Not Reading in First Grade

Not reading in first grade

Most Children Begin Reading in First Grade. Your Mileage May Vary.

Today’s question comes from a concerned mother who asks Dr. Linda if her son should be reading more and playing less.

Dear Dr. Linda,
Joey is entering first grade and still isn’t reading. All he wants to do is play. Every day this summer I made him take time to read.

I bought him a lot of reading workbooks that said for Grade 1. It’s been a disaster. He won’t do them, ends up crying, and I end up yelling.

I’m really scared that he’s going to have a hard time in school because he won’t be able to read. And, if this isn’t bad enough, my mother-in-law is mad at me because she thinks I shouldn’t be bothering Joey with reading.

She keeps telling me that he should go out and play. How do I convince her that reading is important?

Thanks. Valerie

Dear Valerie,
Yes, learning to read is an important part of a person’s life. But Joey is just entering first grade. Most children learn to read during first grade. Some pick up reading earlier and some later, but in general it’s during first grade.

However, many school districts are now mandating teaching reading in kindergarten. For some children, this works: they learn to read in kindergarten. Other children aren’t ready. Joey certainly should not repeat kindergarten because he can’t read.

Children must be developmentally mature enough to read. This means emotionally, mentally, and physically. It has nothing to do with a child’s IQ or that they won’t learn to read next year. Sometimes it’s as simple as a child’s eye muscles not being developed enough to read. Nothing is wrong.

Importance of Playing for Brain Development

Importance of playing for brain developmentYour mother-in-law is right that Joey needs to play. Childhood is a time to play. Research has shown that play is an essential part of child development.

Brain in the News recently summarized researcher Jake Miller’s “Flights of Fancy: Free play shapes a child’s brain and bestows a lifetime of benefits,” which explains why play is so important. (The full article appears in Harvard Medicine, Winter/Spring, 2014.)

“Play fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups, according to researchers who study brain development and behavior. Early childhood educators, as well as managers in diverse fields who need to hire skilled problem solvers, find that a strong foundation of childhood play is at the core of imagination and innovation.”

Miller further suggests that playing helps brain development:

“Play is more about process than content. At its best, play is self-directed and guided by fluid rules agreed to by all participants. But whether it is raucous or quiet, physical or mental, social or solitary, the act of playing seems to open the brain to possibilities. It is perhaps one of the best tools we have for developing our brains in ways that can help us learn how to survive in an unpredictable world.”

Reading Aloud Helps Kids Become Readers

In addition to encouraging Joey to play, read to him. Research suggests kids who are read to as toddlers have fewer problems with reading because they’ve listened to reading. Look for books, songs, and games that have lots of easy rhyming words like Dr. Seuss’ book “Cat in the Hat.”

Reading aloud is so powerful that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read aloud to children from birth. Talking with children also helps them become good listeners, speakers, readers and writers. Reading aloud and talking about books are the best ways to acquaint children with the formal language of literature.

Strong Connection between Reading and Exercise

Connection between Reading and ExerciseFinally, make sure Joey is getting plenty of physical exercise. Research has shown a strong connection between physical exercise and learning including learning to read.

Exercise or any physical movement that requires using both sides of the body alternately is good for brain development. Activities like skipping, crawling around on the floor, dancing, even walking and running. Kids all love this kind of activity.

Standing in place, walking or dancing while touching the right knee with left elbow and alternating right elbow to left knee is a great way to cross both sides of the body. This exercise called cross-crawling is even more fun with music.

Dr. Linda Silbert

P.S. Since kids love to play and should be playing, learning games often help with reading. Joey might enjoy a lotto reading game more than workbooks. Playing with you or another child makes it more fun. You can get a complimentary game from me at

Do you have a question about teaching your kids reading, writing, arithmetic, history, college prep or something similar? Please leave your question below or email TeamTiger at You may find her answer, here, in your Inbox, her syndicated newspaper column or at 

Phonics Centered — Consistent with Orton-Gillingham — Multisensory