Learning to Read Early May Signal Giftedness in Kids

Kids are learning to read at increasingly younger ages. As a result, many people are questioning if early reading is a sign that a child is gifted. But is that true?

To succeed in school and in life, literacy is necessary. It's no wonder, then, that so many parents work hard to ensure that their children learn to read as soon as possible. Some parents buy phonics DVDs and flash cards and start teaching their kids to read almost from the day they bring them home from the hospital as newborns.

Learn to distinguish when early reading is a sign of giftedness or just the work of diligent parents.


Cognitive Development

Inquisitive children reading

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To understand why and how early reading is a sign of giftedness, we want to understand the cognitive development of children. Most teachers have learned about Piaget's theory of this development, which is why so many don't believe parents who say their children can do more than other children of the same age.

For example, according to Piaget, children in the Concrete Operational Stage (ages 6-11), can logically think about concrete things, things you can see or touch, but still can't manage to think logically about abstract concepts, which include concepts like love, peace, and life. But parents of gifted kids know their children may have been thinking logically about those issues even before they were 6.


Language Development

The next step in understanding how early reading is a sign of giftedness is to understand the way children learn language. Children do not need to be formally taught how to speak.

Learning a language requires nothing more than exposure to language. That just means that a child needs to hear people talk and have people talk to him. That development follows a typical process, and children around the world will follow a similar process.


Gifted Children and Language Development

Most children follow a similar pattern of language development and pass through the same stages, but gifted kids may go through those stages more quickly than other children. Or they may seem to skip some stages, although it is more likely that they simply progress through the stages differently.

For example, a gifted child might not speak until he is two years old but then speak in complete sentences. It may look as though the child skipped over the two-word expressions, but they might not have expressed those ideas when their language development was at that stage.

More importantly, some gifted children progress through those stages more quickly, speaking in full sentences long before their age mates do.


How Children Learn to Read

Learning language, even at an advanced rate, is one thing, but learning to read is something else altogether. Learning to speak is a natural skill while learning to read is a skill that must be taught.

Not only does it have to be taught, but the brain must be sufficiently developed before a child can learn the skill. A child cannot learn to walk until his muscles are sufficiently developed.

We can support a child and help him learn to walk, but until his muscles are strong enough, he isn't going to be able to do it on his own. The same is true of reading.

We can help a child memorize words, but until his brain is sufficiently developed, he is not going to be able to read.


The Role of Memory in Reading

The first thing people might think of when they think about memory and reading is that children need to memorize the alphabet and memorize words. That, however, is just the beginning of what children need to be able to do in order to learn how to read.

Learning the alphabet and the sounds letters represent is just the beginning. Even memorizing words really isn't enough for a child to become a fluent reader.

A reader must be able to remember what he read at the beginning of a sentence before reaching the end of a sentence, what he read at the beginning of a paragraph before reaching the end and so on. That requires a sufficient development of short-term and working memory.


Self-Taught Reader

It should be clear unless a child's brain has matured sufficiently, he won't be able to read fluently. That requires much more than memorization. It requires the ability to comprehend the meanings of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, and the whole story.

Reading is a difficult skill to master when it is being formally taught, and many children have a hard time reaching fluency when they are in third grade. If a child reaches fluency before age five after having been taught to read, there's a good chance the child is advanced, since his brain has to have reached a sufficient level of maturity.

But if a child has taught himself without any formal instruction, there really can't be any question about his giftedness.

7 Sources
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By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.