Happy Cheetah Reading

Reading Delays: How Worried Should I Be?

One of the lovely things about living in the information age is that you can learn about so many thing.

One of the horrible things about living in the information age is that so much of what you learn can be wrong, and it’s hard to differentiate between correct information and misinformation.

As a young mom, I had read Better Late Than Early, which advocates letting a student wait to start formal schooling, in favor of a focus on a lot of reading aloud and creative play. I also skimmed through The Smartest Kids in the World, which talked about Finland’s amazing school system, and how they start compulsory education at age seven. And I heard a speaker recommend that parents not be be like the Alaskan farmer who went out to dig fence posts in mid-January. He chipped away at the permafrost every day for five months, and finally made a hole large enough for his first fence post. Meanwhile, his neighbor came out on that same mid-June day and dug a hole, start to finish, because the ground was ready.

Everything comes easier when the time is right.

Perfect, I thought. I love to read aloud, and I’m all for letting children’s brains develop well and learning efficiently, when the time is right.

And with my older two, reading came so naturally to them, it was fine.

But by my fourth son, I wasn’t as confident in the idea of Better Late Than Early. I started letter sounds at age five. And as I said before, he finally pretty much mastered them after three years of daily work. Was I being like the Alaskan farmer, and just started too early?

And I kept reading anecdotes of women online who would say things like, “My son learned to read almost overnight at age eight,” or, “I waited until my son showed an interest, and when he finally did at age 10, it was really easy for him.”

Which is all to say: I didn’t know what to think. Should I have waited? Would more waiting help? Did I just need to wait for my son’s timetable?

The Facts

Here is what the research shows.

After age eight, the process of learning to read becomes much more difficult, because the brain moves on to other things.

In fact, children have only a 1 in 4 chance of getting up to speed after third grade.

This means that if you have children ages six-and-a-half or older, and not making good progress, this is no longer an issue of “better late than early” — it’s an issue of “actually late and getting to be a problem.”

Yes, you can find parents who testify about their 10-year-old who wasn’t at all interested in reading, who suddenly blossomed overnight into a book lover. This does happen.

There was also once a man who ran a marathon at age 100.

Just because something has once happened to someone, that doesn’t mean it will happen to you, too. Most people are dead by the time they’re 100, and even the ones who are not dead are not out running marathons.

Seventy-five percent of children who are not reading on grade level by third grade will never catch up.

The odds are not in your favor. If you think something isn’t right . . . you’re probably right.

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