Friday, May 13, 2016

How do I know when my child is ready to read?

A very long time ago I entered kindergarten as a four year old who would turn five that October.  In hindsight, which is always 20/20, I was far too young and not ready on many levels.  I was very immature and was not developmentally ready.  My mom worried too, but they assured her that there was a reading readiness class between kindergarten and first grade if I needed it.  The consequences of beginning school too soon negatively impacted the rest of my school education.

I have vivid memories of kindergarten.  There were centers set up around the room we could rotate through.  I remember playing house in the kitchen and the  big cardboard blocks the boys liked to build with.  There were puzzles, the memory game and lacing cards.  I remember playing with clay and cutting with safety scissors with rounded tips.  We had story time and singing and dancing.  Every day we played outside on the playground quite a bit and took naps, even in my half day class. We were taught the alphabet and to count to twenty, but the one thing we never were taught was how to read.

All those years ago in the early 1070's, the teachers knew something that we have forgotten today.  They knew that children needed to be ready to learn to read and there were physiological signs that indicated readiness.  Reading was never taught in kindergarten or earlier because the majority of children are not physiologically ready to read until, at the very least, age six and for some children it is later.  My kindergarten and first grade classrooms had balance beams in them.  Why?  Because children who are ready to read can walk on a balance beam without falling off.  I remember my first grade teacher requiring her students to skip and jump rope.  She was looking for the students to be able to skip with opposite hands and feet extended with smooth, flowing movements.  Today we know from modern neurological research that reading requires both hemispheres, the right for the spatial sight words and the left for phonetic decoding.  The Corpus Callosum, the neurological bridge between the two hemispheres that allows bilateral movement, is not developed enough for reading and writing until around age six or seven.  In some children it doesn’t develop until age ten or eleven.

Teaching a child to read before the bilateral pathways have developed can cause lifelong reading disabilities.  Remember that reading is a bilateral activity for the brain.  If the Corpus Callosum is not developed enough then signals cannot travel between the two hemispheres and only one side, the right side which is responsible for sight words,  must do all the work of reading.  The majority of reading must be done by decoding, but cannot be accessed.  For some children who have been trained to read this way, they will continue to access the right hemisphere only when the Corpus Callosum eventually develops.  Math as well requires both hemispheres which may be why so many children struggle with it in the early years.

It is the gross motor movements of the body that develop the neural pathways necessary for reading, writing and spelling.  Think about the untold hours children before the age of six spend sitting in front of a screen.  Their bodies and minds are disengaged from the real growth their neurology and body needs.  Provide your child with plenty of outdoor time running, jumping, spinning, climbing, swinging, riding a bike, throwing a ball, etc.  Your child needs hours and hours of gross motor movement every single day.

There are signs you can look for that will indicate that your child is ready for formal education, and more specifically, to read and write.  Can your child skip, jump rope with an added hop between jumps, walk on a balance beam or log without falling off, ride a bike or stand on one foot with arms out to the sides with eyes closed for a prolonged amount of time?  These are all indicators of the integration of the bilateral pathways.

What if your child is not ready by age 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 years old?  What if they are 10 or 11 years old and still cannot read?  Do not panic!   For these children it is perfectly NORMAL and something that should not concern you.  Your child will learn to read when the neural pathways develop.  You will need to read all of your children’s school books to them during this time and hold off on writing.  If you have a positive attitude of acceptance, your child will not think it abnormal and feel like a failure.  Do not attempt to teach them to read until they show the physiological signs that there is bilateral integration.  In the meantime, offer your child plenty of time each day for gross motor activities.  Bilateral activities like Taekwondo, Bal-A-Vis-X, basketball, soccer, etc. will all help.  The good news is that the late bloomers will catch up with their peers very quickly.  For some children it will only take a matter of months.

If your child shows the physiological signs of reading readiness and they are still unable to learn to read, then there may be a reading disability that needs further investigation, but I suspect that there will be very few of those indeed.  It is this teacher’s opinion that early reading education before a child is ready, has caused the majority of the learning disabilities we see today.

If you would like to learn more about this topic go to the website below.  It is written by a Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrician who has been working in the field for 27 years and contains an abundance of helpful information.


  1. What if your child has learned to read on their own before they've mastered all these gross motor skills? My 4.5 year old is reading well, and my 2.5 year old is even starting to read. I have not taught them or given them formal lessons. They have just picked it up on their own. This isn't the first time I've come across this information. And while it's helpful and important, every time I read it, I worry that I've somehow set my kids up for failure by not stopping them or discouraging them from reading. Is it different if they aren't being forced to learn?

  2. Hi April, Continue to provide opportunities for gross motor movements throughout the day. Much of their day should be spent outside if possible. I understand that sometimes it isn't possible. I think you would have to worry if you were doing formal lessons before they were ready. Some kids can read early with no problems.

  3. Thank you. I really appreciate your response!


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