It’s about time we put our foot down as responsible teachers and stopped teaching reading to students who just aren’t ready for it! From an incredibly early age, we are expecting young children to learn their letters and start to pronounce sounds. And this is not just in a playful exploratory manner, but it is becoming a larger and larger part of their early childhood curriculum.
Too Much Assessment
I hear from my Kindergarten teaching colleagues about how they must assess their students on their progress reading phonemes about every 4-6 weeks, taking students aside individually to assess and reassess throughout the school year. Between assessments, teachers are required to spend time on direct instruction in reading and writing.
Maybe there are some people who don’t see the issue with this, but I certainly do. It is taking away from what students should be and are ready to learn at that age, skills that are age appropriate and necessary to be learning: socializing, problem solving, working their fine and gross motor skills… these children need to be playing in the classroom more and learning how to read less!
Are there benefits to learning to read so early?
I look at my own fourth graders and wonder why they are lacking in skills such as sharing, having conversations, holding scissors, tearing a piece of tape off a tape dispenser, coloring or drawing for more than 2 minutes at a time… It’s our own fault. We are taking their true early childhood education away and replacing it with literacy skills and sounding out nonsense words. And for what? To try and get them ahead of the game in academics. But guess what? It’s not really working. In fact we are doing such a detriment to our students.
While there is no doubt literacy deserves a large place in primary classrooms, it needs to take the form of being read to, holding a book, respecting words, telling stories and cultivating a love of literacy.
The dislike and fear students have for reading and writing as they grow older should concern our society, and the anxiety around writing in particular is alarming. So many students in grades 2-4 alone are debilitated by a writing assignment. And I know that there are many issues around students’ reading and writing skills in middle and high school as well.
The Importance of Play
What do I think SHOULD be taking the place of direct literacy instruction in the primary grades? Well, in one word: PLAY! Certainly, anyone in education knows that play and exploration is absolutely how young children learn best: through role-playing, creating, and experimenting. Teachers lead students in activities that build their motor skills and minds. They grow socially as they learn how to share, take turns and carry on conversations to play together and solve conflicts. Young students are asked to create art and crafts that build their fine motor skills so that they can use tools correctly. (I have many students that struggle with holding and using a ruler to draw a straight line. Many of my students need instructions in how to walk with scissors.) Young students need to dance and move about the room to understand body control, spacial sense and to build community. And with all these lessons, students find success because they are reinforcing skills that are age appropriate, and that feeds their self-confidence (a very important trait of a life-long learner.)
I’m not saying that primary level teachers do not teach these things. They DO! But so much of their time is being taken away so that they can get their 5- and 6-year-olds reading. That needs to stop. The expectations that students need to read at an early age in order to be successful later in life needs to stop! That is the wrong mentality and, frankly it is messing with the natural order of how children learn.
Learning is More than Academics
One of my colleagues just wrote on her FB page how she is seeing so many more cases of anxiety and mental illness in her classroom. She is not alone. This is not to say that putting more play in early childhood will fix the mental health problems our society is facing…but it sure wouldn’t hurt.
Replacing much of the direct literacy instruction with playtime will do two things: 1) reinforce Social-Emotional Competencies in an age appropriate manner and 2) alleviate the stress and anxiety that goes with forcing children to learn things they are not quite ready for. Our goal should be to teach age-appropriately and allow students to find success in their learning process. Too often we are stressing kids out with unrealistic expectations.
It’s time to rethink what we emphasize in early childhood. If we are able to emphasize the use of PLAY, we are satisfying students’ Social-Emotional needs as well as their academic ones.
So, what are your thoughts? What are your observations in the classroom and with students? It’s time to have this conversation!