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Late Bloomers:
Are We Teaching Kids to Read Before They Are Ready?

"I am concerned about the push to begin reading instruction at earlier ages. What about the 'late bloomer whose cognitive skills are set by nature and will NOT be rushed, who is ready to read in the last half of Grade 1 ... or not until Grade 2, or Grade 3? By that time, reading instruction may be two years' beyond these kids, and they are 'left behind.'"

"Doesn't it make sense to go back to when Kindergarten students learned social skills and learned by playing and when literacy skills centered around learning the alphabet, and phonics were left until at least the first grade?" - A teacher from The John Carroll School in Bel Air, MD

Reid Lyon's Answer

What we know know about young kids is that they can learn reading readiness skills in preschool and Kindergarten if they are taught in a warm, nurturing environment that supports their emotional health and the development of their social competencies.

We also know that waiting to teach kids to read until the end of the first grade or second grade does not work. We have not found any support for the idea of "late bloomers" or "developmental lags." Instead, we find that the longer we delay formal reading instruction, the less likely it is that the child will ever catch up.

Note from Wrightslaw: In October 2004, Education Week sponsored a Live Chatwith Dr. Reid Lyon, research psychologist and chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lyon answered questions about reading programs, evidenced-based research, reading myths, and the Reading First program. This question and answer is from the transcript of that chat.

Meet Reid Lyon

G. Reid Lyon is a research psychologist and the chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. He has been an influential proponent of the scientific approach to reading instruction and development.


Learning to Read

How to Catch Children Before they Fail at Reading

Why Children Succeed or Fail at Reading, Research from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Program in Learning Disabilities

Putting Reading First - Southwest Education Development Laboratory

Synthesis of Research on Reading from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development by Bonita Grossen, University of Oregon

Teaching Children to Read

Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science, What Expert Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do by Louisa Moats, published by the American Federation of Teachers.

Orton-Gillingham and/or Multisensory Structured Language Approaches (2 pages, pdf) - Content (what is taught) and principles of instruction (how it is taught) of multisensory structured language programs that are essential for effective teaching. Includes list of methods that use structured, multisensory, alphabetic techniques.

Informed Instruction for Reading Success: Foundations for Teacher Preparation - A Position Paper of the International Dyslexia Association by Susan Brady, Ph.D., and Louisa Moats, Ed.D

Whole Language Lives on, The Illusion of "Balanced" Reading Instruction by Louisa Moats, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

The Missing Foundation in Teacher Education by Louisa Moats, Ed.D by The Greenwood Institute.

Children of the Code

Children of the Code: A Social-Education Project and Television Documentary from PBS. This project aims to reframe how society thinks about reading and how children learn to read. The project has three components: 1) A three hour PBS documentary series; 2) A ten-hour college, university, and professional development DVD series; 3) A series of teacher and parent presentations and workshops.

Free Publications

A Child Becomes a Reader: Proven Ideas from Research for Parents (K-Grade 3). What to do at home, what to look for in classrooms, what every child should be able to do by the end of K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd grades. In html

Put Reading First: Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read. Organized by topic for kindergarten through grade 3 (phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, vocabulary instruction, fluency instruction, and text comprehension instruction), lists findings from the research, suggests how findings can be translated to practice.

Put Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read - A Parent Guide. Provides an overview of findings of the National Reading Panel; gives ideas for what to expect from a school's reading program based on evidence from the research (preschool through grade 3); suggests ways parents can reinforce reading instruction at home.

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