Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reluctant to read and write?

I feel so sorry for children where the school is "worried" about their progress in reading and writing, and sends them home with extra work books and flash cards and lord knows what else for the summer holidays. So the pressure never drops off.

The parents feel under pressure because their 5/6/7/whatever year old is not at the same stage in literacy as the rest of the class. First assumption: We Have Done Something Wrong As Parents. Second assumption: There is Something Wrong With Our Child (whether that is disciplinary or developmental or what). I wish more would jump to a third assumption: Our Child is Fine. He/She is Just Not on Exactly The Same Tram Tracks as the National Average.

But that's a hard business, backing off, when schools are, by definition, places in which reading and writing are so central to the daily functioning of the institution from a really early stage.

Here's what I wrote somewhere else:

Reading and writing are the most glorious human tools. I mean, really. They make so much possible in terms of knowledge creation and storage. And we can access beautiful language and stories by people who aren't living in the same place and time as us.

But different children are ready to embrace that tool at different times. Some are ready at 4. Some are ready at 5 (they are the lucky ones, because that's when the UK schools are assuming they are up for it too) and some aren't ready till 7 or 8 or 10 or even later. Nothing to do with intelligence, just to do with being ready to begin using this particular tool of human communication.

We can force our children to learn to read and write before they are ready, we can even try to persuade them that it's a marvellous tool, but until they themselves are wanting to read a particular story THEMSELF or access a certain type of information INDEPENDENTLY, or communicate in writing to someone THEMSELF, then it's all just a rather pointless circus trick really, isn't it?

The old Unschooler's 5-step method of teaching a child to read is:

1. read to them
2. read to them
3. read to them
4. read to them
5. read to them

and it sounds like you're doing that. So I'd back off, take off the pressure, try to persuade school to take off the pressure, and let your child take it at their own pace. when she's ready, you won't see her for dust.

[climbs off soap box and puts it into backpack]

The Sandra Dodd page on reading begins: "You can't make her read or write. But you can make her not want to"


Leo said...

If you argue "the child might just not be interested yet" then it's the good argument, unless fair opportunities to learn haven't been offered by the adults responsible.

Unfortunately your arguments of individual readyness are not very good. Why are some individuals ready and other are not? Unless you question prevailing child development theories you won't be very persuasive.

Child modern development theories already cater for readyness. The child is ready when their brain is ready and when the pre-requisite skills, which are very well defined, have been learned. Either the child's brain is blamed or the adults responsible for offering the learning opportunities are.

Children with a sucessful preschool education do get better grades at school.

A child looses their readyness to learn a language at the level of a native as they get older. For instance, if a child doesn't have a French parent, her French is forever affected. There is no such thing as being ready to learn French. The early the opportunity is offered, the better.

Can this apply to other skills?

Sandra Dodd doesn't value excellence in learning, as it shows on her Comic MS pages.

(More later)

emma said...

I think that for a child who has been in school since 4.5 (as in the place I posted the comment originally) one can be pretty sure that fair opportunities to learn to read and write have been offered.

I'm starting here from the assumption that the adults involved are offering multiple opportunities to learn and being as imaginative as they know how about how those opportunities are being offered, since there they are worrying about the fact that the child isn't really reading and writing with confidence and enjoyment aged 7 and asking for advice about how to get child reading and writing with confidence and enjoyment.

Why are some people ready and some not? One might just as well ask why some babies walk at 10 months and others at 18 months. Or why some children are climbing like monkeys aged 2 and others prefer to stay earth-bound. Different interests at different times. Readiness is important. But just because someone isn't ready for a particular skill at a particular moment isn't ^necessarily^ a signal that there is something developmentally problematic going on. By all means, make sure child isn't blind, which would be causing a problem with their reading - again, I'd be assuming such avenues had been checked (ok, I'm being facetious with the blind comment, but you get the point). I would certainly not advocate saying "oh he/she is just not ready yet" if he/she was showing every sign of being interested but had some actual physical disorder which was getting in the way of whatever the skill was. A child with no legs can't walk. Get artificial legs for them, don't just say "He's not ready yet".

There may be certain skills which are easier to learn at a particular time, but I'm not generally convinced of that old "window of opportunity" stuff, being the granddaughter of a man who started to learn Italian as a retirement project and within 5 years was regularly being asked by Italians which part of Italy he was from. *shrug* That's just one example. I think people use the "window of opportunity" as a way of putting pressure on children all to learn the same thing at the same time, as a way of justifying the industry of education as much as it having physiological validity.

"Children with a sucessful preschool education do get better grades at school." Do you mean, children who go to a good pre-school do better than those who spend their pre-school years at home? Reference please. I find this hard to believe.

Leo said...

I had a great grandfather who smoked and lived past a hundred years old, therefore it doesn't cause harm. Right?

I'm not convinced about windows of opportunity either, but some using grandfathers as anedoctes is not the best way to show it.

The issue is you don't learn it the same way.

When I said preschool, I've meant education that prepares for school. ELC toys might be adequate enough.

I really don't understand what you mean by readiness.