Developing Pre-Reading Skills
The Earlier the Better?
Should very young children be taught to read? Kathryn Knox, director of communications for Gateway Educational Products, makers of the Hooked on Phonics reading program says, “Hooked on Phonics is appropriate for children from age four up, but customers have reported success with children as young as two years old.”
Hooked on Phonics uses audio tapes, flashcards, and workbooks to teach reading phonetically. “What attracts kids is the colorful books and flashcards, the music and the friendly voice of the tutor,” says Knox.
“Hooked on Phonics is not something I would consider using with a young child,” says Dr. DeTemple. “This program only focuses on one element of reading, which is phonics. But there is much more involved. Children need to learn vocabulary, story structure, and how a book works.”
“How to read from left to right, and from the top of the page to the bottom, and how to turn pages without skipping around are all skills children must learn. These are not typically taught in school and they
are not included in this type of program. Special focus on phonics is completely unnecessary.”
“I’m not enthusiastic about packaged reading programs for preschoolers,” says Dr. Joan Friedberg, PhD, co-director of the Pittsburgh-based literacy program, Beginning with Books. “There are wonderful children’s books parents can buy for the same amount of money that will provide the rich background and environment children need to become literate.”
“I don’t think preschool-aged children are developmentally ready for Hooked on Phonics,” says Sullivan. “Very young children may not be emotionally equipped to handle the advanced work of reading.”
“Parents must ask themselves why they want their three or four year old to read?” Dr. DeTemple continues. “We wouldn’t want a child to be an early reader so that he could read alone. Reading together is far too important.
“The only value to being an early reader is social and emotional, not intellectual. Early readers are often praised by their parents which makes them feel good, and they may be labeled by their teachers as smart kids, but in the long run there aren’t any advantages.”
Books, Books, Books
“Children truly learn to read when they are ready,” adds Stone-Libon. “And in the long run there should be no difference in the abilities of an early reader and an average reader. Early readers do not have better comprehension than others.”
As soon as possible the distinction should be made between books and toys. While toys are intended for play, books should be treasured and treated gently. “Children should learn how to handle books with care,” says Dr. Friedberg. “It is wise to discourage children from cutting or scribbling in them. Remind the kids that if they ruin a book, the story will no longer be available to read and enjoy again. As an alternative offer old magazines or catalogues to cut.”
Helping preschoolers create their own books is another way to develop pre-reading skills. Dr. Friedberg suggests, “Make it a family project. Have the child dictate a story and then illustrate it. Seeing their own words on a printed page makes them more meaningful. As they go back over the finished product they should even be able to figure out what some of those words are. It is just one more way to begin to unlock the secrets of reading.”
“There’s no great mystery to teaching children how to read,” says Stone-Libon. “Reading to them one-on-one outweighs everything else. Begin as early as possible and read, read, read.”
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