Why I’m not teaching my kid to read

If you want the short answer, here it is: she’s two. So there you go. But let me elaborate a bit.


Firstly, let me state for the record that I think reading is so important. We read stories every day and visit the library most weeks. Recently I logged on to T’s library account and in her short lifetime we’ve checked out around 250 books! (Having new reading material saves my sanity at bedtime. And we have found some real gems at our local library!) So don’t worry. I’m not planning on ending up with a kid who can’t read.

Some of our favourites!
Some of our favourites!

Reading with your child holds so many benefits for them. They hear so many new words and phrases in context, and this develops their understanding of language and their vocabulary. It develops their understanding of the world around them. They see relationships form and develop between characters which gives them a deeper understanding of social norms and how to interact with people around them. It fosters creativity and imagination. Perhaps most importantly, the cuddles and closeness while you read to them meets their emotional needs and develops their self-esteem. So…yes, I think reading is of vital importance. I’m a teacher – of course I do.

But lately I’ve been starting to feel a pressure to begin teaching her letters and perhaps write her name. I can’t explain exactly from where this pressure comes. Maybe the toddler toys which aim to familiarise and teach children the alphabet, or phonemes. Perhaps children’s television (not all of it – but some). Recently T’s nursery happened to mention they had started teaching phonics. I was stunned! A quick conversation clarified that this mainly took the form of singing, and that the children could opt-in or out, but I can’t help but feel this is coming too early. For the record, we love her nursery and T thrives there. But if she were full time the phonics would concern me more than it does.


I just don’t see the rush. T will be nearly 5 by the time she is due to start school. She’s smart enough, so I anticipate that by this time she will probably be able to write her name and maybe she’ll know the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. Great! But if she doesn’t? I really don’t see that it’s a big deal, and more than this, teaching her to read before she is ready could be detrimental. David Whitebread of Cambridge University cited some research from New Zealand:

Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.

I wonder if that difference in comprehension between the two groups could be because once children start to read, they spend less and less time being read to. And so the comprehension takes a hit because it can take them so long to get to the end of the sentence that by the time they do, they’ve forgotten how it began. Give them a couple of extra years of being read to, and surely their understanding of contextual clues will have developed that much more that the reading process will become quicker and easier?

This is all part of a bigger picture. Early education in the UK has become more formalised in recent years, although the teaching of reading has started at a young age for many years. If you want to find out more about the case for delaying formal education, check out the ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ campaign, from the Save Childhood Movement.

Now, say at three or four years old T starts asking me what words say, maybe in books, or signs she sees around her. I’m not going to say “sorry, you’ll have to wait until you’re seven”. If she’s interested, we’ll go for it! But if she’s not, fine. We’ll give it more time.

I’m not saying that no child should be taught to read at five. If they’re interested, and they’re ready, then great! I have taught many children who have been ready to read at five, or before! I started learning to read aged four, and I loved it! I have taught others who have just not been interested, yet the pressures of the curriculum have not allowed them the time or space to go at their own pace. Ultimately, I want T to love learning, and love reading. And I think the best way to do that is to follow her interests, and let her wait until she is ready.

17 Replies to “Why I’m not teaching my kid to read”

  1. I was nodding all the way through this post! I’m in total agreement – if kids WANT to start to learn to read at say 3 or 4 then we can respond to that, but there’s no need at all to push them. I think it’s so important to read to kids and that quote from David Whitebread, and your reasoned reaction to it is really interesting. Thanks so much for sharing this with me and it’s a perfect post for our #THISislearning linky if you fancy sharing it on this post? http://writingbubble.co.uk/thisislearning-join-us/

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thanks for you response Maddy and for sharing the post! Really glad you found the post interesting. Will be keeping an eye on the #THISislearning campaign!

    2. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thanks for your response Maddy and for sharing the post! Really glad you found the post interesting. Will be keeping an eye on the #THISislearning campaign!

  2. Totally agree. My boy is 3 and a half now and just starting to recognise letters that are in his name, it is sort of something that has happened naturally though. #picknmix xx

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Thanks! That is great. Names are the obvious starting point – T recognises hers although not individual letters I don’t think.

  3. I can really understand where you’re coming from here and they are in school for so many years, why not just let them enjoy the toddler years! 🙂

    Thanks for linking up to #PicknMix

    Stevie x

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Indeed! Definitely want to allow T to just be a kid as long as she can!

  4. elaine valentine says: Reply

    A child centred reading approach. If only the schools were allowed to follow that approach

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Yes if only! Would be great to see the early years include the whole of KS1, and a less formal approach to learning encouraged for the younger children!

  5. I 100% agree with this as a Primary teacher and a Mum I have exactly the same view. reading and sharing stories at 2 is so much more important than phonics. It’s the developing a love for books. Thanks for linking to #PickNMix

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Yes definitely! The rest will come in time. Thanks for your comment.

  6. I really agree, I love to boast that I could read before I started school and everyone was amazed, what does that mean now? Nothing really, I love reading books but that’s just who i am. My 4 year old is able to write the first letter of her name & can point it out in books (or on every single thing that has that letter in!) But she can’t read words, she struggles with the alphabet still, but she will so happily pick up a book and tell you the story start to finish, she does learn brilliantly parrot fashion, she can repeat short books word perfect but ask her the same words in a different book she’s no idea. My 2 year old gets her alphabet almost perfect every time but doesn’t recognise her name letters. Does either of these things really matter? At this stage no. They all learn and develop at different rates and always will.
    #picknmix (but I’ve not joined this week)

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      Absolutely. If your 4yo can retell the story then she’s understood what she’s been told and is able to remember it, a far more useful skill at this stage than being able to write a few words! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  7. I totally agree with the pressure and it has really stressed me out but I’ve taken a step back and stopped pushing it. Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky xx

  8. I think parents are all different on this point. I didn’t teach any of my kids to read – they learned in school. Every child has different interests & if they wanted to learn to read early I’d feel the same as you & I’d help them then. Thanks so much for joining us at #bloggerclubuk

  9. I really like your approach. I have to admit I probably started teaching my daughter letters at around 2, but only because we were given a couple of alphabet books she really liked. She taught herself to read when she was 3 and I worry that her comprehension will suffer as a result. She’s only 5 and only wants to be read to at bedtime now which is sad, I used to love reading to her! I’m definitely in no rush for my son to start reading independently!

    1. beccatooth says: Reply

      I think if they show interest in it, then go for it! Amazing that she taught herself to read. T is really showing an interest in letters now and is constantly telling me which sound words start with – I don’t know where it’s come from as we haven’t done that at all! But now that she’s interested I’ll start to do a little more with her.

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