“Teach your kid to read by age 4!”

When my son was four I used to get this claim a lot. “I started reading when I was four! You can teach him now.” For a while I thought all these people must be remembering incorrectly. I’m an avid reader. I was an easy  four year old because I would stare at pages in books while listening to the books on tape, just trying to get the words to click for me. I remember this. I was mesmerized by reading. My mom stayed up late studying for college classes because she also had a day job and I would stay up watching her pour over the books. What were they telling her? No one had to try to get me to want to learn to read but no matter how many times I replayed the tapes, I couldn’t decode the characters. It didn’t happen for me til I was five and a half almost 6 and even then I didn’t really understand that I was reading or how. When my aunt decided to teach me the summer before I started first grade, so I would have a head start I realized I had already started doing some of that. Suddenly it wasn’t such a big mystery. Now as an adult people were telling me they were fully reading at four and I could, in fact, should already be teaching my son. I read stories to my son every night and he loves it. There were some words he recognized at four, mainly the word “no” but he wasn’t ready to start reading. Eventually he did start Kindergarten and unfortunately his teacher belonged to the “obsessed with getting kids to read early” party. The problem with that is that I know from experience and research that reading doesn’t really happen til that thing in your brain clicks. For some reason it tends to happen earlier for girls, while boys love numbers. I didn’t know the latter til last year when I spent Kindergarten dealing with this teacher. I appreciated her overeager nature but she would pile on homework and had unrealistic expectations. She claimed to the parents and me that this wasn’t her fault, the school principal forced this curriculum on her and so did the board of ed but we easily had communication with parents in other kindergarten classes and nome of them were facing the same treatment. Their kids were actually being taught a reasonable kindergarten curriculum. Some people want their kids to be advanced but I didn’t want my son to be intimidated and turned off from school. I value teachers and all their hard work and believe in supplementig education at home, especially since we’re a bilingual household. The girls in the class did learn to read by the end of the year, along with one of the boys. This boy’s milestones are completely different from my son’s. While my son is very artistic and makes elaborate art, he still wasn’t reading. The other boy read at a first grade level but his art wasn’t as intricate. It’s just an example of how kids have different milestones and you should be careful at valuing one over another.  I have continuously implemented the concepts of reading to my son in a fun way because it is important to me and something that I want us to enjoy together. I’ve always wanted someone to cuddle and take turns reading pages of a book aloud with me. I only ever got to share that type of experience with one person, a close friend in college and I look forward to having that same experience with my son one day. Sometimes it was agonizing, reading with him every day, asking if he wanted to try and not seeing much progress. My son is easily distracted so he wasn’t always paying attention to the words as much as the pictures. I did a lot of those Disney sing along songs with the words that light up as you sing to help with letter recognition. It was another fun thing but he still wasn’t ready to pay close attention. He also has a great memory so it was hard to measure how much he was memorizing and how much he was really reading. I suspect some of the self proclaimed four year old readers involved a lot of that memorization. But independent “sounding it out reading,” is more of what I consider an actual sign. Then finally, last week at 6.4 years old, my son started showing signs that he was finally really getting it all on his own. He was sounding out words, difficult words, and figuring out sentences for himself. In conclusion, your patience will pay off. It will happen eventually. Don’t let any missguided well meaning over eager people concern you with their expectations. Don’t shove sight words down their throats. Make it fun for both of you and do a little every day. You’re doing an amazing job!

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