Is Early-Age Reading Developmentally Appropriate?

Activity_at_the_library6Marsha Lucas asks if introducing children to reading at an early age developmentally appropriate.

via Rewire Your Brain For Love:

Louise Bates Ames, PhD, a superstar in child development and the director of research at the world-renowned Gesell Institute of Child Development, stated that “a delay in reading instruction would be a preventative measure in avoiding nearly all reading failure.” Leapfrogging necessary cognitive developmental skills — and asking a young brain to do tasks for which it isn’t truly ready — is asking for trouble with learning.

The brains of young children aren’t yet developed enough to read without it costing them in the organization and “wiring” of their brain. The areas involved in language and reading aren’t fully online — and aren’t connected — until age seven or eight. If we’re teaching children to do tasks which their brains are not yet developed to do via the “normal” (and most efficient) pathways, the brain will stumble upon other, less efficient ways to accomplish the tasks — which lays down wiring in some funky ways — and can lead to later learning disabilities, including visual-processing deficits.

The description of brain development on which the “Your Baby Can Read” program rests its questionable claims is remarkably flawed, confusing language acquisition with reading. They state: “A baby’s brain thrives on stimulation and develops at a phenomenal pace…nearly 90% during the first five years of life! The best and easiest time to learn a language is during the infant and toddler years, when the brain is creating thousands of synapses every second — allowing a child to learn both the written word and spoken word simultaneously, and with much more ease….” There is a huge and unsupported leap here from language acquisition – which is definitely an important developmental task, necessary for connecting to one’s outer world – and reading, which is a very different neurological and cognitive task, and one which is not developmentally appropriate for a baby or toddler’s brain.

Does early training really get you anywhere? There is a classic study of twins which was done by another pioneer in child development, Arnold Gesell, PhD, MD. He studied a pair of toddler twins, who were not yet able to climb stairs. For the study, one of the twins was given daily practice and encouragement to climb stairs, and the other twin had no stairs to practice on. After six weeks of practice, the “trained” twin could climb the stairs, and the “untrained” twin could not. However, within one week of being given the opportunity to climb stairs, the untrained twin completely caught up with the trained twin’s stair-climbing ability.

The whole idea that learning to read early gives children — or our educational system, or our economy — an “advantage” is not based on empirical evidence. If you look at the US and Britain, you see the trends toward earlier reading and increasingly less successful educational systems. On the other hand, the majority of children in Finland begin instruction in reading at age seven — two years later than here in the US (and even later than the folks at “Your Baby Can Read” would have you start). The outcome? Finnish students not only catch up to their earlier-starting counterparts, but they surpass the United States, other European countries, and Asian countries as well, with top overall scores in the world in reading, science, and math.…

Read more at Rewire Your Brain For Love.

10 Comments on "Is Early-Age Reading Developmentally Appropriate?"

  1. BuzzCoastin | May 26, 2013 at 7:44 pm |

    how ironic
    wee live in the age of functional literacy
    and are almost transitioned into an icon based, symbolic form of writing
    babies are juggling iPhones & watching HDTV
    and the question wee are wrestling with here
    is at least 500 years too late

  2. I learned to read on my own at 3 1/2. Did get some use out of the head start, started with encyclopedias. Should very young kids be encouraged to do this? I don’t know.

    But it seems to me that these educators are copping out on the possibilities of teaching young kids to read early simply because it’s hard.

    • MoralDrift | May 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm |

      I taught myself how to read as well around the same age. The idea that there is a correct age to learn to do anything strikes me as wrong-headed. Do what you can however you can, there is no right or wrong way to read.

  3. phil barnes | May 27, 2013 at 12:40 am |

    My children attend a Waldorf curriculum school. Waldorf has long recognized that children are not developmentally ready to read until six or seven – they call it the 6 year change and is associated with the child developing the ability for abstract thinking. Being more conventionally taught, my wife and I encouraged our older daughter to begin reading but it never really took until, boom, it just happened and now she is a very good reader at 8. She has been reading for about a year now. As far as Waldorf goes, K through 2 grade are spend largely on emotional and spatial development through rhythm, music, art and play. All the work builds a strong foundation so when abstract language work begins students usually make up the gap between their non-Waldorf peers in terms of where they are in reading and writing very quickly.

  4. geminihigh | May 28, 2013 at 9:06 am |

    The most intellectually advanced group of kids I grew up with were all brothers who started reading at a very young age. By age six they possessed the “reading level” of a seventh grader; they loved the Hobbit and other books with the same level of complexity and difficulty and had no problem comprehending the plots. I really don’t see how it hurt them in anyway other than placing them worlds apart from their peers, pretty much light years ahead of them really. Interesting article nonetheless.

    • Rus Archer | May 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm |

      rolls eyes at the hobbit

      • geminihigh | May 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm |

        I wouldn’t roll my eyes at a child who can read and comprehend a book that most high schoolers have trouble with now a days, regardless of its literary merit or lack of, perceived or otherwise.

  5. Rus Archer | May 28, 2013 at 12:42 pm |

    stop reading altogether

  6. Kai Leggitt | Jan 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm |

    My boyfriend and I were both reading at the age of 2 (if you don’t believe it, you don’t have to), and neither of us have any learning disabilities, other that my terrible math skills. I think some people are just better or worse at some things.

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