Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Cons

It seems to me that the pros of teaching a baby to read are fairly obvious. At the very least, if a baby learns to read early he can occupy his time with the activities of his choosing later in childhood, age 5-6 when most other kids are spending their time learning to read. At best, the brain is molded and shaped in preparation for higher level of thinking earlier.

I have read a few books, essays, and on line articles on the subject of the negatives of teaching a baby to read. There seems to be at least two major trains of thought. One takes the view that the child has more important developmental tasks to accomplish first before reading can or should happen. Some are more blunt, and say that you are taking a child's childhood away by introducing academics at such an early age. The second train of thought is that learning to read early is detrimental to reading later.

I am not well-versed enough in childhood development to deconstruct these arguments, I am just a Mom. However, I can say that the first reasoning, that babies should only pursue non-academic play, is purely a matter of opinion. It is a parenting choice that a parent makes once they learn that babies can learn to read (not everyone knows this), and they choose not to pursue teaching their babies. I think this is a perfectly fine parenting choice. My parents did not know babies could learn to read, did not teach us as babies, and my siblings and I all are excellent readers with post-graduate education. I have found that teaching my baby to read, so far, has not taken up much time and since he is engaged in play for the rest of the entire day, I don't think he is missing out on much at all. Viewing the videos takes up about 40 minutes, and I feel that he has fun "singing" the songs, and pointing to his nose.

The second point, that reading early makes children poor readers later is just counter-intuitive. The claim is that whole word reading causes dyslexia, or exacerbates the issue with dyslexic children. Or, the claim is that whole word reading is not really reading at all, but rather it is memorization or training.

The first claim I cannot really comment on other than I have not seen any citations to any proof, or even any anecdotal claims. The second claim is combination silliness and denial at its finest. The proponents of this claim is that using phonics, BKA "sounding out words" for the rest of us, is reading and memorizing the shape and look of a word is not reading.

I don't want to rant because that is not the purpose of this blog, but I used to tutor some very young early readers several years ago. There was one infinitely cute little Cambodian girl whose parents did not speak English who would need a couple of hours of help with her homework nearly every day. She could sound words out. It was laborious, frustrating, and once she cried. She would struggle to get through a passage, sounding out every word, then have absolutely no idea what she just read. The comprehension just was not there. After this process, I would read the passage to her, then sometimes have her read it aloud or to herself again. Even if I read the comprehension questions to her, she would still often have very low comprehension and I would point to the answer in the passage for her to read once again. If she had at least some words memorized by sight, perhaps she would have reached fluency earlier, but at least at the time I was tutoring her she was so far from that I was pretty worried for her. I am not against the phonics approach, but saying that phonics is reading and sight memorization is not reading seems to me to be agenda oriented and not taking into account the realities and results of each type of approach.

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