Volumes have been written about methods of teaching children to read, and hundreds of hours have been spent researching how children learn, but how a person actually learns to read is still a mystery. Methods go in and out of fashion, and one set of research contradicts the findings of another. But one observation remains constant— a child learns best in an atmosphere free of stress, in the company of a supportive and caring individual. Badgering and harassing a child, or otherwise communicating anxiety will result in the child having an adverse emotional attitude towards learning.
There are many pre-reading activities in which a child can be involved which increase the child’s experience, foster the growth of language and encourage awareness and concentration, all of which set the stage for learning to read. These include Art, Crafts, Music, Movement and Imaginative Play, which a child can do at home or at Basic School. Some examples are
• Listening to and telling stories, rhymes, jingles, poetry.
• Dressing up and role playing, pretend and real use of telephone.
• Taking part in desk games.
• Sorting and matching by colour, size and shape in various materials.
• Drawing with pencils, crayons or markers. Painting with a brush (I have beaten the ends of hibiscus twigs to make brushes for 3-year-old children who tend to destroy conventional brushes.) Drawing with fingers in sand (not necessarily at the beach).
|Children painting at my school in Lucea. 1983|
Children will probably have no difficulty learning to read if they have had plenty of pre-reading activities, and if the following apply: The child
• Is in good health, can see and hear properly, is free from speech defects and is not seriously retarded in intelligence.
• Is not suffering from stress or post-traumatic stress disorder.
• Asks questions and wants to know what’s going on.
• Understands oral instructions and is able to carry them out.
• Listens satisfactorily to a story and can retell a simple story.
• Can see similarities and differences in simple drawings.
• Draw in a representational form.
• Is generally self-reliant and able to work on his/her own for short periods.
• Co-operates with others.
• Can match word with word.
• Shows signs of wanting to learn to read.
(Adapted from Key Words to Literacy by J. McNally and W. Murray The Teacher Pub. Co.)
By the time they are five or six years old, children who have been exposed to books will also know how to turn the pages, and be aware that sentences run horizontally, from left to right. They will probably be more proficient than me with computers, tablets and smart phones! They will most likely know the letters of the alphabet and be able to write them. Teaching of reading and writing go hand in hand.
|Examples of flash cards|
Some teachers use phonics from the beginning and use series such as Jolly Phonics. Children learn to associate letters with the speech sounds they represent, rather than learning to recognize the whole word as a unit. Knowing the letter sounds, the child must learn to blend e.g. ku-a-t into ‘cat’. I often wondered why so much emphasis is placed on spelling in Jamaican schools, but I had to ask myself
“Is it easier to decode using phonics or by having learnt a spelling?”
Part of the difficulty associated with phonics results from the way in which Jamaicans pronounce their words. (This difficulty is not unique to Jamaica as there are variations in pronunciation wherever the English language is spoken). Whether through spelling or phonics, the child only becomes a competent reader when he has ‘read’ the word enough times to be able to recognize it instantly. Some children need much more practice than others.
All children need to read every day, and in addition to their ‘reading’ book, as they grow in confidence, they need a variety of reading material, including colourful and interesting books from the book corner or library. Let’s not forget to keep reading to our children—wonderful stories which children love to hear may have too many unfamiliar words or too small a print for the beginning reader.
In my next blogs I will consider what happens to children who do not fit into the ‘best-case scenario’ and how we can help them.