On Kindergarten, Reading, and Waiting
A recent article in The Huffington Post addressed reading skills in Kindergarten. It was intended to relieve parents of the high amount of pressure the current system puts on children to perform at a certain level academically, and it probably did just that. With the current backlash against high-stakes testing, parents are looking for pressure-release valves.
In many ways, the author’s thoughts were accurate and helpful. Our system is putting too much emphasis on high academic standards at an age when children, developmentally, should be spending more time running, climbing, and playing in the dirt. Every single one of the author’s “4 things worse than not learning to read in Kindergarten” are accurate… for Kindergarten.
The problem comes when people interpret this attempt at moderation as a reason to not be vigilant (which is not communicated in the original article). While it may not be the end of the world if your child is not reading by the end of Kindergarten, there is evidence in research, explained in this well-written article on Reading Rockets, that it is not safe to assume a developmental lag when children show signs of reading struggles.
So how do we strike the balance? How do we not let our lives be, on the one hand, dictated by fear for every delay, and on the other hand, miss true warning flags?
The answer: education! We must know what is developmentally reasonable, and what is cause for concern. Science has revealed so much, yet it is often hard for good information to cut through the noise that so often permeates our media-saturated society.
For a breakdown of red flags by age, see this list from The Morris Center clinics in Central Florida. But for Kindergarten-age children, here are some things to look for:
- Consistent mispronunciation of words
- Trouble rhyming
- Misses or changes sounds in words
- Has trouble retrieving a word
- Difficulty remembering directions
Bear in mind that most children do these things at some point, but if one or more of these indicators persist over time, consider having them assessed by a neuropsychologist or licensed therapist.
The spread of science-based information to parents is a responsibility held by many entities, including reputable media outlets and pediatricians. It is not acceptable for pseudo-science about dyslexia and other reading struggles to pass as major news stories, or for the medical community to purely see reading difficulties as an educational problem. Parents also need to do their part to seek out information based in legitimate research. This will go a long way toward making sure that parental worries are worthwhile.
And yet, schools will bear the brunt of the responsibility, and will be up for the task if they take two major steps forward:
1) Schools should be administering simple assessments involving phoneme elision, or the omission of phonemes in words (saying “cat” without the /k/ sound) that has been found to be highly predictive of future reading difficulties.
2) It is time that schools begin applying the research that has shown that about 97% of reading difficulties can be prevented in young children when given effective, neurodevelopment reading instruction. Giving PreK-1st Grade students age-appropriate, neurodevelopment instruction in the multi-sensory features of language sounds, and systematically training strong phonological processing skills could virtually eliminate this stress from the lives of most parents by adequately preparing the bulk of students for standard classroom reading instruction.
It’s time for us to all do our part. By spreading information based in science, looking for legitimate red flags, assessing children on necessary and developmentally appropriate skills, and providing evidence-based, neurodevelopment reading instruction, we can strike that balance between fear and flippancy, and find good judgment that leads to growth.