When Do You Expect Kids to Read?
When the topic of early (preschool age) reading comes up, I always remember a particularly thought-provoking conversation I had with my friend a few years ago. Our kids had both just turned four, and thus, had one year of preschool behind them and one still ahead. During the first year, my son had attended Montessori school, while my friend’s child had gone to the (very reputable) traditional preschool. The Montessori school was a few hundred dollars more per month and my friend could not understand why I would “spend that kind of money on preschool.”
“Let’s face it,” she said, “preschool is just glorified daycare.”
“I mean, the socialization is important at this age, but the academics can wait. They have their whole lives to learn to read and write. Isn’t that what Kindergarten is for?”
“They are only four years old, for Pete’s sake. I mean, do you expect them to be reading?” (I don’t think she actually said ‘Pete’s’ here, but you get the idea…)
“Yes!” I blurted, before she could move on to the next sentence. She was looking at me like I was crazy. “A____ is really interested in reading,” I added.
“Interested, maybe, but does that mean we should cram reading down his throat? He still has plenty of time to learn later, I mean…right?”
Of course, she was right. At four-years-old, kids have plenty of time to learn to read and write. It is also true that children can, and do, learn to read in kindergarten and/or first grade. But, here is the irony: the best time to teach children to read is between ages 3½ and 5½ years.
Windows of Opportunity
Children between 3½ and 5 ½ years-of-age experience a phase of innate and powerful interest in reading and writing. Maria Montessori referred to such phases of natural interest as “sensitive periods of development.” During the sensitive period for reading and writing, children learn almost “spontaneously.” But by age six, this vital window of opportunity has closed, and the child must learn through memorization and study.
“Older children will not perhaps have the same keen interest in analyzing words or the same delight in seeing them translated into letters in a row… This can only be explained by the fact that a child of four is still in a formative period of his own psychic [mind] development.”
~ Maria Montessori