Schools are struggling with mandates for testing, discipline challenges and public support. One of the questions asked of kindergartners upon enrollment is designed to determine their reading skills. Nancy Bailey argues that we should be emphasizing speaking and listening skills over reading and writing skills at this young age. Her thoughts and research into how Education has changed over the last generation are compelling.
Her argument focuses on the proper order for learning these skills. Children hear words and use them long before they are able to see them represented in print or form them with letters using a writing instrument. Clearly, asking a child to learn to read and write before they have become proficient enough in listening and speaking skills is illogical and inefficient. Grading them and testing them on higher skills before their foundation skills are practiced enough sounds more like cruel and unusual punishment to me.
Like a lot of other skills, children learn to read at different stages in their development. I graduated sixth in my class with a near perfect grade average but I wasn’t developmentally ready for Geometry in the 10th grade. My readiness came later than the State’s mandated age for teaching those abstract skills. Some children can read and write when they come to Kindergarten while others develop that proficiency later. Pushing them into pre-K programs and giving them a writing instrument they can hardly hold and operate properly makes even less sense.
Bailey argues that there is no research to support the notion that the child’s brain is ready to read and write early. Pushing reading and writing causes the foundation skills of speaking and listening to be de-emphasized to make room for the remedial work on higher skills. That’s like saying we need to cut down on batting practice because the stats on homeruns are lagging.
She argues that eliminating play, recess, art and music in order to focus on reading, writing and behavior skills takes us the wrong direction. Her evidence was a series of quotes from early childhood books from the 80’s and 90’s. These recommendations fly in the face of current recommendations, causing changes in our schools that are in fact driving those same test scores down instead of raising them.
Parents need to arm themselves with information about this issue and work to lighten the pressure on their children to learn subjects too early that they can master easily at a later time. Reading to our children in preschool, especially dads reading books to children has been demonstrated to make a big difference in school success. Conversation using regular language—rather than sentences broken down into baby talk—also helps the reading skills develop nicely.
Education experts need to listen to parents rather than assuming the role of community expert over the top of parent’s wishes. It is hypocritical to ask for community and home engagement and then silence or ignore that engagement. It either takes a village or it does not.
If nothing else, our lack of success in raising those test scores should be reason enough to review our methods and philosophy. Let’s not drive children away from one of the most enjoyable activities they can engage in for the rest of their lives by making them feel like failures because we insisted on teaching it too soon.