There is no set time or age for children to learn to read. In the distant past, children were not expected to be ready to read until they were at least six or seven years old. Nowadays, children are learning to read at younger and younger ages. In fact, most children are expected, nowadays, to not only know their alphabet and numbers, but to be reading basic “first-grade” (in my day) material by the time they are in kindergarten. A child who has not learned these basic skills will be in the minority, and will have to have tutoring or a lot of home help to catch up with his/her classmates. And the catching up can take more than one year, especially if that child has no older siblings, or has parents who work outside the home or who are not good readers themselves.
Children who are exposed to children’s programs on televison may also have been given a “head start” toward learning to read. Many programs these days are educational in content, and children can learn a lot from them. They can learn their alphabet with the alphabet song; they can learn to sing the song and that way, they will know the alphabet. And if they also like to eat the alphabet cereal, they can learn to spell out their names, short words, and even play games. Parents who read to their children can also help them, by showing them the words as they speak them, by pointing to each word as they read. If they read the same books to their children, over and over, pointing to the words every time, soon the children will recognize most of the words in those books wherever they see them.
Children who see their parents read for entertainment are much more likely to learn to read early than children who rarely see the adults in their families reading. It doesn’t matter what they are reading; the children soon learn to recognize that the parents are absorbed in something that is interesting to them. This will help the children see that reading is something that is interesting, and they will be more likely to be interested in learning to read.
Taking children to the town library, especially for children’s programs, is another way to interest children in learning to read. The children’s programs are geared to help children learn to handle books correctly, how to take care of books, and even to choose good books to read. And the workers in the children’s area of any library are usually good at settling children down and keeping them interested in what is being read or said to them. Reading is not a chore to these workers; instead, it is a joy! And the children will see and feel the enjoyment, and sometimes even excitement, that these workers have for reading. That will entice the children to learn to read, as well.
A regular time of settling in for the night can become the time for parents to read to their small children and for the children to have the parents’ complete attention for a few minutes. And it can become a very special time for the parents to listen to their children and find out what is going on in their lives and what they are thinking. Sometimes children are afraid to tell their parents about something that happened, but if the parent has been consistently supportive, the children will be much more likely to confide in the parent-or to ask those special questions that seem to bother most children as they begin to reach out to include non-family members in their circle of acquaintances. Reading to your children can “break the ice” many times, and later in life, when they have children of their own, they may remember the way they felt on those evenings as you read to them. Thus, the “torch is passed”, and another generation of readers will be born!