We all want our children to be little bookworms. We read to them from birth, we create a literacy-rich home environment. Yet some parents feel a sense of disappointment when their children are not early readers. What have we done wrong, why can't my child read yet? Perhaps the school is at fault?
I stressed a lot when Caspar (my eldest son) was learning to read and it really impacted my approach to Otis learning to read. Caspar was not an early reader and I felt a sense of disappointment. I called him a reluctant reader, when he could read he did so reluctantly. I now feel this was a consequence of my 'gentle encouragement'. We will never know if I pushed Caspar too hard, however, I do know that he is now nine and his head is constantly stuck in a book. He reads late at night, early in the morning, in the car on the way to school, while waiting for Otis at swimming, he reads at every opportunity and he is a little bookworm. When I look at Caspar's journey I realise he just did it in his own time. This insight has allowed me to be relaxed with Otis' learning. Prepared and available yes, but still very relaxed.
Maria Montessori believed the sensitive period for language is from birth to six years. During this period most children will learn to speak, comprehend and learn to read and write. The Montessori teachers I speak to say most (not all) children learn to read between the ages of 4½ and six. That is quite a range!
Montessori also writes about a 'spontaneous explosion into reading'. For the most part, just so you know, I never saw this in my children. They absolutely had peaks where all of their knowledge came together, but an explosion it was not.
In the Montessori philosophy, at home and at school, we follow the child. We don't push them nor do we hold them back. We meet them where they are at. We allow and provide opportunities for each child to develop to their full potential. They will read when they have done all the preparatory work and when it all comes together and this will be in their own time when they are ready.
We want our children to thoroughly complete all the steps along the way, we want them to grasp phonics not to learn by rote or memorisation. We want them not to only be able to read but to love reading, to read for enjoyment for their love of learning not under pressure or to please us.
So when should we worry? If you have concerns about your child's reading I suggest talking to your child's teacher first. Over the years we've had several Montessori teachers and they have always made the time to talk to me about my concerns and provide specific advice for at home activities. They can say the exact stage my children are at and show me the language materials they are currently working on. I always look for progress but it is so true that children go through peaks and troughs, there are times when they take it in and you don't see results until weeks or months later. I would be concerned and seek professional advice if the teacher thought the child had learning difficulties or if your instinct tells you something isn't right. It can also be helpful to test the children's sight and hearing before they start school.
It is the sweetest thing listening to children read out loud. Otis sounds out almost every word and you can see the satisfaction all over his face when he finishes each sentence. It's a sense of accomplishment and well worth waiting for!