One of the most important realizations to come out of modern child study is that we cannot force learning before children are ready for it. We have always known it in some specific kinds of learning. We see that a baby reaches a physical stage when he is ready to learn to creep and then to walk. The child reaches stages when he can say words and finally sentences. We know that we cannot advance the many learnings of little children very much beyond their maturity stages, however we try.
The most beneficial age to send most children to the first grade to begin to learn to read is six to six and a half. We know this from experience. But some children do not learn readily at that age, while others have already made some progress at home. Because a child is not so ready to read at six as others may be is not a sign that he will not reach that point later and become a good reader. Age in years is not the most important factor. It is mental age, intellectual maturity, that seems to be more important. Of course, too, the physical development of the eyes has not reached the necessary stage of good focusing much earlier.
Stages of physical growth and mental growth do not always correspond. A six-year-old may be seven or more in size and younger or older mentally. So, while children usually enter the first grade after they are six and before they are seven, their teachers find some of them not ready to learn to read; reading readiness is dependent on children’s having reached the requisite stage of mental growth.
Mental age is not the only other requisite factor. Teachers tell us that home experiences have much to do with readiness, and parents can be of great help to their children. They need not try to teach them to read. Until the children have reached sufficient mental maturity, success would be doubtful anyway. But there are many other things they can do.
Later, in the first grade, the reading will be about things with which the children are familiar. The reading must have meaning to be real reading. Rich experience then is necessary — doing things, seeing things, building up interests, hearing what other children have done and are doing. Having a pet dog or cat forms an association which puts meaning into the story in the primer. The milkman, the postman, and the groceryman will appear in early stories. The baby in the household, the play tea party, the birthday party, and scores o£ other memories will live again in the reading.
Quite as important are the stories that father or mother reads aloud. They may be the simplest jingles with absorbing pictures, poems with rhythms to absorb, stories about children’s doings. Looking at the pictures while listening stirs the imagination. Children want to have the same stories again and again. When they are alone they will pore over the pictures and “read.” It is good to have the books where the children can get at them. (Continue below to page 2)