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Do 4-year-old's read and write? UK versus US

(36 Posts)
nomedoit Fri 08-Jul-11 02:28:00

Just trying to get some perspective here. My daughter is 4 and a half. She has done a year of pre-school in the US, another pre-school year to go before she starts formal school (Kindergarten) at 5 and a half.

They don't seem to do much compared to the UK! They have done some letters but very little writing and no reading. I actually got told off by the teacher for teaching my daughter to read ("Oh no, you should be concentrating on motor skills"). It's mainly crafts and songs etc which is fine but is the UK the same or more ahead?

savoycabbage Fri 08-Jul-11 02:41:45

I'm in the same situation as you I think. I live in Australia. My dd will be five in October and will start school in February. We have a two year build up to school too. My dd has 12 hours a week at nursery. They do great things, lovely playing activities. Hospital corner, threading, puzzles the lot.

No formal learning though and when I asked the teacher for a pencil so my dd could 'write' her name on a picture she told me that they didn't do that. My first dd was reading at this age as she had been to nursery in the UK and launched straight into Jolly Phonics.

nomedoit Fri 08-Jul-11 04:18:00

Are you supplementing the school curriculum, Savoy?

CheerfulYank Fri 08-Jul-11 04:55:35

They don't do much reading or writing until kindergarten in most parts of the US. DS is almost four and I work on it with him at home. In his class last year (of all three year olds) the only writing they did was their names.

Parietal Fri 08-Jul-11 05:01:04

I think most countries teach writing later than the UK. And there doesn't seem to be any big benefit in learning to read & write early - it just makes life miserable for kids who aren't ready to write at 4 and makes them feel stupid.

mathanxiety Fri 08-Jul-11 05:22:27

All of my DCs went through the US early elementary system and all emerged very strong students, great readers and also good at maths. Once your DD gets to kindergarten the class will start on phonics and it will 'take' fast unless there's a problem.

The fretting of British parents about early reading, etc., is not necessary. The UK is the only country where such an early start to formal teaching is mandated, and results at the other end do not bear witness to anything but the futility of the approach. Some students do very well (see BBC report stating that 5 schools sent more pupils to Oxbridge than 2000 other schools combined, over the last three years) but there is huge group of underachievers at the lower end.

Students exposed to phonics early (as in the UK) may or may not learn, and may or may not be able at that early age to deal with the sense of failure to do something they would love to do in order to please mommy or teacher, but which they find incomprehensible, at 4 or so, whereas they may be ready at a later age to learn much faster. At a later age they are more emotionally resilient, and can deal with frustration a bit better. They have usually developed more of a sense of themselves as competent little people and are not as depressed about finding one aspect of their lives challenging as they would be at age 4. They are more likely to have already formed a positive self image and to believe in their competence from 5 to 7. At age 4 it is quite risky to have a child see himself as a failure.

Most preschools in the US will encourage parents to read, read, read to their children, to encourage pre reading activities like puzzles, simple board games, listening activities, singing, dance and physical co-ordination activities, music, scribbling, colouring, painting, playing with sand and water, blocks -- simple play that encourages active participation, motor skills, planning, co-operation and self direction in other words.

A lot of the preschool regimen in the US is devoted to training the children in good classroom habits -- listening, politeness, tidiness, self care, co-operation and sharing with other children, problem solving, getting used to raising a hand to speak. My own DCs always had 'show and tell' in pk4 and Kdg, which was a very useful oral learning activity. The little talk had to be planned and practiced and then each student had to speak and answer questions about their object.

Self-care was also very much encouraged -- parents were not allowed into the school in the morning or afternoon. We said our goodbyes at the door. The DCs were responsible for taking care of all their own coats, mittens, hats, snowboots (cold winter climate) both taking off and putting back on to go home, with all zipping, buttoning, tying that that involved. The benefits of all that competence and regimentation are reaped in First Grade, where work tends to be very productive.

Trust your DCs' teachers. There is a purpose to it all and your DCs are not spinning their wheels.

Some of my DCs learned to read all by themselves without any phonics instruction, just by being read to as far as I could see, plus watching Sesame Street, etc., as early as age 3.5 and 4. They benefited from the later exposure to the systematic phonics and reading/writing/spelling programme when they entered Kdg and first grade and on through the elementary grades. Those of the DCs who learned at age 5ish progressed at the same rate. They were all exposed to the same reading at home, but learned at different ages.

BikingViking Fri 08-Jul-11 06:25:55

Good post mathanxiety.

We live in Scandinavia and dd starts school next year when she turns 6.

The nursery she and ds go to will talk about reading and writing and show children how if the child is interested and asks, but certainly nothing formal.

And yes, there's also a big emphasis on the children doing things themselves (shoes, coats etc).

And at the end of the day, it's not like the children will be asked at what age they were taught to read, in a job interview when they are grown up grin

mummytime Fri 08-Jul-11 06:37:12

I remember in the bad old days (it has got better in the UK over the last 10 years), my son was going into year 2, at the end of which he had to sit formalised SAT tests. This involved in writing, a 3 paragraph essay. (It was when SAT got harder every year.)
The summer before we visited friends in Boston, who had a little girl almost exactly the same age as my son. She had been held back a year, so was only just starting school, she could write about 10 words, including her name.

I thought at the time how ridiculous our system was, as she would probably end up at Harvard, so why were we stressing my son.

Canella Fri 08-Jul-11 06:53:19

My ds1 starts school here in Germany in September - he'll be nearly 7. He can write his name and some other words and can only read very basic words. But he'll be expected by the end of the first class, to be reading fairly fluently. Intrigued to see if it works.

CheerfulYank Fri 08-Jul-11 06:54:40

It will Canella. smile He's ready to read now, I'd assume. Most 6-7 year olds are, whereas only some 4 year olds are. IMO.

mathanxiety Fri 08-Jul-11 06:56:09

Mummytime, yes, obviously a lot of US students do end up in the Ivy League despite such a 'late' start. Most highly selective universities turn down vastly more well qualified applicants than the equally well-qualified classes they admit.

mathanxiety Fri 08-Jul-11 06:59:25

German is a bit easier to learn phonetically than English, but well taught systematic phonics will result in the majority of 6/7 year olds catching on fast even when learning to read English.

QuinnFabray Fri 08-Jul-11 07:06:29

In my experience it all naturally clicks into place when they are about seven anyway. My daughter could hardly read or write at the beginning of year 2, and has now, a year later, caught up and exceeded expected targets. A big thing was made of how underachieving she was in Reception and Year 1, which made me quite cross. DS on the other hand is in Reception now, and can read and write.

Jezabelle Fri 08-Jul-11 07:11:02

Excellent post Mathanxiety. Thanks for that.

DD1 started school in September at 4.5. I did NOTHING with her at all at home in the way of reading and writing, apart from encouraging her to write her name. She went to school only knowing about 10 letters.

I had however read her a zillion books, done puzzles, playdoh, painting, hundereds of toddler groups, singing, play dates etc. I also talked to her loads, about everything!

I got cold feet about half way through the year, (should I have done more? perhaps she was at a disadvantage to others whos parents virtually taught them to read from birth!) Then she just sort of took off! I think she just became "school ready". She's just been given a reading age of 6.10 (she was 5.2 at the time. She is in the same reading group as a girl who could read and write all her letters at 3, (due to. . . um. . . keen parenting rather than a natural disire!)

One of the things I believe the holding off from reading and writing instruction early has given her is a real confidence in putting pen to paper and not worrying about getting it wrong. As I concentrated on other things, she also went to school a very articulate and social girl. I still think the first few months were hard for her at school and am sure she would not have been held back by starting a year later. I see others in her class who just don't get it at all. They're just not ready.

fastweb Fri 08-Jul-11 07:17:57

My son didn't start learning to read and write until 6, in first year elementary in Italy.

He didn't start reading in English until a year later.

Writing in English was delayed until 8 due to the time constraints caused by mountains of homework from school.

At almost 11 he reads and writes "on target" in both languages.

Given that there is no solid evidence to support the push for very early introduction, I personally wouldn't worry in your position.

If your child is chomping at the bit maybe try her out on and take it from there.

Georgimama Fri 08-Jul-11 07:21:08

DS starts school in September and he cannot read at all, I haven't even tried to teach him. He does know some phonic sounds just through playing (a is for ant etc) and shows a lot of interest in text and sounds - asks me to spell things out to him, which must be meaningless to him, but he has recently developed an awareness that there is a whole hidden language out there around him on signs, posters etc and he wants to understand it. He can recognise his own name written down, I suppose it's just another picture to him but he knows it means him so he can recognise his own coat peg.

We spend a lot of time doing the kinds of things Jezabelle describes and we talk, talk, talk as a family about everything and nothing. It's just a case for me of fingers crossed and hope for the best come September!

blackeyedsusan Fri 08-Jul-11 07:32:38

if they re ready to read or write at this age let them and help. (especially with letter formation as that is a bad habit to break) however, don't panic. not all are ready. also the concentration on fine motor skills will help them when they are ready to write.

i have heard that there is some research out there that says children catch up, presumably because they learn these things a lot quicker later than taking absolutely ages (101 ways to teaach number 2) to learn things. i would be interested to read such research but as yet am too tired to search for it....

Jezabelle Fri 08-Jul-11 07:36:34

I found it a fairly traumatic journey Georgimama! This is partly due to myu own dyslexia and subsequent struggles in school. But hang in there! I bet he'll be fine. Good luck!

magicmummy1 Fri 08-Jul-11 07:45:00

Agreewith everyone else. Some children are ready to read and write at four, but many are not, and there seems to be no real benefit in pushing them to do it earlier.

TheRealMBJ Fri 08-Jul-11 07:46:51

I was educated in South Africa and we started formal education at 6. I am no less well educated or capable than DH, his family or any of my English friends. I did not find learning to read/write stressful or difficult. It was fun and easy.

I think there is way too much emphasis placed on early formal education here. The US system sounds fab math there is so much more to learn when they are that young than learning to read and write and is seems to make sense to me that very young children are taught the skills to learn before they are expected to .

RavenVonChaos Fri 08-Jul-11 07:50:25

I dont think British parents fret - we just have to do what the govt. Think is in vogue unfortunately.

amyboo Fri 08-Jul-11 07:53:58

Here in Belgium kids don't learn to read until they start 1st primary - which is at age 6. They start maternelle at 3, but that's just focussed on play and creativity, motor skills etc. Seeing as many Belgians (certainly here in Brussels) are bi-lingual or even tri-lingual, it certainly doesn't seem to do them any harm by learning to read later!

Saracen Fri 08-Jul-11 07:56:00

One of the reasons I didn't send my older daughter to school was that at four, she was a perfectionist who got stressed when she couldn't master something easily. Some people say it is good for children to have a challenge which they may not be able to achieve, but I knew that hitting a brick wall on reading would destroy her enthusiasm for books and send her self-esteem plummeting. I thought her time would be better spent playing and being read to.

She decided it was time to learn to read at 6.5 and while she did find it hard work, she never lost her enthusiasm for it. I have since noticed that among those home educated children who are allowed to tackle reading whenever they feel ready, seven is a very common age to start.

I think spelling is another area which is pushed on children before they are ready. It seems to involve endless memorised lists at school. Spelling started to come together for her once she had become a fluent reader, and even more so after she started using the computer to blog more. She was at school briefly in Y5 and I noticed that while she usually scored 100% in her memorised spellings, the knowledge of those words had evaporated within a few weeks.

And handwriting! Right up to now (age 11) she has never chosen to do very much writing at all. However, whenever she didn't pick a pen up for six months, I noticed that the next time she did attempt writing there was a very dramatic improvement over the previous time. I am convinced that the main factor in her improvement was simply maturity and improved fine motor skills. The other day I saw her in an academic environment alongside a group of 14yo schoolgirls and was surprised to see that her writing seemed to be on a par with theirs.

mousymouse Fri 08-Jul-11 07:56:28

very interesting, I went to school in germany and was just 6 years old when I started school.
I couln't read and was actively discouraged to do so. was read to loads by parents and in kindergarten, though.
ds is 4 and starts reception soon, I we read to him loads but don't put any pressure on him at all. he is only young and will start to read at his own pace.

wheresthepimms Fri 08-Jul-11 08:24:05

3 of my DCs went to school in the states for 2 years, the youngest was slightly behind in reading and writing when we returned to the UK but has caught up quickly but in other areas he excels, the US experience taught them to be polite, courteous, tie shoe laces (which most of his Y2 class can't do), stand up and talk in front of a class, and address all adults as Sir or Ma'am (which sounds really cute but respectful) even now a year after getting back the bad habits of the others in his class (calling mum by name, talking to teachers without using please and thankyous or even their names) have not rubbed off as they were taught to be good citizens before learning to read (which they pick up quickly when they are left til they are ready). I think our system could learn a lot from it.

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