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Why do we start reading etc so early in UK?

(52 Posts)
Cortina Fri 18-Sep-09 09:31:35

Speaking to American and European friends all are shocked and think we are bonkers to start the formal stuff so young.
Beginning to get down to the serious business of reading and writing seems to happen when their children are rising 7.

Apparently Finnish grade 4 children have the highest average reading age internationally - and they don't start until 7.

Appreciate this is going to change any time soon but wonder why have a different philosophy/system in the UK. I have no idea why.

ZZZenAgain Fri 18-Sep-09 09:39:02

I don't know. If I had been in the UK when dd was 4 , I suppose I would not have questioned it but we were in Germany where they are all still at kiga and don't generally start school and therefore reading till they are 6 (used to be 7 even). I thought they learn it quite fast and effortlessly at that age. Maybe they do at 4 too?

I don't know why it was decided to start earlier, must have been based on some research I suppose.

stepaway Fri 18-Sep-09 09:42:47

I've been told that the reasons go back to the Victoria era when British industry pushed the government to start schooling early so that by the age of 15, British children would have completed their 10/11 years of education and be ready for the workforce (ie go to work in factories)

no idea if there is any truth in this.

sausagesupper Fri 18-Sep-09 09:43:09

you could ask why british kids are in such formal education at all as many other countries don't start formal school till much later, they stay in kindergarten or similar. I think it is down to the individual child tho, my dd (age 4) is fascinated by books and tries to read them etc, I wouldn't discourage this but wouldn't force it on a more reluctant child.

mimsum Fri 18-Sep-09 10:11:30

It's partly because English is a much more complicated language with far fewer rules than many European languages and so it takes longer to learn to read (at least, that's the explanation I've been given by a couple of linguists when I've queried the differences)

But also, many children are ready to read at 4, some are ready earlier, many more are ready much later - dh and I both read at 3, my dd started at 4.5-5, both my boys clicked at around 6. Whatever age is decided upon at school level, it's going to suit some kids and not others

standards in US schools generally are much easier than UK schools - the system is very different so it's hard to compare directly

Builde Fri 18-Sep-09 10:21:31

Is it because the British always panic that if you don't start early enough you will never get it?

Like weaning...we are pretty much the only people who start weaning at 4 months.

(although, i would like to proudly say that I exclusively BF my two for six months! There were other reasons - I hate weaning children and leaving it later shortened the period of mess.)

I have mixed feelings about reading early. 7 seems quite late to start because most 7 year olds can really enjoy an Enid Blyton book, thus giving them play ideas and enabling them to entertain themselves.

However, starting at 4 seems to leave a lot of parents panicking when their children don't pick it up instantly.

Plus, it encourages parents to start even younger with their children and I have noticed reading books creeping into pre-schools.

preciouslillywhite Fri 18-Sep-09 10:23:22

I've heard that "English is more complicated" line elsewhere on here but think it's probably bollox. I think that this pressure to read and write at such an early age stems from a Victorian attitude to kids which is unquestioned by a lot of parents. When I did a work placement at a nursery I found that parents of 3/4 year olds were complaining that the children "weren't doing any work" or "just playing all the time"- this attitude persists all through Primary.

No wonder a lot of them can't be arsed by the time they get to Year 7- they're all burnt out IMO. Utter, utter madness shock

BonsoirAnna Fri 18-Sep-09 10:24:44

You cannot compare Finnish and English. Finnish is very easy to learn to read and write, English is comparatively difficult. Some European languages are just easier than others to learn to read - Italian and Spanish are much easier than English or French, for example.

PinkTulips Fri 18-Sep-09 10:31:30

builde, i didn't learn to read until just before my 8th birthday... i read the hobbit before i was 9, far ahead of any of my irish classmates.

You actually learn quicker at a later age and the rules are explained far more easily as you have the comprehensive capability to understand the nuances of phonetic rules and more importantly, when to break those rules.

Also if the childs speech is better and their vocabulary more advanced of course learning to read is easier than for a 4 year old with far more limited speech and language skills.

I hate the early reading system that means my highly un interested 4 year old is having to start learning letters and phonetics. But that being said, my 3 year old is facinated with letters and reading so the system will suit him perfectly, or possibly even be too slow for him as he's already miles ahead of what dd is learning in school.

preciouslillywhite Fri 18-Sep-09 10:33:20

I do know it's a more complicated language than most...but I would dispute that you need the "extra" 3 years to learn to read and write it! The fact that it is such a difficult language would imo indicate the later the start the better as it can be so overwhelming to a small child.

kreecherlivesupstairs Fri 18-Sep-09 10:37:24

I don't know the reason but I'm bloody glad our dd learned to read. We no longer had the nursery rhyme cd's in the car, we could have adult music while she contented herself with whatever book she was devouring at the time. she watched much less telly and her vocabulary increased enormously. Still she would much rather read a book than look at a film/cbeebies etc.

cory Fri 18-Sep-09 10:37:26

mimsum Fri 18-Sep-09 10:11:30 Add a message | Report post | Contact poster

"It's partly because English is a much more complicated language with far fewer rules than many European languages and so it takes longer to learn to read (at least, that's the explanation I've been given by a couple of linguists when I've queried the differences)"

So how does that make it more suitable for an immature 4yo? hmm

bruffin Fri 18-Sep-09 11:21:23

It takes an extra year for a native english speaker to learn to read and write english, about 18 months, compared to say italian or german which are very simple phonetic languages whose native speakers only take 6 months.
Also the english system is a much gentler intro ,most of it based on play, whereas in say germany it goes from playing all day to a very formal setting, which can be a bit of a shock.
My DD was raring to go at 4, but because of a September birthday couldn't start until a few days before her 5th birthday.

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 18-Sep-09 11:28:20

Because children, even very young children can derive an awful lot of pleasure from reading. Why would I want to deny them a good wholesome activity that they love, I love and helps them in a miriad of different ways? I certainly won't be denying them because someone else thinks it is "too victorian" to allow a 5 year old to read!

Bucharest Fri 18-Sep-09 11:28:32

The only difficult thing about learning English is the pronunciation.
The Italians think Italian is the most difficult language in the world too.
I also agree that it's more that the systems are so different, here in Italy, dd has just started primary school (Literally, just, like today!) and she will be 6 in 2 weeks time. That said, at nursery she was doing reading and writing. So I think in some cases certainly, they seem to be doing different things, but are just doing the same things in different places...(IYSWIM!) I had to explain to a primary teacher friend of mine, who had just been on a course comparing European systems and was a bit shock that children in the Uk enter primary school not knowing how to read and do joined up writing- it had been presented to them on the course as a "oooh look how not very seriously the Brits take their schooling". At no stage had it been pointed out the people on the course that children in the UK go to primary as young as 4 and a bit in some cases!

Dunno about the reading though. Dd started wanting to know what words said, so I started teaching her. I find it hard to believe a child of 6 or even 7 who wouldn't want to know how to read words.

whyme2 Fri 18-Sep-09 11:33:44

I don't think the issue is when they start learning to read but when they have to meet national standards. In uk this is younger than elsewhere so the pressure is on.

preciouslillywhite Fri 18-Sep-09 11:38:45

DailyMail don't be daft, I'm not suggesting that 5yos shouldn't be allowed to read. I have a lot of experience of helping children read in KS1, plus three of my own (each with vastly different experiences) and simply think that forcing children to learn to read at 4 is wrong.

I've seen too many kids-able in other ways- struggling and being left behind at a very early stage, when they might have benefitted by waiting till later, instead of being crushed by the Phonics Juggernaut sad

hotcrossbunny Fri 18-Sep-09 12:02:38

Bucharest - you say you don't believe a 6/7 year old wouldn't want to read words, but often because they've been pushed and failed at 4, they are put off reading by 6/7. That's the sad thing. Reading is such a lovely thing, but only when the child wants to learn or can see a need to learn. And often that isn't when they start school in Britain.

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 18-Sep-09 12:05:31

TBF I have never come across a child being forced to read, how would you even do that? (I can see how you can be forced to eat or run but read?).

IME children who are less ready learn more slowly and a slower pace is supported by the teachers and TAs, this is why children are taken through phonics in smaller groups so it can be tailored. THe fact that the younger children in a year are not always the ones who have to most trouble points to it not being a maturity or age thing but an ability thing, the same as everything else like holding a fork or tying a lace.

I agree with whyme about standards though, children should read for pleasure not to reach a yard stick, at least not until a time when an inability to read would have serious effects on them.

cory Fri 18-Sep-09 12:07:08

DailyMail noone is suggesting that you should deny 5yos the right to read if they wish to.

But currently we have a system where 4 yos are made to feel a failure if they cannot understand the alphabet or do not have the motor skills to hold a pen correctly.

We have a system whihc prioritises reading and writing at the expense of pretty well any other skills, and where it is assumed that any bright child who does not read and write and do sums has got to be understimulated. This is not the only possible set of priorities you can have.

I went to school when I was nearly 7. This does not mean I spent the first 61/2 years being understimulated and unhappy. I did crafts, I knew how to handle tools safely, I could make basic toys, I could make a cake or a simple meal, I could swim and skate and row a boat, I had good survival skills, I knew a lot about the natural world, I painted and made things out of clay and when I felt ready to read I taught myself to do so.

I thought I was exceptionally clever to have learnt to read at the age of 5, this confidence has followed me through school and seen me through a PhD and an academic career.

My ds otoh had his confidence shattered because he could not read when he was 4. He still thinks of himself as stupid. Seems a waste to me.

lljkk Fri 18-Sep-09 12:14:55

Because SO many children self-teach to read by age 3 grin.
(I have been lurking WAY TOO MUCH on G&T boards).
Heck if I know, OP. I agree it's too young a start in UK. Americans often don't send their DC to kindergarten until past the child's 6th birthday, and feel very satisfied with that decision. So I don't buy the 'English is so difficult you have to start early' argument.

Employer demands that students finish school by age X makes sense as a historical argument.

preciouslillywhite Fri 18-Sep-09 12:17:24

Agree with cory...

Also with DM in that reading should be seen as a pleasurable activity. Afraid that it's not the case, though...

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 18-Sep-09 12:29:14

Cory "But currently we have a system where 4 yos are made to feel a failure if they cannot understand the alphabet or do not have the motor skills to hold a pen correctly." I disagree with this, strongly.

As for your ds, I cannot comment as I do not know the ins and outs, however, I find it very odd that a teacher would make a 4yo feel stupid for not reading - as most of them don't read at 4, they start learning phonics then but few of them can read more than a few words before the age of 5 in any case.

As for denying them, well, how do you find out if they would enjoy reading if you do not start them off reading? A 5yo cannot express a wish or otherwise to do or not do something so far outside their own experience!

preciouslillywhite Fri 18-Sep-09 12:38:29

It's true, DM. It's not down to the teachers IMO, but the children really are pressured in the Foundation Stage to do those things...I can't find my guidance notes at the mo but if my memory serves me correctly, by the end of Reception recognition of a range of words and reading and writing simple sentences is their target.

It's not just the child's target either, it's the teacher's as well, so there's a lot of pressure to meet it.

GrimmaTheNome Fri 18-Sep-09 12:38:49

cory, my DH and I are like you and yours! Fortunately my DH knows he's not stupid because he caught up and overtook the rest. If he'd been middling he'd have been shattered, I suspect. Instead of which he maybe overcompensates and can come over as arrogant but its based on an underlying insecurity.

DD took after DH and infants was such a struggle because of the emphasis on reading etc. She was one of the ones getting extra help. Hearing her read in the evenings was a trial for both of us.

The suddenly at 6-7 whoomph. Just like DH, she's top of her class now. Top marks in comprehension etc. But - although she does read - she doesn't love it like me(who learned naturally and unforced). She's been somewhat turned off I think.

I really do think they should defer formal teaching - kids who want to learn to read earlier and are capable will be able to do so anyway with little fuss (I can't even remember learning)

Unfortunately everything I hear is about setting 'targets' earlier and earlier.sad

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