Is My Child Ready to Read? How Parents Can Determine Reading Readiness

April 16, 2021

In kindergarten, children begin to put sounds together as they learn to read simple words and text. As a child moves through grade levels, reading begins to focus on more difficult content and abstract understanding.

What parents might not know, however, is that not every child may be ready to read at the same age. Children develop differently, both physically and mentally. Instead of wondering, “Is my child ready to read?,” parents may instead worry that their child is simply struggling with reading.

To better help parents understand how to gauge a child’s reading readiness, Readability’s Founder and CEO Ameeta Jain interviewed Bernice Ross, a professor emeritus of psychology and reading expert.

AJ: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us today. My name’s Ameeta Jain. I’m the Founder and CEO of Readability. And today we’re going to be talking about the factors that determine when your child is physically ready to read. And to help us understand what those factors are, I’ve invited Dr. Bernice Ross to share her expertise in this area. Welcome, Bernice.

BR: Thank you, Ameeta. I’m delighted to be here. And reading is something that I’ve been passionate about since I’ve been in my teens.

AJ: Oh, me too. I’m so honored to be speaking with you today. Could you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?

BR: Actually, I am a professor emeritus of psychology. When I first started teaching, I worked with a woman by the name of Loretta Newman. And I learned how to teach adults who had reading problems how to read. Loretta had specialized in that, and this was back way back in the last century. But she had been working in this area probably since the 1950s. I was really blessed to work with this woman who had dedicated her entire life to reading, but who had also worked with Grace Fernald, who the Fernald School at UCLA is named for her. They specialize with kids that have learning disabilities. I did some graduate work at the Fernald School.

One of the best ways for kids that are having reading problems is to use an approach that’s called “see it, say it, and write it,” because that taps into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic and what the child is learning. What I love about Readability is, it gets into all of this. I love your tool so much, because see It, say It, write it, with today’s technologies. And I think it’s one of the things I’m so excited about the work you’re doing, Ameeta. I mean, it just makes my heart sing after being in the field for over 40 years.

AJ: Oh, thank you, Bernice. Thank you. And I remember having a fascinating conversation with you, about when a child is ready to learn to read. And I thought, well, we have to share this with our audience here at Readability, so that they also can share in that knowledge. So let’s get right into it. Tell us what is the first component a parent should look for to determine whether their child is on their way to learning to read?

BR: Number one is, do they know their left from their right, and up from down? And it seems pretty simplistic. But if you think about B P and D, you know, we understand. But there’s another component most people don’t know about, Ameeta. And this is that your eyes, when they see something, they flip it, the retinas, it’s flipped upside down and backwards on the retina. So one of the reasons young children will write their S’s backwards is that that’s the way it is actually appearing to their brain, but they have to train their brain to flip it around.

The children who may not be ready to read or who have reading problems, it may be because they’re not strong visuals, or their brains are wired a little bit differently.  Those children, well, they may go beyond that left and right, and up and down, but they have to have that component first. And as a parent, you need to understand that if their brain is not flipping this back around then it’s a problem.

The kinesthetics are the people that learn best by touch. That’s about 20% of the population. Versus those of us who are visual 40%, auditory is 40%. But if your child is a kinesthetic, it’s really important that you have them trace out letters when they’re first learning, because they can learn, that goes into the kinesthetic portions of the brain versus auditory lobes, occipital lobes for vision. So you have, again, what your tool does is you’re sending that information to three different parts of their brain which strengthens their ability to start learning letters and saying words.

AJ: Oh, that is so fascinating. I know that learning is different for everyone. But I didn’t know the breakdown, and it’s 40% auditory, 40% visual, and 20% kinesthetics. That’s really interesting! And you have an incredible story using the Marsden Ball method. Could you tell our viewers a little bit about that?

BR: Well, there are a lot of different ways to use this. Fast forward to today, and I just watched a video just before we got on with a woman who was coaching, who was helping kids improve their ability to hit a ball. But it was the Marsden Ball. And it was so funny to see that here at this moment in time, for something I learned about. But what Loretta Newman had children do, is she would have them track different numbers, or different letters depending on the kind of Marsden Ball, and she might have it swing, and ask them to spell a word like red. And there would be an R, an E and a D. But they’d have to be able to see where it is.

Well this woman who was training kids to hit the ball better, what they would do is they had to tap a letter, they had a stick that was pretty wide, red mark in the center, and then blue on each end. You had to tap into the letter and hit it, and she could see if they were tapping the ball at the right spot or not. That gives you some notion of their hand-eye coordination. But again, if your eyes and hands aren’t coordinated, chances are you’re going to have trouble reading, because it’s again, taking the big muscles, and then strengthening those. There are six pairs of muscles in each eye.

What happens with your development, if you think about babies, they’ve got very large heads compared to the rest of their body. Development proceeds through this, from head to toe, and then from center to outside. If your child is really awkward, and they have trouble doing what some kids that are the same age are doing earlier, it just may be that your child’s development in this area is not proceeding as quickly. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s very common for little boys to be seven or eight years old and still not have that fine muscle coordination, and they get labeled as stupid, or slow. And it’s not anything to do with their brain, or their capacity. It’s just that their body was not physically ready to do this. And if they walk late, or talk late, those may be indicators too. It varies because everybody’s different.

AJ: You also hit on a really important point that some of the other reading specialists, and educational specialists have talked about, which is play. And when you talk about the Marsden Ball, you know, there’s an element of play in there that enhances that learning.

BR: One of the best things that you can do with your child is to make it fun. And if they’re having problems, this idea of hitting a ball and playing a game with it, you know that’s something that you can have a lot of fun with. But again, just pitching a ball to a kid and seeing if they can hit, where they’re hitting it with a baseball bat, or it could be a racket, or whatever you choose to do. But you’re looking for that coordination.

AJ: I love it. So we’ve got the up, down, right, left. We’ve got muscle development. And what is the third component to knowing if your child is ready to read?

BR: Well, it’s the see it, say it, write it.

AJ: See it, say it, write it.

BR: One of the ways you can start judging how your child’s brain is wired, with adults, I like to give them a word to spell, and if you asked me how to spell anonymous, you’re going to send me a look right up like that, because I’m a strong visual. So, and that means what I’m doing is accessing my visual memory. That’s my strength. And then someone who is auditory, my husband’s very strong auditory. And these people as adults, they have kind of radio voices. But when they spell a word, or they’re asked a question, where they’re accessing their auditory memory, their eyes stay at their ear level. They don’t move around. And I’m looking up.

AJ: I’m looking up too.

BR: So we’re visuals. But also I have a strong kinesthetic component. And what happens to me is when I’m processing stuff, a lot of times I’ll look down like this, which means I’m going into my kinesthetic memory. So again, we all have these different components. It’s just that one may be stronger than the other. And to the extent that you can help a child who is strong in auditory can learn A, E, I, O, U, no problem. And then I remember Loretta taught, you know, adults this, bad red is not up. And that’s the short vowels, you know, bad a, ed e, is i, not o, up u. So again, the auditory children have no trouble learning this, but again, it may be harder for some of us kinesthetic or visual. I look at a word, I recall what it looks like.

The auditory person is going to, you know, they’re going to be able to, if they can hear it, or they’ll be able to sound it out in many cases. But then the kinesthetic kid, you know, those children have the hardest time. And what I would suggest to do if your child is kinesthetic, tie things together with something in their environment. So like red, okay, e. Maybe you have a card that’s got, they know the color red, have them point to something with that vowel in it. So what you’re doing is you are having them engage in a physical reaction, as opposed to just trying to recall it. You have them do something physical, because that anchors that in their body. And then their thinking process is oh yeah, I remembered that, okay, that was the color red.

AJ: That is really powerful, Bernice. That is really good stuff. And I know it’s going to help our parents out there that are listening today. So we’ve got muscle development. We’ve got visuals up, down, right, left. And then we have the see, write, and read, right? What was that again?

BR: It, see it, say it and write it.

AJ: See it, say it, and write it.

BR: If your child, especially if they’re having trouble learning to spell, you want to have them look at the word, see it, say it out loud, and then write it.

AJ:  Wonderful. Thank you. That’s really informative stuff. Bernice, I know that you are working on something really special. Do you mind sharing your latest project with all of us?

BR: We have a new book that’s just been released called “Lead Great Virtual Meetings, the Steps You Need to Succeed.” My husband was in this space leading virtual meetings back in the 1990s when I met him. He was doing project team leadership and these other projects where he was working with senior leaders. But he was teaching them to lead teleconferences. And the thing that’s so ironic today, as we sit here in a Zoom meeting, there are two things that matters when you are leading a virtual meeting: Number one, you need to have a leadership model, which is what our book addresses. We have a real basic model that started with the conference call. We did a book on it back in 2011 we’ve updated it for today’s platforms, with all the crazy things that are going on with Zoom and these other learning platforms. And we’re really excited about this book, and where it’s going to help a lot of people. It’s a super passion of ours.

AJ: Anything you do is just phenomenal. So I can’t wait to dive deep into your book. And with parents working from home and doing Zoom meetings I’m sure they’ll look into it as well. Thank you, Bernice. Thank you for your insights and your expertise today, and for joining us, really appreciate you so much.

BR: Thank you for having me here, Ameeta. And again, I can’t say enough good things about Readability.

AJ: Thank you. That means the world to me.