By teaching your child to read, you are sharing wisdom that — until the last one hundred years or so — was imparted to only a chosen few. Not so long ago, reading was reserved for the elite, the revered and the powerful.
And if you’re using a phonics-based method, you’re going all the way back to the early Greek alphabet, adapted by the Greeks from the Phoenician alphabet. The Phoenicians were known to have used symbols to help native speakers recognize sounds of words they knew. In the beginning, the ability to read these symbols (consonants only—no vowels) was related to the culture, and a person needed contact with native speakers to understand them.
The Greeks changed all that. They added vowels and a system that made their alphabet more portable to other communities. The sounds were no longer attached to meanings. Rather, they were merely assigned to sounds in a word. A writer could actually mix them up to create new words, based only on the sounds.
Then the Romans ran with it and created the alphabet we still use today.
In other words, it all started with the Phoenicians. The genius of a phonetic alphabet stems from the innovative nature of this early civilization. And did you know that Phoenician means ‘Purple People’? The Greeks dubbed them that because the Phoenicians made the purple dyes for the robes of Mesopotamian royalty, and the dye-makers’ skin would often be stained a purple hue.
Teach your child to read. On your lap.
Think of yourself as a mentor or a guide, passing on a wisdom tradition that as the ‘elder,’ you are being called upon to do.
Kids don’t get enough lap time. If you have a preschooler or a kindergartner, is he or she getting at least some time each day on your lap? At the end of a long day—work, daycare, bills to pay, cars to fix, meals to make—is your child getting the one-on-one attention he or she needs from you?
Don’t blink. That soft, downy hair with the baby sweet smell will soon be a wistful memory. Much sooner than you know. And when your child is on your lap and turns to look up at you for reassurance with those bright, wide-open eyes, you will never feel so able to provide it as you do at that moment.
You are the elder. With your child on your lap, you are passing down knowledge to him or her that is endemic to a life well-lived. We text, email, post, blog—that’s our tradition. But sadly, many people aren’t very good at it. And just as in 1,000 BC, lacking that skill can separate people. Keep them shut out. Limit their choices.
You’ve been chosen. You’re the right person to teach your child to read, opening up a world of choices for him or her.
Phonics-based teaching methods.
It seems odd to discard a tradition that has stood the test of (a really long) time. If you are teaching your child to read, I would encourage you to start first with a phonics-based method. Phonics can never harm your child’s effort to learn how to read. That’s because English is a phonetic language. You’re teaching your child exactly what is on the page in front of him or her.
But you can cause problems if you skip phonics. Phonics is a code. Obvious to some, but to others, a mystery. If a child is not able to decipher that code, he will struggle. And it’s much harder to teach it after he has tried to learn another way but has failed. Because now you are dealing with much more than a missing skill. You will most likely spend years undoing the belief that has developed in your child’s heart that reading is hard and he isn’t very good at it.
Nobody wants that for their child. Which is why we take our children on our laps and start teaching them everything we know. Like all the families, tribes and societies that have gone before us.
Tell your kids you are teaching them the ancient Secrets of the Purple People. They’ll love that.
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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