It’s never too early to worry about a kid’s progress, or worry that I’m pushing my children too hard. On the flip side, as Asian-American mom Amy Chua might suggest, now is the time to start applying academic pressure like a tourniquet.

The Tiger Mother book came out last week to much publicity and interpretive blogging. First Chua said in interviews that making kids practice an instrument 3 hours per day was sane, productive behavior. Calling them garbage, at times, was acceptable and didn’t harm their self-esteem. Then, in a retractive NYT‘s article–written by Montclair mom of two, Kate Zernike–Chua claimed some of her methods and statements might have been a wee bit harsh.

This subject came up right in the middle of my obsession with early reading. My 5-year-old twins are in Pre-K; they will enter kindergarten in the fall; and they can’t read. They are, however, well-versed in the coolness of unicorns. I thought this was normal throughout the fall until I started to play the comparison game. Three children on our block are reading or pre-reading, and they’re the same age–or younger. Immediately, I dusted off the letter workbooks I had from the school supply store, and we started going over letter A, and then we did B. They’re interested in writing letters, learning sounds and saying words that begin with those sounds. But because I am more kitten than tigress, I don’t want to push them. Letter workbooks with pretty pictures are fun. If I forced flashcards on them, they’d roll their eyes and beg to watch Phineas & Ferb.

But I still feel that itch of competitiveness. So I did some some research on reading milestones by age. Then, I started talking, emailing and Facebooking about it. Here’s what friends–some of them teachers–had to say on the subject of early, late and on-time reading:

“Early reading is not normal. Mine is a crazy reader and has been reading since 2.5. His teacher made it clear that most are not.”
–Glen Ridge mom of three

“Our teachers says 5-year-old should be able to do stick figures properly and write upper and lower case letters. My child is behind!”
–Glen Ridge mom of three

“Kids who don’t start reading independently until the end of first grade still turn out to be avid readers. Fear not.”
–Montclair mom of three

“By the middle of first grade is when most kids catch on to reading.”
–Mom of two, elementary school teacher from my hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana

“According to all of the teachers–Pre-K, K and first grade–that I’ve talked to in the last year, it all happens in first grade for most kids. It’s a developmental thing like walking, crawling, talking. That’s when the brain is ready!”
–Brooklyn mom of two, blogger of Shiny Brite

“Oh, please. Just roll with their interest. Reading to your kids is the biggest thing at that age, and people are way too competitive about this stuff! Please don’t sweat it. The girls will be just fine.”
–Mom of two, bookstore owner, from my other hometown of Louisville, Ky

When do you believe kids should read, and how hard should we push?

5 replies on “Should a 5-Year-Old Read?”

  1. Expose kids to books, read to them, ask them to tell a story about the pictures, and leave it at that. The kids will learn to read when they are ready. I know kids who read in pre-k, who are so-so students in high school and kids who didn’t learn until almost second grade, who are Harvard bound. Timing isn’t always everything!

  2. Like walking or riding a bike, a kid will read when he or she is able. (Whether or not he or she find the endeavor enjoyable is another issue.)

    But please tell us: how do you MAKE your kid read early? And tell me again just what the benefit is? So Sally read 18 months before Jimmy…. Not sure what the difference is, except that ONCE AGAIN it seems to have more to do with parents BRAGGING to friends (“Sally is in the SAIL Program….”). Funny thing, regardless of when kids learn to read, most end up reading just fine (unless, of course, there are learning disabilities, or socio-economic issues).

    No matter- give the kid a trophy when he or she first decodes, then says the letters on a STOP sign.

    Moreover, knowing that CHINESE MOMS obsess over this kinda crap is reason enough to ignore it and let your kid develop at his or her own pace. (But then they might not be everything YOU dreamed they would be…)

  3. My kids are 10 and 15 now and I totally miss lying in bed reading to them at the end of the day. Now it’s “Dad, you can leave now. . . .” Enjoy it while it lasts.

  4. We had some of the same concerns when our daughter was an infant; both of us were early readers, so we had no real baseline sense of what was “normal” in terms of starting to read — plus we both felt that we had no idea how to teach a child to read.

    It happens when it happens, and it’s fine. She started reading a little early, but then totally took off in terms of reading (chapter books, etc.) just about the time she turned six. Our teachers tell us that’s a bit on the early side (being that advanced, not reading in general), and that’s okay — but Phineas and Ferb (mentioned in the article) is awesome in our house, too!

  5. I know someone who didn’t read until he was in 2nd grade. Is now an avid reader, and a lawyer. On the flipside I know someone who avidly read at 4 and is a screw-up.

    Children learn to walk at different times but are all walking, and children learn to read at different times.

    RELAX!!!!! Let kids be kids.

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