Why These Parents Are Waiting To Teach Their 5-Year-Old Son To Read

August 30, 2017
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Why These Parents Are Waiting To Teach Their 5-Year-Old Son To Read

Crystal Lowery’s Facebook post prompted discussions around early childhood education.

When it comes to her children’s early education, Crystal Lowery has her own approach.

The comedian and writer shared a photo of herself and her 5-year-old son, John, on Facebook, along with long caption about her thoughts on teaching him to read.

Here is her status:

I’m not teaching my 5-year-old how to read. Don’t get me wrong, we read him books all the time. We’ve imagined ourselves in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and we’re 170 pages into Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets. We’re teaching him to enjoy stories, to get lost in characters.
But we’re not teaching him how to read. Not just yet. He’s too busy learning other things. He’s learning how to be a good sport–how to wait his turn in Candy Land and not gloat when he makes it to the King’s Ice Cream Castle before his sister does. He’s learning how to build. From blocks, to sticks, to Legos, he feels the weight of the different materials in his little sausage fingers, and examines the physical integrity of the various structures he has made.

He’s learning how to exercise. He chases the dog, plays tag, climbs on playground equipment, dances (well), and practices karate (poorly). He’s going to need his body for a long time, so he builds his muscles through activity instead of sitting at a desk all day.He’s learning how to take care of his things. Through trial and error (oh, so much error!) he has seen what happens when he leaves a book out in the rain, or a lump of Play Doh on the table overnight. He’s learning that you can’t rough house with an 8lb Pekingese.

He’s learning how to be creative. How to draw his own picture books full of monsters, and how to construct an imaginary spaceship with Amazon boxes. He’s learning about ecosystems. He looks at bugs, flowers, and thunderstorms. He sees how fauna and flora inhabit the world together interdependently. He’s learning that the key to happiness is to focus on his blessings rather than complaining about what he doesn’t have. He’s learning how to apologize. To overcome his own hurt feelings and to empathize with other kids when there’s been a confrontation.

He’s learning how to forgive. To understand that everyone makes mistakes, and that he can love other people despite their foibles.
He’s learning important lessons every day.
But he’s not learning how to read.
And though he may not show up to his first day of Kindergarten with “advanced reading skills”, he will come to the classroom with so much more.

The ability to try new things without getting frustrated.
The ability make friends, even though friendship can be a messy business.
The ability to listen to others and follow instructions.
The ability to problem-solve.
The ability to concentrate on a task.
There is so much our children learn that cannot be measured with a standardized test. And though someday his hours will be filled with phonics, and penmanship, and fractions, we aren’t worried about all that today.
Today he has more important things to learn.

Lowery’s post received more than 700 likes and appeared on various parenting websites. She told HuffPost she simply wanted to share her family’s approach to learning with their son.

“I was inspired to write this post after a conversation with friends who were disheartened that reading had become a competitive sport for bragging rights among parents,” said the mom. “I wanted to subvert this bragging culture and remind parents about all the other things pre-schoolers are learning aside from phonics.”

Lowery noted that studies have shown the importance of reading to children to develop literacy, rather than “forcing phonics on them.” She also cited a study that suggests a top predictor of children’s literacy and educational achievement is the number of books they have in their home. “We happen to have 826 right now,” the mom said.

The mom told HuffPost she’s received backlash after media outlets shared her post with misleading headlines that suggested she never wants to teach her son to read. “The operative word they left out was ‘yet.’ I said I’m not teaching my child how to read YET,” said the mom.

“So of course, thousands of trolls came out to criticize me without actually having read the post. I got the usual ‘you’re an unfit mother,’ ‘your kid is stupid’ and the run-of-the-mill sexual assault language (because, trolls), which honestly doesn’t bother me because I have learned how to forgive ugly comments,” she explained.

What bothered Lowery, however, was that many people shared negative comments without knowing their family’s full story ― notably, the fact that they did teach John phonics.

She even shared a video of her son practicing letters at 18 months old. “However, my husband and I decided to change our approach after reading data that suggests early phonics lessons are not the best way to teach literacy, and in fact could set children back,” she said.

“My husband and I value education ― we have six degrees between us including two Masters’ and a PhD,” Lowery added, noting that they pour through parenting research and particularly enjoy Professor Peter Vishton’s 14-hour lecture series from The Teaching Company.

“When I was honest with myself, I realized I had been forcing phonics on my 18-month-old so that I could brag. We changed our approach to teaching him literacy out of concern for him, not out of laziness,” the mom explained.

Ultimately, Lowery has found a small dose of humor in her viral experience.

“The irony is not lost on me that many people who have criticized me have not understood my actual point,” she said. “It seems they could use a few lessons in reading comprehension.”

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