Sunday, August 17, 2014

Teach Your Preschooler To Read?

"Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education, although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour." (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, page 199)
"In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air."   (Vol. 1, page 43)
"In the first place, it is not her business to entertain the little people: there should be no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose." (Vol. 1, page 45)

Charlotte Mason believed that reading lessons (and other formal schooling) should wait until a child was age six. This is one of the areas with which I disagree with Mason.

While I agree that a child should not be made to sit down at a desk in the early years, I do believe young children should be taught (gently) how to read. I disagree that some children learn "unconsciously," and I can say that having been an early reader and as the mother of an early reader.

When I entered kindergarten, I was four years old. This was in the early 1980s. (A few years ago, in the district where I teach, parents could not send a four-year-old to school. Recently, this was changed so parents can enroll their four-year-olds in something called "Transitional Kindergarten" or T.K. Kindergarten itself is no longer seen as transitional. I digress. T.K. is not a separate class. T.K. students are placed in regular kindergarten classes. If a child successfully completes T.K., the child can move on to first grade. If a child does not successfully complete T.K., the child repeats kindergarten as a kindergartener.) Within the first week of school, my kindergarten teacher told my mother there was nothing she could teach me and that I should be moved into the first grade. For legal reasons, I could not be placed in first grade until I was five years old, so on my fifth birthday - November 7th - two months into school - I moved into Miss Casey's first grade class.

This didn't happen by accident. I didn't just "unconsciously" learn to read. My mother taught me using flashcards and storybooks.

A very little child is capable of seeing the Golden Arches and making the connection that those Golden Arches symbolize McDonald's. If a child can do this, a child can read. (The image at the top of this post is an environmental print alphabet. Preschoolers learn to associate these symbols with what they represent through repeated exposure. This means, even if you aren't doing flashcards with your children, companies like Lego are.)

I did not, as my mother had done with me, start using flashcards with my daughter when she was an infant. However, we did do baby sign language (symbol = meaning) and my daughter was able to understand and use about 20 signs.

When my daughter turned a year old, her Tia Estela gave her a toy that stuck to the refrigerator (Fridge Phonics by LeapFrog) and played each letter's sound in a song. My initial reactions were:
  • Isn't it a little early for phonics?
  • What's the rush?
  • Ugh, it's battery operated. My child's creative growth will be stunted.
  • Maybe I can keep it hidden away until she turns two.
I was also grateful to Estela for the present. She's also an elementary school teacher, and an amazing one at that. I fell in love with Fridge Phonics.

So, through play, we started learning letter sounds. My aunt Barbara - a homeschooler - gave me a LeapFrog's Letter Factory DVD. (Battery operated toys AND T.V.?! What kind of parent was I?!)

I love that DVD. It's fabulous. A must-have.

Shortly after my daughter turned two, after my daughter knew all of the letter sounds, I started Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) words (cat, can, dog, dot...). And when she was 2 1/2, I bought Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Engelmann.

It was slow going at first because my daughter's attention span was short and I only wanted reading to be a pleasurable experience. Each lesson is broken up into about a dozen minilessons ("tasks") but the title Teach Your Child to Read in 1,200 Lessons probably wouldn't sell as well. We'd do three tasks and that would be that.

Now, my daughter is 3 years 3 months and recently, things just clicked. She completed a whole lesson and wanted to start another one (Mommy was the one who was tired and needed to stop). This is how it's been going for the past week.

So, my 3 year old is on lesson 41, having just read:
The cow sat on a little gate. The cow said, "The gate is hot." She said, "I hate hot gates." She said, "I will run now."
I like Teach Your Child To Read for the most part. But there are problems with it.

For example, when teaching the child sight words such as "said," the script has the parent telling the child to sound it out (lesson after lesson) and "That's how we sound out the word. This is how we say the word." The book does say to say, "It's a funny word." But I think the word should be introduced as a "funny word" (or, as my daughter says, a silly word). All that said, it's not a huge problem.

Another problem I have come across is that children are supposed to sound out "ow" words instead of learning that "ow" says "OW!" - the sound you make when you get pinched.

Teach your young child to read, if the child enjoys it. If not, go ahead and wait. Or, ask yourself if you're having enough fun with the lesson. Think of Mary Poppins:

In every job that must be done,
there is an element of fun.
You find the fun and
The job's a game.

(The above image was found on Pinterest in a Google search for "environmental print.")