Why you should teach, encourage children to read from an early age

Reading is a complex skill that is taught early. [iStockphoto]

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” - Victor Hugo

I occasionally meet two categories of mothers whose children are in class four and beyond.

The first category of mothers are those whose children have learned how to read and they are happy. The second category of mothers are those whose children seem to be having difficulties to read.

Both categories of mothers know the educational value of reading ability. The ability to read a text, understand and make inferences from it is very important. It is the essential skill required for academic success, especially when a child transitions to Class Four or in CBC language, Grade Four.

In the first three years of primary education, a child is learning to read. Ability to read is attained when a child is able to understand what he or she is reading. That is what reading comprehension is all about.

That is the primary function of schooling in the first three years is to teach children how to read.

In the fourth class or grade, the child reads or is expected to read to learn. If by grade four or five, the child is still learning to read, it makes reading to learn more difficult.

“In turn, developing reading fluency will be difficult, resulting in poor comprehension, limited learning, and little enjoyment, G. Reid Lyon, an American, argues in an article, 'Why reading is not a natural process'.

A child who gets into grade four with ‘poor comprehension and limited learning’ finds schooling frightening.

In the first place, curriculum shifts to more complex ideas, or concepts at grade four onwards. In the second place, most information relevant to the curriculum and the whole universe of education is derived from written sources: Textbooks, books, notes, online sites when ICT is integrated in learning.

Frankly speaking, children who have not mastered reading proficiency suffer. They struggle to understand the curriculum content. The amount and rigour of reading progressively increases as they move up the grade levels aggravates the children’s learning experience. Needless to say, they don’t enjoy reading or learning altogether. Performance progressively declines as they progress upwards.

This creates anxiety in parents and mothers in particular. 

It is the reason why difficulties children experience in reading that causes a lot of anxiety to mothers.  The well-educated and modestly educated mothers alike are distressed when their children face difficulties in reading - be it in grades four, five, onwards. The fears are founded. Inability to understand texts means that the children cannot understand the ideas, concepts and feelings contained in the texts. Without addressing the problem, the child with reading difficulties falls far behind academically.

Hence the frantic efforts the loving and caring mothers make to find solutions to the problem before it is too late.

Truth be told. Reading is a complex skill that is taught early. The teaching at grade one, two and three is expected to be deliberate, systematic, contextual and incremental. The milestones from zero knowledge of the written word  - sequential steps in learning to read - to reading a whole word, sentences and paragraphs.

Education systems have determined reading levels for learners - right from grade or class the first year to the 12th year of Early Learning and Basic Education. Educational authorities recommend specific books for each grade or bands of grades for use as instructional materials they call grade levels. The right kind of literature must be introduced at the right time to build a child’s reading abilities.

In lay language, reading levels are a detailed way to pair children’s reading ability with books they can successfully read and understand. They are an effective way to measure a child’s reading progress.

If a child is primarily reading books at or just above their determined reading level, they are more likely to find reading enjoyable. But if they don’t read at all or read books below their determined reading level, they invariably find reading punitive.

 Ability to read is not an end. It is the opening gun for opening one’s mental horizons through extensive reading of compelling fiction and nonfiction works.

Ability to read means the child has the ability to learn. Mothers and fathers should, besides the approved reading materials buy additional books for the children to read. They should also read to the children almost every evening before they sleep.

American educator ED Hirsch, Jr has argued that many children struggle to comprehend (text) because they lack the vocabulary to be fluent readers.

“…Their vocabulary deficit comes from a knowledge deficit; they haven’t been taught enough about science, history, geography, and the arts to recognise common words when they sound them out,” Hirsch adds.

Children who have acquired reading fluency should be enabled to read as many quality texts - fictional and nonfiction - as possible. The wide reading helps them to broaden their minds. They acquire general knowledge, skills and competencies and literacy and numeracy skills, critical to more advanced educational programmes at the same or higher levels apart from laying the foundation for lifelong learning.

Mothers whose children have not fully learned how to read can be assisted. The no child is left behind policy does not mean that the child cannot be left behind even though s/he is attending school on a regular basis.

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