youngest. She didn’t grasp reading. So after trial and error I began to realize she was a visual learner who needed both elements to learn to read. She only became successful in learning after the sound and visual were combined. And now she is reading at a higher grade level than her fellow students.

    I have seen a huge improvement, and suggest for anyone whose kid is struggling with reading to try using both sound and visual to help their kid overcome it too.

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