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I think the desires and wishes of the child matter much more than what the parents want.

I have two kids. The first could read at two and was reading chapter books at four and adult books (e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird) at eight. By nine-years-old he was completely off reading and has barely read a book since.

The second didn't read until six and until she was about ten or eleven she still preferred to have me read to her. She just got her Master's but the other day she said she wishes I would still read to her. She loves stories but just doesn't enjoy reading. I think having two children is the cure for thinking that parents can determine how their children develop.

They can both read just fine. They just don't enjoy it. I'm a book-addict and am always in a book. Different strokes etc.

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Yeah I think it's great when a parent enjoys something about their kid but boy howdy is it hard for me to take parenting advice from someone who only has one kid. My daughter has been SO different from my son from basically day one.

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How wonderful that she has the freedom to choose! The best time for learning foreign languages is around five to six... esp. if it's done with music and body movement.

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Out of curiosity, was there anything in particular that put your older child off reading between 8 and 9? It seems like such an abrupt change that I wonder whether school or some other external factor put him off it.

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He had to do a book project at school. He was already reading To Kill a Mockingbird but his teacher said it was too difficult for him (he was already half way through) and switched him to something else (Little Women, maybe). He didn't read anything again after that.

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I'm so so excited to read this series, Erik. I suspect it will be my favorite of yours, perhaps tied with your series on Aristocratic tutoring.

I'm expecting my first child any day now (expected due date April 26), and I need as many influences like this in my life as I can get! Thanks for writing about it, and I look forward to your future posts :)

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Congrats and GL Andrew, it's going to be an intense experience but the two of you will get through it! And then the fun begins as your entire world gets shifted on its axis :)

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+1 Erik! Please keep developing this series, your articles always bring new inspiring insights and perspectives!

I also started teaching my children to read when they were toddlers. It took me significantly more time than you with Roman (kudos to you both). I suspect both my children had some form of dyslexia but because we started early we didn’t have any time or peer pressure, keeping the whole process enjoyable. One more reason to start early, you never know how difficult it will be for your child and being left behind is not a pleasant experience.

PS. I totally confirm, it only takes a 10 min long routine as part of a child daily schedule to lear anything! Reading but also music, art, sports, science and engineering, the sky is the limit!

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

Wonderful essay, Erik. I taught my daughter to read early on, simply because I love reading and because *no one had told me not to.* In retrospect, I can't imagine leaving that sacred task up to schools.

Now, my daughter is no aristocratic wunderkind, but she thoroughly enjoyed reading Roald Dahl and the Harry Potter books from a young age, and I actually have a video of her reading the first page of my copy of Anna Karenina aloud when she was 8 or 9.

I hope you continue to enjoy the process of teaching your own kids, and I look forward to future updates.

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Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

When I heard that 80% of adults do not read a single book in a year's time, I was dumbfounded. How is that possible? If it is true, then if course children don't know how to read: there is no model in their lives for it. And non-reading adults produce non-reading kids because they neither value nor comprehend reading as a life skill. Maybe we need adult reading apps.

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Many children respond to reading while listening to music and moving to the rhythm.

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Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

Thank you Erik! I taught both of my children to read using phonics and they were, like your son, reading by the age of 2. It was amazing how much easier it made their schooling and I remember how proud both kids were when they were given the longest speaking part in the Kindergarten end of year show because they could read complex paragraphs. My sister and I were both taught how to read using phonics by our parents almost 6 decades ago and I still have the phonics cards they used. It fostered a lifelong love of learning and reading.

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Awesome to hear Shari (and wow, inter-generational phonics cards is so cool). I've heard from people worried that kids who already know how to read will get bored in school, but I've always suspected it would more likely just make things easier, and that the teachers would be be happy to get a kid they can give the longer speaking parts to, etc - nice to hear another story that confirms that.

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My mom got me started reading at age two also. I did "get bored in school" - the teachers' perspective; from mine, I simply did not welcome having whole days wasted on rehearsal of things I already understood perfectly well, and would have been happy to read quietly all day had I but been let. Since I wasn't, and until I was, I raised hell instead. From this I conclude that, when a teacher considers a student to be "bored," it isn't the student who's at issue.

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Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

This is of course just anecdotal, but my parents taught me to read in the 2-3 range (sort of accidentally, I think) and my experience of reading comprehension in school was that I always 'topped out' the grade levels (like they couldn't find something I couldn't read) and down the line, the English part of the GRE felt like filling out a form, in that I couldn't believe that the questions were actually questions, they were so obvious to me. I don't think I'm amazingly like 'generally intelligent' or whatever, I don't think I understand what any of that means - but I do think reading is like a *learnable* (by anyone) "how to learn" skill which makes the rest of school easier...

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Thank you for publishing this article. Our 1 year old has a box of toys and a box of books. 99 out of 100 times she goes for the the box of books and starts flipping through the pages. We read to her every day and night. Screen time is non existent and maybe a few minutes every week. Reading has to be an essential life skill.

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Awesome, that's wonderful. Libraries in rooms (even little ones) are like some extended and growing part of their mind, it's really amazing to see. My son can't read many of his favorite books yet (we're close though) but he still just flips through the pages talking about them when he's alone. I definitely think minimizing screentime helps since it means books are the most interesting thing around.

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I think we have books in just about every room in the house. I love watching her flip through the pages and bumbling out sounds.

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This was a great read, but very disheartening. Even in my own life I notice how much I've fallen behind in my reading skills, as I've spent many years reading very little. Since going through grad school and now my job, (plus loving being here on Substack) I now spend a substantial part of my day reading. It's extremely rewarding and I know how much better my thought processes are, how much more I learn, and how significantly open minded and creative it's made me. Reading is so important and I couldn't believe the statistics you shared about how far most kids are behind on reading levels. I knew it was low, but now that bad. This will be a huge motivator for me on how important it will be to read daily with my kids.

Thanks, Erik!

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Hi Erik, thanks for sharing this. Living in Germany now though, the general consensus is to leave academic stuff until school time. For early childhood education, we believe in letting them develop naturally. About teaching to swim or bike, I let my child pick it up themselves too as they become developmentally appropriate. It's all about having a rich environment that enable that when the time comes. I read a lot to my children, having the love for reading, and I am also always torn about wanting to teach them to read ASAP while I also believe in not pushing it. Reading is a completely different thing from human natural skills, it requires basically decoding of cryptic codes. Anyway, I'm kind of on the fence here. In Malaysia where I am from, kids start learning to read at 3/4 when they go kindergarten, while here nobody does until they go to school at 7. But it's proven that there is no difference in capability and ability later in life whether one started reading earlier or later (I believe it was some studies done in Denmark, unfortunately I can't find it now to share here). Though I myself am really thankful I was able to read my own books even before school and I am an avid reader, my parents not so. So yeah, I don't know, but for now my oldest son, 5, just told me he wants to learn to read so I'm gonna start to finally teach him! I did before that exposed him to phonics already via games and such. I guess in the end, same for everything else in parenting, we do what's best for us and our children, only we will know!

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Phonetics rewires the brain to connect the eyes to your language center. The reader hears the words as the gaze passes over them. The earlier you start, the better. The practice can be a bit dull for the teacher, but the result is superior.

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Just as a tip though. I'm a Montessori fan and there they suggest to teach children using small letters (not capital), the logic being, in any given text, we are reading mostly with small letters compared to capital. 👌

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I think it might be worth mentioning that teaching young children to read is cool, but parents need to be steered away from using reading skill as a metric in the development of young children. This is especially true if it's at the expense of social-emotional learning, which has equally (even greater) health outcomes in later life.

Teaching young children to read earlier, and instilling it as fun is brilliant and could really change the outcomes of a generation and beyond, but it should be encouraged and treated with equal importance and the social emotional that is so critical in years 0-5 (and beyond).

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It's tied together.

The teachers I know tell me, in all frankness, that the dumb kids in class tend not to have friends. The smarter ones, more friends.

This is not so hard to understand. If you spend all your time in class struggling and feeling dumb, you will get grumpy and lash out, or try to be "cool" and do destructive stuff. Other children will then tend to avoid you.

As well, apart from parental involvement, the main predictor of a child's results is attendance - these two usually correlate perfectly. Parents who don't care don't make their child go to school. Just yesterday I was hearing about a child who missed 40 days of school last year, and 10 days in this last term. That's about 80% attendance, which sounds good until you realise it's one missed day each week of school. And this child is 3 years behind, being in grade 5 and with her english and maths at year 2 level. The teacher was talking to the child's mother, and the mother was complaining the child has no friends. "Well she can't make friends if she doesn't show up," the teacher said - but the parent blamed the teacher.

The best academic performers won't have the best social development, necessarily. But the worst academic performers will certainly have the worst social development.

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> The teachers I know tell me, in all frankness, that the dumb kids in class tend not to have friends. The smarter ones, more friends.

>

> This is not so hard to understand. If you spend all your time in class struggling and feeling dumb, you will get grumpy and lash out, or try to be "cool" and do destructive stuff. Other children will then tend to avoid you.

Only if the situation has not yet deteriorated to the point that the “dumb” kids win. Then the vast majority of the kids will join in and bully the “smart” kids and even the teacher, and their parents and any higher authority will consistently take their side: <https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2007/03/18/getting-terrored/>.

By the way, have those teachers and you called the “dumb” kids dumb to their—and their parents’—faces? I’ve always been told that not doing so is cowardly.

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

Bravo! It's obvious that you enjoy being a father and that your connection with your son is wonderfully playful and yes, rich with learning. I became a single working mom, an exec, with a child who had severe asthma. I literally came within minutes of losing her. The benefits of being a mom, no matter how tired, kept me inspired. You're only at the beginning of the extraordinary journey of being parent. My daughter and I taught each other alot... and yes, some of that was helpful in reconnecting me with the playfulness of my inner child!

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Thank you Sam - and oh my god, what a scary story about the asthma, I literally cannot imagine that level of fear. Definitely the teaching goes both ways. It's been amazing to get so re-enchanted with the world. We were looking at a swarm of bugs last evening that came to our yard and talking about swarms and I just realized how crazy it is that these tiny creatures come in huge clouds and live their weird swarm-lives together... It's all a little like being a kid yourself again.

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Apr 25Liked by Erik Hoel

American schools switched from teaching phonetics to a method called “whole language” sometime in the sixties. Most parents regard phonetics (now called phonics) as an emergency measure, instead of the primary method of reading. It doesn’t occur to them to teach it.

“ Every letter makes a sound, the sound you need to hear. First the first sound, then the next, until the word is clear.“

Get the original Leapfrog videos if you are at all uncertain.

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As a home educator of the classical school (Well-Trained Mind, etc., if you know it) I also experienced the joy of early literacy training. We learned numbers early on as well, and practiced forming letters and shapes both inside the home with art materials and on nature walks with sand, stones, pebbles.

I found a rich intellectual satisfaction in breaking down the processes of reading, writing and arithmetic to their most basic, toddler-sized components. And now that my daughter is 6 we have expanded our curriculum to include science, history and grammar as well as maths, reading and writing. It all started with teaching phonics in the toddler years; the seed of a culture of learning that continues to grow in our family.

I hope that you enjoy this journey with Roman! A child's intelligence is a delight that increases year by year.

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Animals are sensitive readers of nature's language.. As a self professed nature person and activist who participates whenever, wherever and however possible to the GREAT LOVE STORY that's being written to the earth, the songs that are being sung to the earth, AND as a mother, I believe it's extremely important to teach one's child the language of the wild places and the wild creatures. If you're living in a city flat, buy a geranium for your balcony. Buy a pair goldfish and begin teaching your child the empathic language of loving what lives in those places. He and all of us will benefit! If he doesn't print or write, have him make some art... simple paste and cut, or water colors..

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You would like Rachel Carson's book and article about The Sense of Wonder, if you haven't already read it

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I have read it! She was a remarkable woman who still has much to teach children and adults.. My daughter went to a Waldorf School. A very comprehensive education...one that teaches a child how to think without being too rigid. It's important to make it fun..European schools have much longer hours and all learn English, which has become the language of trade and business. If you can send or accompany your child to Europe they will benefit greatly. My parents took in foreign exchange student during my high school years.. Her learning was much more advanced than most Americans. I believe, esp. today that going camping, hiking, canoing, exposing children to nature and teaching about nature's connectivity is of great value. There was no junk food in child's early life and we cooked together.. Great fun for dads and moms. Baking is a great way to learn alot about chemistry. Making soups, salads, is about making creative healthy choices. Making one's own bread has magic... ps never prune your plants when you're working with 'live yeast.' Creating a garden with your little, on a balcony or outside..

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You have a lucky daughter 😊

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Apr 24Liked by Erik Hoel

As the father of an 8 month old, I'm very excited by this series. This might be an edge case, but we are raising a bilingual child, so I wonder how that should play into such reading learning plans and language acquisition in general. We live in Denmark (mothers language), so I imagine danish will become my daughters dominant language. But I am very keen for her to speak Icelandic (my native tongue) as well and for Icelandic to be what we speak together. I wonder how these plans should figure into trying to teach her to read as well?

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I wish I could help you there, but we're very much monolingual. I would say that teaching reading in two languages would be quite tough though, I'd probably pick a more conversational one and a primary official one, but that's just what I'd do

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Just anecdotally, I've recently begun teaching swedish to my 6 year old son after teaching him to read english with phonics at age 5. I didn't mean to! but soon we are going on a trip to the old country and I felt he should at least be able to ask for icecream. I couldn't find any book programmes for his young age at short notice, so we use a grown-up app, duolingo, and to my surprise, he is reading the swedish almost without thinking. We do swedish lesson after English lesson. Using the screen has been a "treat" for him as well. It's not phonics for the swedish, but I think he understood phonics well enough that it sort of transferred over to the next language.

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Swedish is quite phonetic.

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We have a bilingual family, and I found that the standard advice seems to work well: each parent speaks to the child in their own language (you don't have to be strict or really exclusive about this, but it should be the basic habit). That extends fairly naturally into each parent reading to the child in their own language, and if you do explicit language teaching, each parent can do that separately. For two languages like Danish and Icelandic, both written using the same alphabet, you probably won't need to double up on the language teaching. Children can transfer the idea of sounding out words across languages, so if your daughter works out how to read in Danish, for example, she will probably very quickly be able to sound out in Icelandic.

One point I noticed with my two children is that conversation with the parent is not quite enough. With my older son, I spent a lot of time speaking English to him (we live in China), so his English developed fine, but not quite perfectly. He has a couple of funny deficits where the tenses didn't quite catch. (Particularly the "have"/perfect tenses.) My younger son doesn't have this problem - even though I spent less time speaking to him one-on-one. I think the difference is having a language environment, which is richer than the child's current level of ability. My younger son got to witness and be peripherally a part of child conversations with the older son; but the older son never got that. It seems that TV can't substitute for conversations between real people! So as a recommendation, try to get some time with other Icelandic speakers, to make sure that your daughter gets some exposure to an Icelandic environment as well as your direct interactions with her.

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This is exactly how we did it in our bilingual family. Associating particular languages with individual interactions is, I think, key for anchoring two different languages during the prime learning age.

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Thank you Phil. That is really great advice. Makes sense that the younger sibling would hear more conversations in their environment. We are trying to have her be situated in Icelandic speaking situations regularly.

Maybe we’ll try to start the reading part in Danish and then transfer later.

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I think you'll find results vary more than you might expect. We taught our daughter letter sounds early and spent plenty of time reading to and with her, but the idea that sounds could come together into words just didn't click with her until age 4, no matter how we tried to teach it. Which is fine, obviously -- that's plenty early by any standard. But I'm afraid your n=1 sample size might be leading you to overly strong beliefs about the efficacy of your methods.

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