Following naturally paced development in reading and writing means no rushing or forced left-brain development. Instead, we facilitate right-brain development at its peak and wait until the left-brain comes online on time. It also means no directorial teaching until the child has reached seven years of age - instead, we support experiential learning at its peak.
From about the age of two years, the right-brain grows more quickly, peaking at around four years of age. The brain's right-hand side is home to social-emotional development and specialises in regulating stress and our automatic functions (breathing, heartbeat etc.) in conjunction with our developing emotions – through the central nervous system.
The focus for this window of development and learning is an immersive experience. Young children soak in information from their surroundings at an incredible speed, everything at 40 million bits per second! In the early years of life, the brain operates in the frequency ranges used in hypnosis - delta and theta. These are pure download states.
What is learned experientially will largely contribute to our default unconscious behaviours and be the foundations for the left-brain development soon to follow.
After the right-brain developmental peak comes the left-brain developmental peak. It uses all the knowledge gained through experience (experiential learning) when the right brain was in its development window.
"There are some that argue that if you start kids reading too young you shut down, or you circumvent the normal development of that right-brain, which is so important for having intuitions about how to get along in the world with people. …It needs to be immersion in real-life experience, and if you pull kids away and put them in front of a book, it takes away that building of knowledge. …The left-brain accesses all that knowledge that you developed from experience because it can't feel experience, it's more of the right-brain focus." - Darcia Narváez
The shift into left-brain development happens around the age of seven years. It coincides with the Neocortex development, home to Executive Function and our ability to think before acting. And the head-brains newfound access to Alpha 8Hz – 12Hz frequencies associated with conscious processing (filtering incoming experiential information) and insights or inspiration that come from bursts of Alpha electrical activity. The left-hand side of the brain is home to language, patterns (codes), conscious behaviour, rational thinking.
At around seven years, the social-emotional cognitive work is almost done for that cognitive growth window, and the unconscious defaults are set. Soon, the developing child will naturally shift into the conscious state and a deep interest in numbers, letters, infographic symbols, and getting symbols the correct way around. This is when, at around age seven, for most children who have been supported in natural development, reading and writing will take centre stage.
The very experience of being taught something that our brains are not ready for can leave a lasting mark on our default unconscious behaviours, our social-emotional well-being. I have spoken to many people in their later years who can recount emotional tales of how they felt "stupid" or "dumb" as young children at school, and many carry these beliefs with them through life.
By holding back on directorial teaching and allowing curiosity, awe and wonder to drive learning around numeracy and literacy, we save young developing children from the experience of being taught left-brain material before the left-brain is ready. We also save them from the experience of being taught something they are not developmentally ready for, the experience of being measured, judged, persuaded, and the experience of learning relationship dynamics based on those same qualities. All within the window where experience is their greatest teacher.
Read and write around children. Through total immersion, children who see (experience and download) the adults in their world normalise reading and writing with purpose will naturally be drawn to do the same when developmentally ready.
Read to your child. The story, vocabulary, and act of reading are important, and so is the connection time between child and adults when being read to.
Hold back from correcting those under eight years old. These early years usually involve some play with pretending to read, write and making marks - play is a place of freedom to explore and no place for getting a 'teaching moment' in, not even when we see an 'S' scrolled the other way around.
Answer questions openly. Ideally, the child should feel safe enough to ask the adults in their world any question. Asking questions is a huge developmental step toward 'learning from others' at their own pace. Remember to remain open to every question, the way we respond (or react) will impact this developmental step. Make answers simple with no frills, never roll your eyes or complain about how much children ask-ask-ask.
Make available drawing and art materials that are blank and invite mark making. Too many activities and colouring books can leave little room for the child to make their own marks.
As you can see, there is a lot at stake when choosing an education model for our children. In this case, the social-emotional development window and mindset development that comes from being developmentally ready or not.
Imagine an education setting that held the space for children to unfold developmentally in line with their biology and not our current cultural values that rush into reading and writing too-much-too-soon.