Friday, 10 May 2013

Should My Pre-schooler Already Be Learning To Read?

This morning I had a massive crisis of confidence about my parenting and in particular the fact that we’re not doing anything ‘phonic’ related at home in preparation for Isla starting reception in September. I was reading a few things on the train on the way to work and seemed to come across people talking about their pre-schoolers' reading alone – only small words admittedly – but words are words! Also that they were looking at phonics together at home. This had me in a bit of a panic. Are we doing enough at home? Is Isla already going to be behind the other children in terms of learning before she’s even started school?! 

Obviously she’s learning all the time, from all the things around her and as a parent I teach her but I don’t want to be her formal educator – I’m not trained to do that. I planned for her to start her formal education at school and in turn I would learn how to assist her learning by taking the lead from her teachers. But now I feel like we’re somehow behind. I don’t want to feel pressure over these things, as that will in turn lead me to pressurise her. I want learning to be fun in these early stages and I was happy with what she knew until I started making comparisons to others and I guess that is the crux of this whole thing. Making comparisons is very dangerous, our children aren’t all the same and I need to remember this. What one child finds easy another finds difficult and vice versa. So should I worry about this and am I doing her a disservice by not getting the Jolly Phonics books out now and getting her on the reading ladder before she starts school? Should I already be thinking about whether she is going to be top or bottom of the class? That last question sounds like crazy talk to me but I have a feeling that things become rather competitive once school starts.

I’m a bit torn. With Isla being a July baby she will be one of the younger ones in her year, so that could be a drawback and she *may* not be as ready to learn as some of her elder peers, so perhaps this is a key reason to give her a head start? Then again if she starts familiarising herself with it all now is there a risk that she will be bored of it when the time comes to do it at school? We read to the kids every day at home, and they have loads of books. I actively encourage spending time reading together as I feel it’s really important. I loved reading as a child and always had my nose in a book rather than watching TV and I’d love for them to be that way too. Isla also knows about half of the alphabet, she doesn’t know it all – is this a worry? Should I be green-housing her for the next 3 months so she knows all of it!? She can also write her own name (albeit with the S round the wrong way) and can count pretty well. This morning I’ve found myself trying to think of all the things she can do and it’s quite frankly made my head hurt and is unfair on her. I put the question out to my facebook friends who on the whole suggested that I do as much with Isla as she is comfortable with, play letter games and maybe start with a few letter sounds, and in no way make it feel like a chore, which all sounds like sensible advice.

Interestingly there is an article in the Guardian today referring to the very subject of whether summer babies are at a disadvantage and evidence is conflictual. If you look at statistics of those who get into Oxbridge or Cambridge, then a baby born in October has a 30% higher chance than a baby born in July. Now I’m obviously not saying that at this early stage in Isla’s life my eyes are on Oxford or Cambridge (that would be ridiculous – although I know some parents eyes are firmly in that direction before conception in some cases!) but it does seem to suggest that an enjoyable fumble between me and my OH in October led to us setting our kids up at a disadvantage straight away. Then again, apparently Barack Obama, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Stephen Fry are all highly intelligent summer babies so maybe the statistics shouldn't be believed.

What do you think? Do you have summer babies who are thriving at school and are ahead of their elder friends in their studies? Do I have reason to worry and should I be hot footing it down to Foyles in my lunch break to pick up all the Jolly Phonics books I can lay my hands on? I’d really love to know what you currently do/ did with your pre-schoolers.


  1. This is an interesting one. We taught one daughter to read before school and one learnt in her Reception year. Both are born in the first half of the calendar year. I'd say the pros and cons will only be evident once you know how the school deals with it all. The daughter who could read was left floundering and with no acceleration available, it was up to us to keep it going. The other daughter is now almost 3 years ahead of her school year! So ..... I'd say go with the flow, talk to the school and just enjoy the last few months before she heads off there :)

  2. I wouldn't worry at all! Jacob is a June baby and although he did some joining the dots writing at nursery we didn't do anything phonic related before he started reception.
    All schools use different schemes anyway so even if you did start to do something if might not be of help.
    They are at school for so long just enjoy the time you have with them now x

  3. I don't think you should beat yourself up for what you have or haven't done to this point. Lots of parents get phonics books like we did and spend time reading them with their children. Lots of them don't. What do you feel confident doing? What do you want to learn with her?

    I know that you already read with your children and point at pictures and talk about lots, as well as crafting and having adventures, so she'll be starting school with all those advantageous experiences under her belt that other people won't have!

    If she can write her name to any extent, that's great. And if she knows some letters, that's great as well. I think we all expect so much of ourselves that sometimes it's hard to know what's the right thing to do, and what's us wanting to think we've done enough / the right thing!!

    Here's one for you - my first born went to school able to write his name. The second one could as well, but not in the same way as the first. But I did forget something along the way. I completely forgot to teach our boys how to ride a bike so now they are still on stabilisers when their friends are independent and off. I'll always feel bad about that, but they'll work it out along the way somehow :))

  4. Anecdotal, I know, but I loved being the youngest in my year - it was never remotely problematic and I don't think I've been disadvantaged at all :)
    Similar for the others I was at school with.

  5. We did nothing other than enjoy picture books, I wanted her to have her childhood, plus she wasn't interested. Turns out she doesn't really seem to find phonics that helpful now anyway, she is a visual learner. She's in year one and I have agonised cos she is still is a reluctant reader, but I have NO regrets. She has unfolded at her own pace and excelled at what she wanted when she was ready.

  6. Ha, you've just voiced all my fears (as you may have seen on FB today) - H is an August baby and I've never really pushed the phonics side too much, although she does love to point out letters and we've tried to keep the learning as fun stuff (like the Nick Jr A to Z we have downstairs - so it's things like P-eh for Peppa Pig kind of stuff) - we should have them meet up soon (before school!) - a bit is done at nursery too, although not a huge amount.

    The Guardian piece annoyed me as H will automatically be judged due to her birthdate rather than on how well she learns things - and I'm worried she could be held back. I want her to be herself and find her own ability and then be judged on that - the only thing I can compare it to is when we started swimming lessons at Westcroft and she was put in a group with non-swimmers and other kids who've never had a lesson, despite her having them since before she was 1. She's done well, but only as she's used to it - all the kids are doing well - but the teacher had no prior information and had to see each child's ability to know where they were in the class. If that makes any sense… I hate the fact H will be a statistic and potentially judged on that before she's had a chance. I know they have to do it somehow, but it annoys me!


  7. I personally wouldn't stress it. We never did before Ruby started school. She could recognise most letters before reception but even once at school took a while for reading to click.

    I think you are in danger of turning them off if you do too much.

    Enjoy your last few months of her to yourself and have fun. I'm surprised at how little time it feels like we have together now she's started full-time at school x

  8. I really wouldn't worry - certainly a child I know who was 'hot-housed' and reading well before Reception is now stuck and bored at school because she's not mature enough to understand the books she is capable of reading and they cover subjects completely inappropriate for a 5 year old. Phonics teaching is a strange concept - schools use different techniques, some embrace jolly phonics to the last dot, others give it a glancing nod and use what works best with that particular year. Enjoy story time together, delight in the fact she can write her name and as Liz said, enjoy the summer together.

  9. Hmmm as you there is conflicting info out there. I attend a parenting course and we are advised to have quality time with our kids but not to stress too much on teaching things they will learn at school. If they already know things when they start school they will be board. Apparently the only expectation that teachers have of kids when they start is that they can say 'please' 'thank you' basically have manners and know how to tie their shoe laces. Naturally your parenting instinct will rise up against as we all want to give our kids the best possible start. I'm not sure what I'll do yet, but I reckon a good place to start is to talk to the teacher or principal of the school you daughter will be attending. Find out what their expectations are and then come up with course of action that fits into you parenting style. Do write and let us know what you decide it would I'd be interested to know the outcome. Good luck :0)

  10. thanks all, it's bugged me most of the day thinking about this whole thing. First off it started off very simply me worrying about not doing some learning at home, then it led me to articles about summer babies being under achievers and that made me feel even more gloomy.

  11. I was just blogging about this. My son is three and he learned to read small words just by going outside! He would ask me what this sign said, or what this word was, and he remembered. So now when he sees these words he knows them. As far as learning at home, a huge part of it came from us reading together as well as this site I had always seen it advertized on nickjr, disney channel and the like so I had decided to try it out. Its an amazing site well worth the $7 a month it gives you sooo many tools to help kids learn anything from reading, writing, math etc. I highly suggest any parent to look into it.

  12. ^^ to add to it, my son is also a summer baby, born in August. One thing you have to remember is that kids will do things at their own pace. Just be patient with them :)

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