Early reading : good or bad?

I have recently been introduced to a guy called RUDOLF STEINER, at least, to his philosophies and since he has at least 100 years of experience behind him  more than I do and he is at least 1,000 schools ahead of me, I should do a bit of reading up on him.

Come to think of it I was told about this approach by one of the readers of this blog from Australia who eventually became a personal friend. (We met up in July, 2010, in Malaysia.) It just never occurred to me until now why my writings interested her : they were not so far off from her informed ideas of Steiner education – her son goes to a Waldorf school in Sydney.

Day 2 of honestly reading up on him I’m compelled to discuss his idea on childhood reading.  – I have to say that I am not fully informed of the Steiner philosophy at this point in time but if I waited to read everything there is on him before having an opinion then I am afraid I would no longer have original thought but simply be rehashing a bunch of things I happen to, innately, agree with him on.

A few weeks ago in this article that came out in one of our local papers it says that starting a child reading early didn’t mean that they would do better academically.  If a parent is not well-informed enough they would take it to mean that children shouldn’t start developing the love and bond to books, the appreciation of sound and imagery book-reading can provide until much later in life.  I think, though, what the article meant was “academic” or compulsory reading.

In reading about Steiner and their discouragement of reading for young children I wonder if advocating his philosophies would contradict my own. I believe very strongly that early literacy (which develops to being able to read a few grade years ahead later on) will give a child an advantage as they approach the middle school years. I have seen intelligent children fail again and again in school because of their lack of ability to read well in English. And then only at that age (usually 10 to 14) do they start coming for lessons. By that time, not only are they facing a steep learning curve in their Mother Tongue they are now left to struggle with an English-literacy development that has fossilized around that of a 4 year old’s.

Between ages of 10 to 14 academic reading level reaches a steep curve and if a child has made gains of being a year or two or more ahead compared to his peers he would be able to keep up to grade level while other “late readers” will fall behind. Very far behind.  I have seen how students who were never taught to read fall back so unnecessarily behind in their studies just because they couldn’t read fast enough to hold the ideas together to form meaningful context and insights.

I wish I could tell parents that if they are far behind in their second and third languages (English and Malay) the best thing to do is to quit school, quit the race. Without the extra hours of unschooling there is simply no time to recreate the phases of emergent reading and writing as school subjects become harder and school activities and cram-school becomes more frequent.
But perhaps a little more homework into the Steiner idea of not teaching reading in early years would reveal that my beliefs and his on early reading are not at odds after all. My idea of developing readers (ESL, EAL or otherwise) :

  • the child has to first be comfortable with his/her learning environment and develops trust for the teacher.
  • the child must not be judged, rushed to read.
  • the child must be surrounded by a variety of books and an environment conducive to reading.
  • the child is read-aloud to.
  • the child engages in stories mentally as a parent/teacher reads to them and animates the story for them.
  • the child uses leveled reading material that encourages rather than defeats reading.
  • the child gets used to sound and rhythm because the teacher frequently reads out loud to them or they hear the teacher reading out loud to others.
  • the child is given as much freedom and time as they need to acquire his/her own “quota” of the target language and “bank  in words, sound and meaning their learning bank”thanks to the target language being exclusively used in the learning environment.
  • the child gets to choose from a variety of reading material at their reading level.
  • the child is ready to try and to fail.
  • the child amasses a huge bank of mental images, experiences, before attempting reading at his grade level.
  • the child is free to learn a their own pace.
  • the child is never faced with the threat of failure or punishment or feelings of inadequacy.

More on this, perhaps, in the following weeks and would appreciate your thoughts and opinions about reading literacy.

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