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Want to Raise a Reader? Don't Teach Your Kid to Read

Photograph by Twenty20

I want my kid to read. I want him to read right now. I want him to be able to go on adventures through the pages of a book. I want him to know and love the characters I grew up with and the new characters being created every day for his generation. I want him to be able to write his own book. Have you noticed anything as you read this? There are a whole lot of "I"s in this paragraph. Never once did I mention what my kid actually wants or needs.

The thing with reading and writing is that every child will learn at his or her own pace—even when they are given all of the resources in the world to be successful at these two seemingly basic skills.

You can't push them.

RELATED: What Your Kid Probably Isn't Learning in School

If you do, you may wind up with a child who hates to read, which, to me, would be the worst fate of all for any child (and a book-loving parent). My own mother, who is a trained reading specialist, saw how I was trying to force my son to learn to decode words (reading just by looking at the letters) just before his 5th birthday. She saw the frustration on my son's face as he disappointed me (or he thought he did), when he didn't get every word correct. My mom took me aside and said, "He isn't ready and if you push him, he will lose his love of reading."

A wake-up call.

Nothing like your mother telling you to knock it off, right? I needed to stop pushing my son and let him learn to read at his own pace.

Kindergarteners are now expected to know how to read and solve math problems, which would have been far above their academic level just 20, or even10, years ago.

My need to have my son read as soon as possible wasn't just personally motivated, but also motivated by the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by dozens of states. These new standards are changing the classroom curriculum and objectives, and have been criticized by many early years education experts for being developmentally inappropriate. Joseph Ganem wrote a compelling OpEd piece for the Baltimore Sun in June 2015, "The Common Core can't speed up development." He argues that standards have been raised so high that our children cannot physically or mentally catch up or stay on track, no matter how much we push them.

"The school curriculum has become blind not only to the progression of normal child development but also to natural variations in the rate that children develop," Ganem writes.

Our children cannot neurologically—biologically—keep up with the expectations put on them. While a few succeed, they are outliers. Those who need more time to grow and develop before being able to demonstrate they can do these tasks will be left behind or labeled unfairly. Kindergarteners are now expected to know how to read and solve math problems, which would have been far above their academic level just 20, or even10, years ago.

While we in the U.S. drive our kids to succeed at an early age—and, let's be honest, we feel that our children have to be ahead of the pack so they can be successful later in life—kids over in Finland, where high school students routinely show academic excellence on an international level aren't starting their children in kindergarten until they are 6 years old. Even then they only go to school four hours a day. And they play most of that time.

In an article by Tim Walker in The Atlantic, one inherent truth about children came out while he was talking to teachers and students in Finland: "[Children] learn so well through play. They don't even realize that they are learning, because they're so interested [in what they're doing]."

As I stepped back and looked at the reasons why I wanted my son to read, I saw how selfish my motives were. I also realized how harmful my intentions could be to his academic career.

Play-based learning is scientifically proven to give children a desire to figure things out and learn more about them. So, why are we forcing a pen-and-paper method on our kindergartners?

As I stepped back and looked at the reasons why I wanted my son to read, I saw how selfish my motives were. I also realized how harmful my intentions could be to his academic career. Yes, I want my children to excel in school. But even more so, I want them to want to go back to school. If they don't have fun learning, I will start a battle that I'm not prepared to fight until they are at least in high school and hitting the snooze button on their alarms.

RELATED: Why Does Kindergarten Come With So Much of This?

I've stopped pushing my son. He started kindergarten this fall at age 6 (he is a fall baby) and is excelling at an age-appropriate level with his reading. Will he enjoy the books I love one day? Yes. We've already started reading chapter books together, because he wants to hear more stories.

One day we will get into a fight over when he needs to turn his lamp off and go to bed. For now, I'll let him lead the way towards his reading goals.

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