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Is it an advantage for my child if I teach them to read before they go to school?

Is it an advantage for my child if I teach them to read before they go to school?

, by Annabel Tannenbaum, 4 min reading time

Isn’t it better to teach children to read and write earlier? Well actually no.

This is an important question that over the past few years and especially recently has caused a big debate. Isn’t it better to teach children to read and write earlier? Well actually no.

For most children at this early age they are not ready for the concepts of learning to read and write. But for numerous reasons we’ve thought that it would give children a head start in school and learning.

We all want the best for our children and we just don’t want them to struggle at school. It’s hard to watch your child struggle and not want to go to school because everyone else in the class is reading and writing.

When we push children to read and write before they are ready, their development in other areas suffers.

It’s like making a cake and wanting to eat the cake before being baked. You can eat it raw but it has missed out on some of it’s development because it hasn’t been baked in the oven.

The cooking process missed a whole lot of steps. The cake needed to bake in the oven and then be left to cool before being edible. Then if you tried to ice the cake before you baked it in the oven firstly it would be extremely difficult and secondly it wouldn’t be a very good cake.  

Sure, you’d have a cake and it would be iced but it would have been a much more sturdy and developed cake if the cooking process hadn’t been rushed and it was allowed to go through all the necessary steps.

Unfortunately, our children are often now being pushed and rushed through their natural learning process and crucial skills for life aren’t being developed, especially in the area of social-emotional skills.

Early Childhood Teachers, principals and child psychologists have all seen a shift in the last 5 years or so where children entering Kindy and Pre-Primary are struggling because they don’t have the social-emotional skills required for school.

There are critical skills children need to have in order to be ready to learn and go to school. These are social and emotional skills. When children are socially and emotional healthy they are ready to:
- Make and keep friends
- Express how they feel in safe ways and
Learn throughout life.     

Social-emotional skills are the foundation for learning.

Children do well in school if they can:
- Get along with others
- Make friends
- Share and take turns
- Care about how other people feel
- Communicate feelings
- Calm themselves when upset
- Ask for what they need

Children with the skills above are better able to:
- Pay attention to the teacher
- Follow simple instructions
- Stay in their seats
- Stick with the task at hand
- Try new things
- Solve problems
Children who have these skills get better grades. They find it easier to adjust to the school environment and are eager to learn. They are more confident and secure so they enjoy school. Being confident and secure also means that they have better self-esteem and are more independent. They are more resilient, which means that they can bounce back more easily from life’s disappointments. They are also able to have healthy relationships throughout their life.

Children who are not as socially and emotionally skilled may have trouble adjusting to the school environment and making friends. They find it difficult to express themselves in healthy and socially acceptable ways. They may withdraw from others or express their feelings by biting, hitting, screaming, using unkind words or bullying. They can then suffer teasing from the other children in the class. If they can’t follow directions and focus on tasks, they will find school hard and won’t like going. They also won’t feel good about themselves and this is detrimental to their going to school and learning.

In the “Guide for Families with Children Birth to Age 8, it poses the question: What can I do as a parent to support my child’s social and emotional health?

- Respond to your child’s efforts to communicate with you.
- Enrich your child’s daily routines by making eye contact and sharing smiles, conversations, stories and books.
- Take time to follow your child’s lead. Join them in one-on-one play and talk with them about their activities whenever possible.
- Gently guide your child through social situations.
- Be sure your expectations match what your child is socially and emotionally ready to do.
- Be consistent.
- Be open and honest with your child.
- Model the words and actions you want to see in your child.
- Let your child make mistakes.
- Encourage responsibility and independence.”

Social and Emotional Health: A Guide for Families with Children Birth to Age 8
Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Community Health
Michigan Department of Human Services
Early Childhood Investment Corporation
Please note: Throughout this guide the term ‘parents’ is used to refer to any adult that is living with and caring for young children birth to age 8.
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