Teaching Kids How to Read

What do you need to know to help children learn to read in their first 2000 days on Earth? In this exclusive presentation hosted by Calgary Reads, child development expert Maryanne Wolf breaks down the genetic and cognitive aspects of reading for those crucial first years of a child’s life.

This is a long presentation clocking in at almost two hours, but well worth it if you’d like to see the leading research in this area.

Some really interesting points:

  • Reading is not a natural ability like speaking. It is a cultural invention that requires multiple features of the brain working together. A breakdown in any one of those areas may lead to problems in reading later in life.
  • Not surprisingly reading to your kids is important, but what is surprising is how early you should start (i.e. – from birth). This early experience creates in the child an association of love with reading as well as developing connections between sounds and print on a page.
  • Socrates was illiterate. He refused to learn how to read because he thought that reading would ruin memory and critical thought. He was right in some ways, but he also didn’t anticipate all the benefits.
  • Exposing kids to as many words as possible through talking, singing, and rhyming in the early years will go a long way to helping them be prepared for school.
  • Digital tools like Google, YouTube, Facebook are radically transforming how kids are thinking and learning in both good and bad ways. The jury is out on which one will outweigh the other.

If you’re interested in more, check out her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Keep in mind that she focuses primarily on the genetic and brain aspects of reading, and thus doesn’t say much about what one does with that reading ability or the fact that most of us stop reading critically or deeply after schooling beats it out of us.

4 Replies to “Teaching Kids How to Read”

  1. Interesting post! The thought of Socrates being illiterate is scary. I wonder then if those who have a lesser capacity to read by default have a higher capacity for memory and critical thought. Many people assume those who are illiterate are less intelligent. I suppose Socrates is evidence of the contrary.

  2. Thanks for this post Chris. As a parent, this is a very interesting topic for me. Of my 2 children, the first was an ‘easy reader’, the second, not so much, although both are likely ADHD and very intelligent. What I have learned from this journey has been staggering!
    Reading is apparently one of the most difficult things that we as humans ever learn how to do. And we have so many expectations around it for our kids!
    I will certainly spend some time on the presentation and will look forward to comments from others. K

  3. Interesting fact about Socrates eh? Human beings have had a long and honoured oral tradition. Much of what was passed on from one generation to another were stories, epic poems, songs and other ways of encoding history.

    I think it’s important to separate intelligence capability from the cultural knowledge pool. I remember in Ronald Wright’s Short History of Progress where he said that you can take a neatherthal child, raise him in our society, and he would be indistinguishable from everyone else.

    What has changed is not our brain power but the accumulated cultural resources we have access to. We are indeed standing on the shoulders of many generations of other people!

  4. Hey Kim,

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the presentation and how it compares to your experience in teaching kids how to read. I think she makes a few references to ADHD too.


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