The literature on language development varies. What we know: the major components of Language include: (phonology, semantics, syntax, pragmatics, lexicon, and metalinguistics); language development is based on biological (maturation) and behaviouristic (environmental) and interactive and contextual factors; there are several components of the reading process (decoding, understanding, and fluency) and each component has multiple elements.
So, is there a “critical period for language acquisition”? The critical period hypothesis suggests that if certain conditions related to language development are missing (internal and/external conditions), then a child will never acquire language. I don’t buy that. While I agree language acquisition in the early years is central to development, children can acquire language skills later in life.
There appears to be some universal patterns in language acquisition yet there are also important individual differences that depend on a number of variables. For example, studies have shown great variation in the growth of children’s vocabulary across typically developing youngsters.
So, from reading readiness to emergent reading, when is it (if ever) a good time to focus on ‘reading’ in the early years? There are some schools of thought (i.e. Waldorf) who do not begin formal language teaching until 2nd or 3rd grade. So why are some of us excited when a child in kindergarten “can read”? What is the hurry?
Setting up a literacy based environment that is balanced is key. However, there is an underlying tone of high expectation that we, as educators and teachers, need to be mindful of. The article I share below takes an interesting perspective on reading development and the implications of starting the expectations too soon.
As a mother of 2 children in the early years I see first hand their curiosity and interest in texts. They love stories, they love books. They love to be read to… but, they are not yet ready to read. Should they be at age 4 and 5? Why press the issue? Why not develop vocabulary? Play with language? Explore sounds and letters? Why press the formal reading of books? My daughter, now 5, is just beginning to make sense of sentence structure through a computer program called “Raz Kids”. This online program has hundreds of level books children can listen first, then read, then answer comprehension questions. For this little learner, it is amazing to see her answer the comprehension questions 100% of the time yet not yet recognize basic sight words (my, this, the) but use the illustrations and understanding of pattern to guide her through. I wonder… why start now? why set these expectations now? So, I tread very slowly, because she is motivated to earn her “Raz stars” to build her rocket ship… but I place no pressure on to know those site words. I see she “gets” it… but doesn’t quite yet “have it”. I also often feel a sense of worry about literacy and numeracy and whether or not my children will “get it” sooner rather than later.
Thankfully, her teachers have no worry at all and feel no pressure to push reading. Thankfully, her teachers have a good sense of child development.