Do you have any ideas on what could prevent a 5½-year-old child from learning to read? He knows the alphabet, and could re-tell a story if I tell him the title. How can I help him?
He is learning to read. You just have a different definition of reading from the one which guides his early literacy. When he tells you the story of a book you have read to him, he is, in his own mind, reading that story to you. He is doing the same thing when he sits with a book in his hands and “reads” from memory the words that accompany the picture. Both actions are very important pre-reading indicators—and, as far as I’m concerned, you can leave off the “pre” in that statement. He is also reading when he looks at a catalog, points appropriately to a picture, and says “boots.” By his action he is demonstrating his awareness that a two-dimensional representation (a picture of a boot) can stand for a three-dimensional object (a boot).
What he has not yet done is “crack the code”—the unvarying relationship between certain squiggles on the page (letters of the alphabet) and the sounds that make up words. That will come, and it will probably come soon. One of the most important things you can do now to help him move to this next level is to continue to read to him and encourage him to tell the stories back to you. Go to the library with him and then read aloud to him the books he checks out. And talk, talk, talk! By conversing with you and other members of the family he will develop a larger vocabulary. Reading words we already know by their sound is a lot easier than trying to read words we don’t know.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.