I phoned my mother on this. She says I was reading by forming syllables at slightly under two (“t-i ti, g-e-r ger, tiger”, except in Finnish, of course) and reading fluently at three. Then again, I’m weird and should not be used as evidence in anything.
For the most part, Finns start school at 7. (Rarely, if the kid is determined to be school-ready, they can start at 6, and sometimes they can wait until 8.) By that time, a lot of the kids have a rudimentary grasp of letters, and some can read quite fluently. We have laws stating that daycare be provided for every child and that pre-education be provided for children attending daycare who are starting school the following year (literally “pre-school”, “esikoulu”). There’s quite a bit of pre-reading done at this level: for example, the following is the “reading and writing” part of a curriculum at a daycare center in Kuopio.
Rudimentary reading and writing skills:
- the presence of written text
- playing with letters
- reading direction (i.e. knowing that you read from left to right)
- reading comprehension
- independent reading
- play writing (i.e. forming nonsense symbols)
- writing one’s own name
- copying down model writing
- interest in writing
- practising motor skills: writing position and holding a pen
- writing direction (i.e. left to right)
- recognizing and writing letters
- discussions based on texts read before
- introduction to children’s literature
- using the library and the bookmobile
- introduction to one’s own culture and folklore
- introduction to foreign cultures and languages
Of course, the content of curriculi varies depending on available resources, but this looks quite par for the course when I compare it to what my youngest little brother was doing in pre-school in Helsinki 4 years ago - and pretty similar to what I did 18 years ago. (My reading was awesome, but I had real problems with motor skills; drawing circles was friggin’ hard, as one can see from the preschool workbooks my parents still have lying around somewhere.)
The girls in my girl scout pack were first-graders for the most part when they started, and all of them could read and write, but most of them still took their time forming letters and words, and the end results were pretty shaky (so we photocopied things ready for them instead of making them write it themselves). By the end of the second year, they were all reading and writing fluently.