reading skills before school - Bubbablue and me

Should children have reading skills before school

You might have seen in the news this week about politicians saying that children should be learning more before they start school. Obviously the media exaggerated it, but essentially it sounds like they’re saying children should be know their phonics ahead of starting school, either taught by parents or at nursery school. And that children unable to speak in sentences, or knowing sounds, and even reading basic workd get behind in school.

This riled me up because they should look at children and realise that this isn’t possible for every child. And why should it be? Some of these children are only just 4 when they start school, and even the older ones may just not be ready to start learning academic stuff before they start school.

The concern is with parents who don’t read with their children at home, or talk to them enough, and many children don’t have the vocabulary to cope when they get to school. Yes, obviously speech will be an issue if parents and others don’t talk to their children. Probably the majority of these parents don’t send their children to nursery school, either because they don’t feel it’s necessary, it’s not on their agenda, or because there aren’t the spaces available where they live.

reading skills before school - Bubbablue and me

But if they’re just going to look at children when they start school, there’s plenty of children who may fit into te bracket of being unable to read or write before starting school.

On paper I wouldn’t come into the bracket that they are including for the children that need more help before school. I’m middle class and educated. I read and sang to N from the time he was a newborn. He also went to nursery from age 1, in a setting that was largely child led but gave lots of opportunities to be able to learn to read, learn phonics and learn a new language, if he so wished. Both nurseries he went to, offered a whole range of educational activities, all aimed at guiding the children towards being ready for school.

But in practice this meant nothing.

N started school unable to spell more than the first 3 letters of his name (damn giving him a name with 9 letters in it). He had a reasonable vocabulary because I had read to him daily, if not several times a day since he was young. But he wasn’t interested in learning. He wanted to be outside and playing, not inside and learning phonics.

So when he started school, he may have been a little behind some of the others. However there were several boys in the same situation who are just typical boys. They wanted to play and learn learn active things, which thankfully their school reception class let them do alongside learning their phonics and maths.

Through year one N still wasn’t keen on reading but that doesn’t mean he should have had reading and writing drummed into him earlier than he did. I’m all for letting children learn when they’re ready. And if that means waiting until school then so be it. After all that’s what school, is for not nursery.

It’s now the end of year 2. N completed his SATs and got great scores in them. He is at the expected level and slightly over on age level for a couple of his subjects. So it isn’t impossible that children who don’t learn to read and write before school, shouldn’t become a success and reach the levels the government thinks they should get to..

We parents, and our parents before us, always hark back to the olden days and when we were children. But rightly so. In those days, schools might not have been the modern version that is supposedly so good nowadays, but they still got good results and turned out successful students. Maybe we’ve just taken things things too far with the changes that governments keep making.

When I started school I could recognise my name, I could count well, but I couldn’t read words words (phonics didn’t exist when I was at school). Has this damaged me? No. Has it prevented me from achieving good exam grades and a degree? No.

Pressure on children before starting school when they aren’t interested in learning is just going to damage them and put them off learning when they arrive at school. Schools also have certain ways of teaching children and if you have parents teaching their children at home in different methods this can mean their children end up being behind and confused when they start and teachers have to re teach them the correct way.

Yes parents should be preparing their children for school socially and psychologically. Getting them toilet trained, able to get changed alone, and able to sort collect food and feed themselves. And we should be making sure they can make themselves understood and understand other children and teachers. But us parents aren’t generally trained teachers, so I’d much rather leave the phonics and correct maths methodology to the teachers who know what they’re doing.

Otherwise I’d have homeschooled N.

I think school is the best place for most children to be educated. Sometimes politicians need to remember what their own children were like and what they were like when they went to school. I very much doubt that most of them learn to read and write before going to school.

Maybe then they would realise that children need to be children ahead of starting school, not being forced to do focused education before they are ready for it.

How do you feel about the discussions that the politicians have been having about this topic? Did your children learn to read and write before school?

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  1. Thank you for this post – I couldn’t agree more but it’s been a worry for me lately. Max is a child who does much better when he’s ready for something, and it’s very clear that he’s not been ready for reading just yet. He can recognise his name, but that’s about it. He just doesn’t have an interest – he’s more interested in being outside, or working out how something works. My Mum pointed out the other day that I could read when I went to school (she’s a teacher and had taught me as she wasn’t working at that point), but she’d also conveniently forgotten that I didn’t start school until a year after Max will be starting, as well as the fact that I’ve always been a child who loves to read. I just don’t feel it’s an important skill at their age and I feel it will come to them all in their own time.

    1. It will come. My brother was the same as N in some ways. Outdoorsy and could read but wasn’t fussed. He was a slacker and did as little as possible but still did ok due to natural ability. N is more focused and wants to do well which makes him not want to try. But get the right school and teacher, and they’ll get them there. Tbh a lot of the boys in N’s class were just the same when they started school.

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