Should Reading Lessons Start Later In Elementary School?

With reading proficiency levels so low, some educators are now suggesting that reading instruction should begin later for students.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

New Federal Data Shows How Far Reading And Math Scores Fell During The Pandemic

reading instruction

Reading instruction has become a serious concern for the public school system. From low proficiency levels to attempting to interest students, teachers are leaving the profession and not aiding the situation. Some educators are now suggesting that reading classes start later to give students time to mature enough to care about their literacy.

Many reading initiatives are focused on teaching kids to read as young as possible, and are less concerned with providing quality content. Reaching reading benchmarks is the main goal. Despite this, a 2019 Nation’s Report Card assessment found that just 37% of 12th-grade students are reaching proficient or higher reading scores. Add in the fact that more than half of American adults have a 6th-grade reading level or lower, and reading instruction seems to be failing. 

Knowing this, some have begun to question if teaching reading as soon as possible is the best approach. Children nowadays have more expectations placed on them from younger ages. They are placed into structured learning and structured play and structured community programs to such a degree that they are so used to being instructed and led that when they step out of the classroom, books and other educational resources do not interest them. This could be because they are already under so much pressure, or the fact that they lack self-motivation. Regardless of the reason, reading instruction hasn’t improved in the past 30 years.

In multiple nations across the globe, children are allowed to be children. Free play and expression is accepted as an important natural aspect of youth. Many children do not begin reading instruction until they are at least 6 or 7 years old. This affords them the time to mature and learn to appreciate their education. 

Some private schools in the United States follow this model. The Waldorf schools focus is on allowing imaginative play and encouraging children to enjoy their creativity when in preschool and kindergarten levels. An emphasis on the spoken word is taught through the first grade, where students then begin to learn the alphabet through games and activities. Students do not begin reading instruction until they are 7 or 8 years old in the second grade and those students read just as well, if not better than those who began learning to read at younger ages. 

The Montessori method is more focused on students’ individual needs. Instead of pushing reading at a young age, when students display an interest in letters and learning to read they are encouraged with pre-reading learning activities like touching sandpaper letters, playing letter games, and doing crafts involving the alphabet. As children grow more versed in their understanding of the connection between these symbols and verbal communication their reading instruction grows with them. 

reading instruction

Because young children do not handle pressure well, and often struggle when confined to rigorous academic routines, the question of whether reading instruction should be pushed back to later ages continues to surface in public education. While various opinions on the subject have been expressed, every child is different. Kids with more one-on-one learning time develop faster and sometimes enjoy reading instruction at earlier ages, yet when students are placed into large classroom settings it becomes more difficult to focus, and offering later reading opportunities may benefit them in the long run. How each district determines what is best for their schools should be based on the needs of the students they serve and the families who support them.