She knows all the letters. She can read any book title, printed in its large, clear letters. On the street, you can’t help but notice that she’s seeing the signs anew, surprising herself every time she recognizes a word on a billboard. And so she starts to read. For parents, this moment is fraught with temptation.
It would appear that once your child reaches this stage, there’s no need to read aloud to her. It seems more likely to hurt than help—will she bother learning, practicing and mastering reading, if someone still does the work for her?
The work of mastering reading skills is a separate topic. It’s a challenge that’s not as simple as it appears, and can’t be solved by pressure alone. Let’s insted address this issue from the point of view of parental reading.
The idea that you need to stop reading to a child as soon as you hand him his first ABC book is one of the most dangerous parenting myths.
Look at the books you read to a five-year old: they’re not just very short stories and fairytales. Most likely, starting at four or four-and-a-half, you’ve transitioned to children’s novels. You read thick books with many characters, a complex plot, and advanced language. Each takes a week to read—or two, or even three. That’s good training for a child’s attention span and memory.
When will a child be able to take on book of that volume and difficulty level on his own? Two years down the line in the best case scenario, but certainly no earlier. He’ll start off with short texts and simple language. Where content and vocabulary are concerned, these new books represent a phase long since left behind. That means that when you stop reading to a child, you allow him to regress. The flow of cultural information and experiences he’s exposed to will decline, no longer able to match his level of psychological development.
Eminent Russian psychologist L.S. Vygotsky established the concepts of the “zone of actual development” and “zone of proximal development.” The actual developmental level consists of the child’s achievements at a given stage—what he has already learned and can do on his own. The zone of proximal development, by contrast, represents what the child can do with the help of an adult, but not yet independently. This zone establishes the vector of future achievements.
Reading aloud to a child—reading complex books that a child won’t be able to enjoy independently for a while—is a shared activity between parent and child within the zone of proximal development. It represents a prospect for the future: here are the books you’ll soon read yourself! See how interesting they are!
We could call this the methodological side of things. But there’s another, no less important aspect—communication. Reading aloud is a unique way to engage with your child, a shared, substantive experience.
That’s where a healthy parental pragmatism should kick in. Why deprive yourself? A book not only represents the joy of shared reading time but is also an indispensable facilitator for conversations on tough topics—love, death, jealousy, pain, and divorce.
In other words, it’s necessary to continue reading to a child until parent and child can sit down to read side-by-side, each in their own armchair enjoying their own book. That point, by the way, may not come. Sometimes reading parents raise kids that don’t read. Why that happens is a separate topic. Either way, whether the child reads for pleasure or not, while she doesn’t object to being read to, keep reading.
What you read to her in this crucial time will become your child’s cultural foundation for the future.
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Cover image: Pixabay
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