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At What Age Do You Know If Your Kid Is A Spontaneous Reader?

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If your child is school age, or even nearing school age, you're probably hearing a lot about learning to read. From library programs to debates about the Common Core's approach to reading instruction to parent chatter about whose kid is reading at what level, talk about reading is everywhere. And, while there is lots of attention on teaching kids to read, there are some kids who learn to read without being taught. But how does this work? And when does it happen? At what age do you know if your kid is a spontaneous reader?

To learn more about spontaneous readers, also called self-taught readers or kids with hyperlexia, Romper talked to Kimberly Palmer, a Gifted Education elementary school teacher with 13 years of experience teaching gifted children. "A spontaneous reader is one that learns to read without formal education on reading," Palmer explains.

So, in order to be a spontaneous reader, a child has to learn to read before they are given formal instructions. "I wouldn't say there is an age to classify spontaneous reading at," Palmer says. But, since most kids start attending schools where formal reading instruction starts at age 5 or 6, reading abilities would have to appear before that to be considered spontaneous. Palmer confirms: "Spontaneous reading can happen at preschooling levels."

If your kiddo is 3 or 4 and not reading, they might still develop into a spontaneous reader at age 5. And kids can become spontaneous readers at later ages, too, Psychology Today explains. In schools where reading instruction doesn't begin until later ages, kids may become spontaneous readers at 7 or 8... or even 11 or 14.

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Spontaneous reading can happen gradually or quickly, in as little as a few weeks. The child may teach themselves to read, by studying reading and making an effort to figure out it. Or, the child may unconsciously develop the ability to read, without knowing how they figured it out (similar to how kids learn to speak).

"[Spontaneous reading] is about the child being able to make connections with their own verbal skills and apply it to reading," Palmer says. "Most spontaneous readers have a strong verbal skill and are read to frequently enough to make connections to their verbal ability and the words they see."

When so many kids struggle to learn to read, it can seem startling to hear of a child who just starts reading without any teaching. It might sound like a genius ability, and it's certainly temping to think that spontaneous reading is a sign of overall giftedness. But, Palmer says, verbal skills are just "one aspect of intelligence. I have had many students who are very strong readers and early readers but that did not extend to the nonverbal areas, but I've also had both. Therefore I don't believe one will lead to the other in all or even most cases. Strong readers can be weak mathematically and vice versa. All I would expect from a spontaneous reader is to present high in the verbal component in an IQ test."

But, before you jump to get your kid's IQ tested, Palmer cautions, "I think it is important to note that intelligence doesn't measure very accurately until age 7 or so." It's common for parents of spontaneous readers to "feel the urge to get their children tested at a very early age," but "that can end up being detrimental in later schooling. Gifted children are as diverse as any other subgroup of children so it is important to meet the needs of each individual child."

Expert:

Kimberly Palmer, Gifted Education elementary school teacher