Learning to Read

One of the things you learn as an aspiring teacher in the US is that all of the research says that learning to read is a complex process and that the age that is “normal” to learn to read is in the 5-8 window.

In Singapore, children are expected to be fluent readers and writers by age 6. Day one of Primary 1 your child better already know how to read because next week their spelling test will have words like mountains.

In the US, we hope that kids start kindergarten knowing all 26 letters and their corresponding phoneme (sound a letter makes). But not all do. There is support for children who are behind, like reading specialists who will work either one on one or in a small group with children who are behind.

Elanor was a precocious reader. By the end of K1, she was reading simple readers and by the end of K2 she was reading chapter books (simple ones, but still). She was fine in the Singapore system.

But one size doesn’t fit all. And it didn’t fit Rhi.

We realized during K1/2 that Rhi just wasn’t ready to read. And you can’t force a child to read before they’re ready–all you’ll do is make them feel dumb and hate reading/books. Between that and some of her other challenges, like ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder.

When the job offer from the US came through, it was at a good time. Rhi was finishing K1, and stressing out at the pressure that even her low-key private K had. It was really unclear what we were going to do with her if we stayed. Public school was out. Heading to the US, where “normal” has a much larger range, seemed like a smart decision.

Rhi started Kindergarten this time last year. She started off in the reading specialist group because she was shaky on some of her phonemes. By the end of the school year, though, she was in the top group. It was the right time, in the right environment, and she continues to be in the top reading group in first grade, which started last month. But even the top group is only reading simple texts, less demanding than those read in Singapore.

When Elanor was young, I felt very arrogant about my decisions to enroll her in Singapore public. After all, she was thriving. High expectations equals high output. I’d never taught reading, only dealing with kids who already knew how to do it. I was a precocious reader. Ravi was a precocious reader. Elanor was a precocious reader.

Rhiannon isn’t a precocious reader. She’s right on schedule. And in a less stressful environment, she’s thriving. She loves reading. She feels smart.

Different kids need different solutions. I wish that Singapore offered more diversity and support for kids who don’t fit the mold, apart from making them feel stupid (something many of my friends have talked about).

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