How young is too young? Pushed into chapter books.

photo by David Castillo DominiciI’ve noticed a trend in the last decade or so to push kids into reading at younger and younger ages.

When I went to school, an independent reader was expected to be late 2nd to early 3rd grade. I don’t remember whether learning to read came easily or was difficult for me. My brother, nearly two years my junior, had an awful time of it when he was learning. I remember him and my mother screaming at each other while she pushed him to figure it out. He just didn’t get it. Then one day a light clicked. After that, his teacher sent notes home because he was showing off in class when students still struggling with the concept were slow to pronounce a word during reading time.

My daughter (now a senior in HS) was expected to be reading by the end of 1st grade. She was, and is a voracious reader. Reading came naturally to her, and by the middle of second grade she’d read Charlotte’s Web, by herself, seven times. By the time she was in 6th grade she was reading at a college level and I was having a hard time finding age appropriate books.

Now, I see kids expected to be independent readers in kindergarten. And not the tail end of it either! One child I am acquainted with was shunted into remedial reading classes as soon as she entered kindergarten. Are children who don’t attend nursery school now at a disadvantage because they can’t spell their names and replicate the alphabet on lined sheets?

As a picture book illustrator for the 5-8 crowd, I wonder if this is a good thing for the kids. I remember being disturbed by reading a book “with no pictures” as an independent reader. As a child, I would read everything I could get my hands on. I loved reading. Even still, I didn’t want to move to “grown-up” books without pictures until I was at least 12 or 13 years old. Emotionally, I just wasn’t in the right place.

When I asked my writerly friends their opinions on this topic, a variety of answers came back.

Some folks thought kids should be encouraged to read as soon as possible because they were happier not having to have things other than books read to them. Another person has a number of children, some were reading at age 4, but one wasn’t ready to read until nearly 8 years old. She says that children should be allowed to learn to read when they are developmentally ready. That makes sense to me.

Children don’t develop all at the same rate. Some kids are ready to read very young. They want to, can’t wait to, are chaffing at the bit to figure it out. Others are just not the least bit interested.

Still another commenter pointed out kids are expected to score high on standardized tests, which necessitates a certain level of visual language fluency. So, kids are being taught, and assumed to be reading at younger and younger ages so test scores will rise. Don’t even get me started on what I think of standardized testing and scores. It’s not pretty. You don’t want to go there. Trust me.

One person commented she wished there was more of a focus on socialization and relationship building in kindergarten instead of reading skills. I agree. It seems to me that kids are being short changed on how to interact with peers and adults. Does anyone else find it odd that there are commercials on TV for web sites telling kids how to play outdoor activities? When I grew up, we moved seamlessly from one activity to the next. It was rainy day indoor activities our parents worried about keeping us occupied.

What do you think? Are kids being pushed into independent reading too quickly?

Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site

Wendy Martin