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Reading: First Grade Is the Deadline


Q. What's all this fuss about little kids learning to read at such a young age? Aren't parents who want their kids reading by age 6 or 7 just being overly-anxious?


No, they're being smart. The sooner you can read, the sooner you can start building your vocabulary, and a big vocabulary is the ticket to good reading comprehension and academic success. A child's brain is in optimal position to learn by reading up until about age 10, when that "perfect" learning condition begins to wane. That's why there's a bit of a deadline about reading:


By the end of first grade, if a student hasn't caught on well to reading, the statistics show a strong and disturbing correlation to underachievement on down the road.


But reading reformers have been saying for decades that our schools are not teaching reading correctly in the early grades. Remember the book, Why Johnny Can't Read? That warning came two generations ago, and yet the ineffective methods of reading instruction are still in place.


It's not "pushing it" to formally instruct children in the simple basics of the code of our English language at age 5 or 6. In fact, if you don't - and very few schools do - you are setting up those kids for reading disabilities on down the road, as they struggle to make sense of text in their own ways. Their own ways are usually wrong.


Very few children work out how the code works without very specific instruction, and at least 25% of all children will need fairly intensive instruction.


Here is the bottom line: "There is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader." That fact is not from some independent reading reformer just trying to embarrass public schools. That's from the Fall 2004 issue of The American Educator.


Reading reformers have been trying for decades to move schools away from the current philosophy about reading - Whole Language - and back to systematic, intensive, explicit phonics instruction in the early grades. All it would require is 20 minutes a day in kindergarten and first grade, bringing the children up off the floor on their beanbags and carpets, and into a proper posture at a desk with handwriting instruction, listening to the phonograms and starting their spelling notebooks.


These reading reformers have been talking 'til they're blue in the face, though. The education establishment isn't listening. It isn't going to happen any time soon.


Therefore, parents who care should locate a private phonics tutor for their children ages 4-7 and arrange private reading lessons - sooner, not later.


If your child struggles with reading and is older than second grade, it is imperative that you get your child to someone who can teach him or her to read with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics. Be sure to pre-test and post-test your child so that you can present the progress to your school - along with the bill for that outside tutoring that you felt compelled to pay for, and now are seeking reimbursement.


Since teaching reading is Job One for any school, there's no reason they shouldn't pay you back for that service, even if you had to seek it on the outside.


And remember: knowing how to read is PRICELESS. Don't let pride or inconvenience or ANYTHING short-change your child from that basic right.


Homework: Here's an excellent phonics program - - that might help you locate a good tutor.


By Susan Darst Williams Reading 03 2008

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