Why Does He Want to Hurt Kindergartners?

  • early interventions National Early Literacy Panel
  • 19 January, 2015

Blast from the Past: I've received several notes during the past weeks challenging my advocacy for early reading instruction. Some have related horror stories about how children are being emotionally crushed by being taught to read. I took another look at the research -- this piece has been out for quite a while. There are many more studies now supporting my position: correlational studies showing a the close relationship between kindergarten reading attainment and high school success; studies showing the powerful early payoffs from kindergarten reading instruction; studies showing the retention of these benefits through 3rd and 4th grade, especially for kids from high poverty neighborhoods and English Learners; studies that show vulnerable kids who close that gap or even catch up with more advantaged peers; and, studies showing that academic skills and social-emotional ones grow together. I've added a handful of these to the reference list below.

There are really two things that disturb me about this ongoing disagreement. First, the opponents of early instruction keep citing the same old correlations to prove their point, and they continue to ignore the growing accumulation of correlational and experimental data that gives lie to their beliefs. They don't shift in the face of evidence. They are lock in. It is all a matter of faith now; no data shall change their minds. The second: They never explain what they would do to try to give every opportunity of success to kids growing up in poverty, kids coming to English as a second language, those with disabilities... their panacea is just let those kids play and eventually they'll learn to read. I believe we can do better. 

I continue to support Kindergarten reading instruction for young kids to give them the longest ramp to learning.

Teacher question:

Two groups that are strong advocates in early childhood education (Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood), released a report called Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (see https://dey.org/our-new-report-reading-instruction-in-kindergarten-little-to-gain-and-much-to-lose/). They claim there is no research base for the importance of learning to read in kindergarten (so that its inclusion in the Common Core as a goal for K is potentially harmful).   

I think they are wrong about the research here, but wanted to seek out your reaction. Does research suggest that learning to read, especially as indicated in the Common Core, is associated with long-term positive or negative effects? 

Shanahan response:

Great question. This is one that I’ve been thinking about since I was 5-years-old (no, really). My mom asked my kindergarten teacher if she should do anything with me to help and the teacher discouraged any efforts in that regard. At the time, the “experts” believed that any early academic learning was damaging to children—to their academic futures and to their psyches. 

When I became a first-grade teacher, we were still holding back on such teaching, at least during the first-semester of grade one. We didn't want to cause the mental disabilities, academic failure, and vision problems predicted by the anti-teaching types. 

These days we are doing a great job of protecting poverty children and minority children from this kind of damage. Of course, many of us middle-class white parents are risking our own kids. It is not uncommon these days for suburban kids to enter first-grade, and even kindergarten, knowing how to read. As I’ve written before, I taught both of my kids to read before they entered school.

There are not now, and there never have been data showing any damage to kids from early language or literacy learning—despite the overheated claims of the G. Stanley Halls, Arnold Gessells, Hans Furths and David Elkinds (and many others).

Let me first admit that if you seek studies that randomly assign kids either to kindergarten literacy instruction and no kindergarten literacy instruction and then follow those kids through high school or something… there are no such studies and I very much doubt that there will be. Given how strong the evidence is on the immediate benefits of early literacy instruction I don’t think a scholar could get ethics board approval to conduct such a study.

That it wouldn’t be ethical to withhold such teaching for research purposes should give pause. If it isn’t ethical to do it for research, should it be ethical to do so for philosophical reasons? Yikes.

What we do have is a lot of data showing that literacy instruction improves the literacy skills of the kids who receive that instruction in preschool and kindergarten, and another body of research showing that early literacy skills predict later reading and academic achievement (and, of course, there is another literature showing the connections between academic success and later economic success). There are studies showing that the most literate kids are the ones who are emotionally strongest and there is even research on Head Start programs showing that as we have improved the early literacy skills in those programs, emotional abilities have improved as well.

And, as for the claim that early teaching makes no difference, I wonder why our fourth-graders are performing at the highest levels ever according to NAEP?

The studies showing the immediate benefits to literacy and language functioning from kindergarten instruction are summarized in the National Early Literacy Panel Report which is available on line.

And here are some of studies showing the long-term benefits of early literacy achvievement:

Early reading performance is predictive of later school success (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Duncan, Dowsett, Claessens, Magnuson, et al., 2007; Juel, 1988; Snow, Tabors, & Dickinson, 2001; Smart, Prior, Sansor, & Oberkind, 2005). This means that young children’s reading performances tend to be pretty stable: kindergarten literacy development is predictive of 1stgrade performance; 1st grade predicts achievement in various upper grades and the performance at each of these levels is predictive of later levels. 

If a youngster is behind in reading in grade 3, then he/she would likely still be behind in high school, which can have a serious and deleterious impact on content learning (science, history, literature, math), high school graduation rates, and economic viability (the students’ college and career readiness). 

The research seems clear to me: teach kids reading early and then build on those early reading skills as they progress through school. Don’t expect early skills alone to transfer to higher later skills; you have to teach students more literacy as they move up the grades (something that has not always happened).


Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E., (1997). Early reading acquisition and the relation to reading experience and ability ten years later. Developmental Psychology, 33, 934-945.

D'Angiulli, A., Siegel, L. S., & Maggi, S. (2004). Literacy instruction, SES, and word-reading achievement in English-Language Learners and children with English as a first language: A longitudinal Study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 19(4), 202–213. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2004.00106.x

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.

Gunn, B., Smolkowski, K., Biglan, A., Black, C., & Blair, J. (2005). Fostering the development of reading skill through supplemental instruction: Results for Hispanic and Non-Hispanic students. The Journal of Special Education, 39(2), 66–85. https://doi.org/10.1177/00224669050390020301

Hus, Y. (2001). Early reading for low-SES minority language children: An attempt to 'catch them before they fall". Folia Phoniatrica Et Logopaedica:International Journal of Phoniatrics, Speech Therapy and Communication Pathology, 53(3), 173-182. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000052672

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 437-447.

Le, V.-N., Schaack, D., Neishi, K., Hernandez, M. W., & Blank, R. (2019). Advanced content coverage at kindergarten: Are there trade-offs between academic achievement and social-emotional skills? American Educational Research Journal56(4), 1254–1280. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831218813913

Lesaux, N. K. (2004). The development of reading in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds: A 5-year longitudinal study Available from APA PsycInfo®. (620628002; 2004-99009-053). 

Relyea, J. E. (2016). The relationship between early word reading and reading comprehension growth for language-minority learners and native-english-speaking students: A seven-year longitudinal study 

Smart, D., Prior, M., Sansor, A., & Oberkind, F. (2005). Children with reading difficulties: A six year follow-up from early primary to secondary school. Australia Journal of Learning Difficulties, 10, 63-75.

Snow, C. E., Tabors, P. O., & Dickinson, D. K. (2001). Language development in the preschool years. In D. K. Dickinson & P. O. Tabors (Eds.), Beginning literacy with language: Young children learning at home and school (pp. 1–26). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. (preschool literacy and language predicts 7th grade performance)

Sonnenschein, S., Stapleton, L. M., & Benson, A. (2010). The relation between the type and amount of instruction and growth in children’s reading competencies. American Educational Research Journal47(2), 358–389. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831209349215

Stanley, C. T., Petscher, Y., & Catts, H. (2018). A longitudinal investigation of direct and indirect links between reading skills in kindergarten and reading comprehension in tenth grade. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 31(1), 133–153. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9777-6



See what others have to say about this topic.

Mary Yetter Jun 13, 2017 04:28 PM


Dr. Shanahan, thank you for once again prompting a thought-provoking discussion about literacy instruction. After reading your blog post and very briefly reviewing the information and video from Defending the Early years and the Alliance for Childhood, my initial question is not, "Should teachers of early learners provide reading instruction to kindergarten students," but rather "Are the Common Core standards for early learners developmentally appropriate," and "Are teachers of early learners implementing the standards in developmentally appropriate ways?" I am not suggesting any answers to these questions yet. I just want to share my initial thoughts.

Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:28 PM

Here is a study that comes as close to a randomized control experiment as is possible:
Hanson, R. A. & Farrrell, D. The long-term effects on high school seniors of learning to read in kindergarten, Reading Research Quarterly, 30, pp 908-933, 1995.
Accessible at http://www.3rsplus.com/documents/The_Long-term_Effects_000.pdf

Timothy Shanahan Jun 13, 2017 04:29 PM



Thanks for this citation You were the second person today to remind me of that one. This is a correlational study that does find long term benefits from kindergarten reading (which certainly supports my argument). However, this study compares the performance of students in districts with kindergarten reading programs versus those without. The problem with that is there might be other social or economic variables that are leading some districts to teach reading in kindergarten and for kids in those communities to do better. So not a randomized control trial, but probably the best look we're likely to see. thanks again

Anonymous Jun 13, 2017 04:29 PM


Parent of two year old and elementary school assistant principal here...

(The New Yorker just published a cartoon of prekindergarten students sitting in rows on the floor, with a teacher looking at his watch, exclaiming, "Okay, times up. Crayons down.")

The report's authors' concern about developmentally inappropriate instruction that attempts to help students meet these standards is valid, but that doesn't mean the standards are the problem. (Some concerns about testing might be valid, but again, that doesn't mean the standards are the problem.) As a parent I am always concerned about HOW and WHAT my child will taught. It's reasonable to be concerned that the expectations for kindergarten literacy might lead some teachers to (knowingly or unknowingly) use developmentally inappropriate approaches. But that's an instructional concern for certain teachers, not problematic standards. How teachers teach will always be a relevant concern. I'm even more concerned with the WHAT, in this case. If my child isn't expected to learn the letters of the alphabet, how to pronounce certain graphemes, or isn't expected to read emergent texts by the end of the year, that's a problem for me. Those expectations are fine with me, and I also expect it to happen in a way that is developmentally appropriate. That is not unreasonable, and a skilled kindergarten teacher with proper support and guidance should be able to make it happen for many of his students.

Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:30 PM


Tim says, "The problem with that is there might be other social or economic variables that are leading some districts to teach reading in kindergarten and for kids in those communities to do better."

Of course, there are always exogenous "social or economic variables" operating in all comparative experiments, including randomized assignment to treatments. The matched pairing of E and C kindergartners, the very large number of participating districts, and the consistent superiority of the experimental seniors over the control seniors on all 16 criterion dependent variables provide strong support for your argument.

Anonymous Jun 13, 2017 04:30 PM


I just went back and read the link at the beginning of this post. It looks to me like the writers of the report aren't caring as much what the research does or doesn't show as that some teachers are teaching the standards in a developmentally inappropriate way. That's like saying lets throw out all the standards because teachers may make a mess of teaching them. Seems like a more sensible approach would be a report on guidelines for teaching in a developmentally appropriate way.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 13, 2017 04:31 PM


Fair question, Mary. I believe the standards themselves--that is what they are asking us to teach the 5-year-olds--are developmentally correct. I don't think there is anything there that 5s can't learn, and certainly nothing that would be harmful to teach them. How teachers go about that may or may not be appropriate for the age level, but that is a separate problem. Good point.

Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:31 PM


The flaw in the CCSS standards for K and the early grade is that they are "trickled down" from the alleged "college and career readiness" at the end of secondary schooling. This makes it easy to test the K-kids while at the same time imposing arbitrary and totally ambiguous instructional strictures on teachers. Look at 3 K-standards as "proof of point:
With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text
What prompting and support?
There is a big difference in asking and answering.
What key details?
What texts?

Ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
If the words are "unknown" to a child, just how is the child expected to deal with them. And how is a teacher expected to meet the standard?

Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.
Reading is an individual rather than a "group" matter. The standard explicitly prescribes "group activities." How is "purpose and understanding" in the group activities to be instructed?

How teachers go about the standards really isn't a separate problem. It's inherent in the standards. They insure that teachers will go about the standards "variously" that children will learn "variously" and that tests will attribute failures to the teachers and kids rather than to the standards.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 13, 2017 04:32 PM



This is kind of Zen. The problem isn't our effort, but our goal. So, if I'm looking for a job and not finding one, the solution is to not want a job?


Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:32 PM


I may have flunked the Kindergarten standards, Tim, but even with a "close reading" I just don't understand the three sentences or how they relate to my comment.

If you can expand on them a bit for a slow learner, I'd appreciate it.

I thought the purpose of CCSS was to ensure all students graduate from high school college and/or career-ready by 2020. Are you saying it's something different?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 13, 2017 04:33 PM


Standards are just goals, Dick. They are what we are trying to teach kids to know or do. There is absolutely nothing in the kindergarten standards that are beyond the intellectual level of 5-year-olds. I've been working with little kids for about 40 years. They actually don't find asking and answering questions that hard (I've even got 2- and 3-year-old grandchildren--they're already doing that).

Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:33 PM


OK, Tim. Thanks. Now I get what you were saying in your comment, and I agree fully.

The thing is, this take on standards bears no resemblance to the CCSS in whole or in part. They are promulgated and promoted as part of a multi-billion dollar Federal-Corporate initiative that leaves the public school institution, and the population of teachers and kids from k-12 holding the bag for "meeting the standards.' And the buck starts and stops with teachers (to mix metaphors).

The reality of CCSS is about as far removed from the actuality that you describe as Zen permits. And reality rules. Unfortunately, you aren't Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, or David Coleman, the axis of CCSS.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 13, 2017 04:34 PM



While I don't agree with your characterizations, we are in 100% agreement that some of what is being doing for implementation and accountability in pursuit of the CCSS standards is inappropriate and unsound and neither represents education nor the CCSS standards appropriately. Sound standards--and I believe that for the most part these are sound standards--is not the problem.

Dick Schutz Jun 13, 2017 04:34 PM


With 100% agreement, we can quit talking about it for now while the "implementation" the Standards stimulated continues. Seems to me the "pursuit of the standards" will get worse before it gets better, but that remains to be seen.

Rita Cevasco, MA, SLP Jan 21, 2023 07:16 PM

I appreciate this summary! I get the same argument about writing. Mostly from people who are privileged enough to give kids a year spent in libraries, stimulating playrooms, museums, and lovely parks, with no shortage of books, paper, paint, crayons, and stimulating toys. If we had an empirical way to measure joy, I wish we could measure the joy of a year filled with play (which, for many kids, would be hours in front of a device) vs. the joy of learning and seeing ones own words on paper!

Would you address the need to "teach writing right away" as you discussed about reading? I feel the developmental writing research is far behind the reading research, and it is often focused more on content than on early instruction. There is growing research that writing strengthens reading skills. (For example, in Ehri's work she states that writing facilitates transition through her theoretical phases of sight word development.)

Re: my background, I am an SLP working with struggling readers and writers in my private practice. I also teach parents why and how to teach reading, writing, and spelling together, which I do online through my website. It is difficult to cross the divide between research and practice, so I try to keep informed, read for myself, rely on people like you, and grow as the evidence mounts. The reason your work matters is that following and applying good instruction is such a difficult task, and I fear for schools across the country as they try to cobble SoR into a workable program!

After decades of evolving intervention, this is what I teach today for the K-1 level: (PA games and systematic, explicit phonics instruction is taught reading and practiced in writing.) Early writing includes "saying sounds as you write," with phonics (and handwriting) instruction practiced in word building and copywork sentences. Kids also engage in original writing activities using invented spelling, "writing the sounds you say and hear with the letters you know." Original writing activities are often on topics that support phonics instruction, and are encouraged at all skill levels, from words, short sentences, to multiple sentences, depending on the child. As kids learn common words with unexpected spellings, we practice those in their copywork and their original writing, "matching the sounds you say and hear to the letters you see." We even teach early, gentle editing, in which kids monitor their own work. But we only teach editing in copywork at first, and then gradually add it to their original writing. I think all these areas of writing: sound tracking, phonics, invented spelling, sight word development, handwriting, copywork, original writing, and gentle editing can all be taught in a developmentally appropriate way! This is not extreme, and it is not taught for 6 hours a day. Short, strong, but consistent lessons go a long way. Since I work with struggling learners, I can tell you joy is sometimes hard won--but it happens and feels far better than being behind in 4th grade.

Nancy Santucci Jan 21, 2023 08:00 PM

I understand this posting is a “Blast from the Past”, which might answer my following question:
Is the latest data on fourth grade NAEP reading scores still at their highest.
I thought scores had become almost stagnant in the last ten years with an actual dip in 2022 because of Covid?

Timothy Shanahan Jan 21, 2023 08:24 PM


No, actually scores dropped a bit before COVID and then plummeted as kids got less and less teaching (at kindergarten but also at the other grade levels). A key element of learning is the time invested in whatever one is trying to learn. Kindergarten is a valuable way of increasing the amount of time devoted to reading, which is particularly helpful for kids who are not getting a lot of that kind of thing at home. As amount of instruction declines, we tend to see declines in achievement like we are seeing now. I’d love to say that is over, but in many places the kids haven’t come back to regular attendance patterns from pre-COVID.


Timothy Shanahan Jan 21, 2023 08:27 PM

I began doing research on the relationships between reading and writing in the late 1970s and was teaching it to 6-year-olds in the early 1970s, so I'm a big fan of what you said here.

You might want to look up my blogs on How to Teach Writing in Kindergarten (there is a Part II to that as well)... and Teaching My Daughters to Read, Part IV.

good luck.


Elizabeth Clemens Jan 21, 2023 08:45 PM

Stop reading the research and just teach. Do not make demands of children, at any age. Reading should be introduced to children as a pleasure, not an assignment. I have had success with reading taught to three, four, and five-year-olds, but they came from homes where reading was a family activity. Individual children still bring different home experiences to any classroom, thus, the irony of efforts to equalize children. They are still individuals who will mimic what they learn in your classroom. Why do we not trust teachers who are prepared, experienced, and aware, professionally? It is the system that fails to perform, not the teachers.

Timothy Shanahan Jan 21, 2023 08:59 PM


We could do the same thing in medicine -- ignore the research because doctors are so good. Good luck to you on that. Most parents wouldn't be happy with it either. I'm sure you are a great teacher, you are certainly self satisfied.

Your position writes off kids who grow up in poverty, kids with disabilities, minority children, immigrant children, even relatively advantaged kids whose moms and dads don't know how to support their children's learning... if the parents aren't providing what is needed, then those children will likely never reach the level of readiness needed to teach them to read and if they don't we certainly shouldn't try to provide them all with equal opportunity to succeed. It's lucky reading isn't that important in this society, as that could be a real drawback some places.

Excuse my sarcasm... your anti-research position and your notion that we shouldn't try to teach all children to read, just kind of brought that out of me.


Patty Ewing Jan 21, 2023 09:10 PM

Due to my professional experience, I stand on the other side of this fence. So, my opinion is not based on research. The EL and low SES students I work with lack vocabulary and background experience. I can teach them how to read, but their challenge lies in comprehension.

Research does tell us that the brain is focused on language through age six. Research also shows that the vocabulary gap widens as students move through the school system.

With a limited school day, I would love to see my 4.5, and 6 years old students immersed in rich language and experiences. This language development, in my opinion, is more valuable than drills of phonics/letter names.

John Young Jan 21, 2023 10:19 PM

I remember doing a Masters course with Warwick Elley in NZ in the 80s and his view was it was gendered; that boys would benefit from a later start. NZ children start school and formal literacy instruction on their 5th birthday. He pointed that in countries where children started learning to read later the gender achievement gap wasn’t as wide. Your thoughts, it was 40 years ago

Rae Jan 22, 2023 01:44 AM

As a second grade teacher who is EXPECTED to create a "possible retention list" each year, this comment got me thinking: "If a youngster is behind in reading in grade 3, then he/she would likely still be behind in high school." What are you thoughts (and the research) on retention during the K-2 years?

Gaynor Jan 22, 2023 04:02 AM

As you are all aware English is by far the most difficult of all the European languages to learn to read. Taking this into account the English tradition was to start formal reading instruction when a child arrived at school on their fifth birthday.,(K2 ?) If it is true children lose their ability to hear sounds so well ,as they get older as evidenced by their astonishing ability to learn at least two languages as preschoolers then the earlier they have instruction on phonemes awareness and phonics the better?
Since learning to read is so fundamental to all schooling would it not be a good idea to advocate all children where possible start reading instruction at home at three or four years and hence be reading fluently by six years when they start school ?Then ,if the child's school district is adverse to a beginning intensive phonics programme the child will not be disadvantaged and also sufficiently fortified against the school( unknowingly) damaging them with whole language stuff.
I have been advocating for years this to parents who have experience with dyslexic children . The parents say they couldn't handle having the stress of two dyslexic children and fewer than ten percent of schools in NZ have structured literacy. Legally here , children must start school at six years.
When is someone going to make a phonic based "Sesame Street "?

Ann C Jan 22, 2023 05:31 AM

Tim, I am a fan of the research on reading and writing reciprocity. Teaching for transfer during reading and writing instruction accelerates learning in my kindergarten. Children love to learn and move easily between playing at reading and working at reading. Your point about children from impoverished backgrounds needing early instruction and literacy learning opportunities is spot on. These children depend on school for literacy.

Timothy Shanahan Jan 22, 2023 04:00 PM

Most research on retention indicates more problems than benefits... however, there are exceptions (though it is impossible to know if the retention itself in these cases was exerted any positive benefits -- for example in the early 2000s, Florida adopted a plan that included retention, but it also provided statewide reading training, placed reading coaches in the schools, purchased commercial programs that were consistent with the research, provided early screening and monitoring testing and Tier 2 educational supports. Overall, kids did much better under that regime than previously, but it is impossible to pull out any one part of that as what drove the success. I would discourage most retention efforts and in those cases where retention is to be used, it ought to be for a much different level of instructional support than for one more year of the same regime.


Timothy Shanahan Jan 22, 2023 04:05 PM

Boys definitely mature at a later age than girls (my wife points that out about me with great frequency). However, I don't see that as an argument for delaying teaching -- though it does argue for instructional adjustments such as changing activities frequently, incorporating movement and out of your seat responses over worksheets, etc. Patience is important, too.

When I know kids are going to struggle more to learn something, I don't provide less or later teaching but more and more careful teaching.


Timothy Shanahan Jan 22, 2023 04:08 PM


It sounds like a time management problem to me. I bet I could identify unproductive time during your school day that could be used wisely for supporting these children's reading development. The studies show that it is possible to teach such children early on well enough that you can reduce (or even erase) the gap between them and their more advantaged peers. That's something you can't see observing your own teaching (that's the real benefit of research, you can make the kinds of comparisons that none of us can do in practice alone).


Timothy Shanahan Jan 22, 2023 04:13 PM


The fact is that middle class parents tend to send their children to school knowing alphabet letters, letters sounds, how to print their names, etc. The arguments that teaching such things to less advantaged children is harmful makes little sense. When I was a first grade teacher, kids were expected to master reading during that school year. That was a lot of pressure. Trying to accomplish that same goal over a 2-4 year period as you suggest both reduces the pressure greatly and gives kids the opportunity to go even further than in the past. Of course, the long term benefits of that can only be realized if the rest of the system is organized so as to build quality on quality -- taking advantage of those benefits by continuing to encourage further development.


Elaine Holden Jan 22, 2023 05:43 PM

Phonology is the first step in teaching reading. Teachers have to meet the individual child where the child is on the developmental continuum NOT where they think that the child should be. start teaching from that point not some arbitrary point that some generic product suggests. Structured literacy will work if the teacher determines the correct starting point and follows the correct teaching method. Just putting children in early reading without understanding the individual needs leads not only to failure but also to social emotional issues.

Timothy Shanahan Jan 23, 2023 03:12 AM


I believe you are incorrect. Phonology is not the first step in teaching reading. It is one of the first steps. Teachers should simultaneously be building language (including vocabulary and listening comprehension), introducing writing and activities like language experience and finger point reading. The only time you give precedence to one major area of reading over the others is when a child shows a clear deficit in one or another area (and then some additional focused attention on that makes sense).


Tara Valentine Jan 23, 2023 09:16 PM

Dr. Maria Montessori observed something called "sensitive periods" which refer to periods of development where a brain is "ripe" or ready to take in information. Things are "easier" to learn during such periods to brain plasticity and specific neurological building. Reading, writing and language development are best taught during the years 3 - 6. It is actually easier to learn when they are in Kindergarten compared so, for example, first grade. Montessori schools have strong success with reading between ages 4-6. This has been validated by modern day brain research.

Miriam Trehearne Jan 29, 2023 04:42 AM

Miriam P. Trehearne January 28, 2023
With regard to “Why Does He Want to Hurt Kindergartners?” Thank you, Dr. Shanahan, for setting the record straight, again! Similarly, recently I came away from a conference disillusioned by what was shared by a keynoter. It was stated that children should not be learning to read until age seven. No research was provided to support this belief. That is because there is none.
The essential question is this: “Do differences in the age at which children begin receiving formal literacy instruction, not simply reading, have any measurable impact on their subsequent schooling experiences, reading achievement, attitudes and literacy levels?

What we do know is:
-Kindergarten teachers can predict at the end of the kindergarten year where most of the children will be in literacy learning by the end of Grade 1. Allington says it best in the title of his article, “What Schools Should Do: Start in Kindergarten on Day One!” (2011).
- Regardless of ability, “we have evidence that 98 percent of all children entering Kindergarten can be at grade level by the end of first and second grade” (Allington 2010).
- Literacy learning in kindergarten is extremely important, for school systems have a small window of opportunity (K-2) in which to get students off to a strong start. According to a study by Connie Juel (1988), the probability that a child who is a poor reader at the end of grade 1 will remain a poor reader at the end of grade 4 is 88%.
- One research study you mentioned, The long-term effects on high school seniors of learning to read in Kindergarten (Hanson and Farrell,1984) is as you know, a large-scale longitudinal study of 3,959 high school seniors from 24 school districts in 10 U.S. states. The major finding of this study, briefly stated, is: Students who learned to read in Kindergarten were found to be superior in reading skills and all other educational indicators measured as seniors in high school. Further, this finding held up across districts and schools, as well as ethnic, gender, and social class groups. Also, there was absolutely no evidence of any negative effects from learning to read in kindergarten.

So yes, based on much research, we do know that early reading performance is predictive of later school success.

But why the seemingly exclusive focus on the best age for learning to read?

The research is clear. It is not only developmentally appropriate but also crucial to support writing as well, beginning in preschool. The quality of writing support for 4-year-olds is highly related to their language and literacy growth at the end of Kindergarten and Grade 1 (Dickinson and Sprague 2001). Unfortunately, the sad truth is that writing, like oral language, is often a curriculum casualty, neglected in many K–2 classrooms, while reading gets most of the focus (Teale, 2007).

In her landmark research, Dolores Durkin (1966) discovered that the parents and caregivers of children who had learned to read before coming to kindergarten had read with their children.
However, they did more than this. They wrote to and with their children. They also gave their children many writing opportunities. It became clear that early readers generally are very interested in writing, and many write long before they read.

Harrison, Ogle, McIntyre, and Hellsten (2008) reviewed K–3 studies (Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States) on early writing. The findings reveal “The Influence of Early Writing Instruction on Developing Literacy,” indicated that early writing supports the development of phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, and phonics. It also enhances early reading (word identification, decoding, passage comprehension, and word reading) and often precedes early reading. That is, many students come to reading through writing.

And Dr. Shanahan (2017) as you have said:
Reading-writing relations start when reading and writing start. Many folks delay writing until a solid reading base is established. Research doesn’t support that: kids are able to draw reading benefits from the beginning. When young children first try to write, they have to think hard about print concepts. When young children first try to spell, they have to think hard about phonemic awareness.

The impact of writing on reading must be considered part of any acceptable definition of science of reading instruction (Shanahan 2020).
So, it is clear Dr. Shanahan that your intent is not to hurt kindergartners! Au contraire!
Thank you for all that you do!

Ana María Borzone Jan 31, 2023 03:53 PM

For poor countries such mine, Argentina, the only way to improve literacy results and social problems is an early literacy program, starting with 4 years old children, thanks for your support of this issue, Ana Borzone

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

Comment *

Why Does He Want to Hurt Kindergartners?


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.