So why is this phonics business being mentioned in pre-school settings? Yep, you heard right. Nurseries are beginning to teach phonics and early reading skills. Have we gone overboard with this obsession to get children reading early? Or is it a good idea to get children involved in early reading before they start school?
I think it’s
fair to say that for many people, children should be able to learn through play in pre-school environments. It feels as though we are often being forced into putting academic pressure on children younger and younger and the question often arises, are we allowing children to be children in 2015?
It’s a tricky one. And for me, it’s all about the approach and getting the balance right. All parents want the best for their children and educators want the best for your children too! It’s important that children reach their full potential at all ages and stages of their life without feeling pressured and like the whole education thing is a monotonous drag by the age 7.
So I’ll let you into a little secret. I hated reading as a child. And that is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about children enjoying reading. Why did I hate it? My parents did all the right things. I was religiously read a bedtime story, every night, by either my mum or dad. We read big books together, regularly read my school reading book at home and had a range of books and stories to choose from at home. My parents even modelled good reading habits themselves. My mum is an avid reader and I remember my 11-year-old self feeling slightly envious watching her engrossed in a book. And she admitted to me on numerous occasions that she wished I liked to read.
Anyway, without me going into a dull biography of ‘my life so far’, I have come to the conclusion that many of my experiences at school did not make reading enjoyable for me. I used to get so wrapped up in reading fluently, I found it hard to find books I liked and I just found it unengaging. I liked a few of the Roald Dahl’s my parents bought me but that was about it. I poignantly remember in year 7, we studied The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo, Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian and Romeo and Juliet, with my teacher Mrs Robinson. I loved all three texts, but why had it taken so long? I still went to secondary school as someone who glazed over, staring at the pages of my book during reading time. A book would last me six months and when I changed it, I still hadn’t usually read it.
Slipped into dull biography mode again. Well, my point is, it is vital that we give children the opportunity to be excited by books and reading. To feel intrigued and confident around them and like it’s an adventure worth exploring. This can, and should begin at pre-school age.
I’m not talking about sit-down, formal lessons; teaching children how to read at the age of 3. I’m talking about story adventures. Going on a real bear hunt. Retelling and re-enacting of stories. Making food for the Hungry Caterpillar. Being surrounded by a happy and friendly book environment. Being able to smell a brand new book and crack the spine. Making a spaceship to send the bear to space. Snuggling up in the corner listening to a story. Shouting out at the interactive parts of a story. Asking millions of questions about the characters. Being read books that make you roll around on the floor laughing because the mole got pooed on or the queen put knickers on her head!
That is how pre-school children should be exposed to early reading. Yes, I’ll talk about pre-school phonics in another post. But this is more important! If children start school excited about learning to read because they know the world it opens up to them, then that is successful early reading! Children who want to read, read more and therefore become better readers. It’s not rocket science but we sometimes forget with all the other “priorities” we end up with. As practitioners, teachers and parents, let’s turn that imagination up another notch and get children (and us) excited about reading.
Here’s to those belly laughs… a book I recently accidentally/naively selected to read to my year 1 and 2 class for an impromptu story time, with no idea what the story was about (oh the laughs we had)…