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First Grader's Reading Level

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Our son started first grade last week. He started in a combo 1-2 class, and has been put into a straight first class now. While he is above grade level in math and science, he is not "reading" in class, according to his teacher. What level should he be at in the beginning of the year? We have taught him phonics and blending, which he demonstrates for us at home, but not necessarily in class yet. Also, what are your views on "sight reading" as a supplement to phonics?

A: First, I would not be too disturbed at your son's "assignment" to a "straight first class" at this time. You should not interpret this as a failure on his part to "measure up" and he certainly should not be made to feel that he is behind or that he has disappointed you or his teacher. A child can openly or internally feel this disappointment, fear, and sadness when these combined grade classes "sift out" into "lower and upper" levels.

Let's not forget that he has just turned six and that he has a natural time schedule inside him regarding all his learning, whether it's learning how to walk or learning how to do something as amazingly complex as reading. There is no reading level that he should be at as this school year begins. You have been providing him with encouragement and reading enrichment at home (I hope without any pressure to achieve a certain competency) and we hope that he is in a nurturing class where his teacher can adapt her reading teaching methods to his learning style. I certainly would share with her what you have been doing with him at home. Neither of you should apply any pressure on him to "get with the program". Reading is too complex a learning to insist that his brain do something NOW that it will naturally do later.

As to the seemingly controversial, never-ending phonics and whole language reading debate, I believe that creative combining of both methods has always been the way to go and let's face it, in the English language there are many words that you just have to learn by sight reading. Encourage your little guy in all he does in and out of school and perhaps talk with the teacher about not using the phrase "He's not reading." My guess is that he may be sounding out many words, both in and out of school, and only his successful progress should be referred to, not his inability to "do it all" right at this moment.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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