You may be aware that some educators are at odds over which approach is more effective—phonics based reading or sight-reading (memorizing whole words at a time). Schools seem to focus more on one or the other, and many parents are left to wonder if their child didn’t miss the ‘better half.’
You don’t need to worry about this. The two are perfectly compatible. If you are teaching your child to read at home using phonics and your child is learning to memorize whole words at school, you will find that they both work well together. Since your child is learning to master the ability to sound out words phonetically, it’s OK to introduce sight-reading.
Phonics is a wonderful foundation. It’s the building block of the English language. Your child must be familiar with those building blocks to effectively tackle new words. However, you don’t want him to have to ‘rebuild’ every word he reads. Sight-reading practice will help him absorb whole words at a time, thereby more readily catching on to the larger meaning of a sentence or even a paragraph.
Phonics-based Reading: What about the Whole Language method of teaching reading?
Introduced to schools in the 1980s, Whole Language takes a holistic approach to teaching children how to read. Words are deciphered by using the context of the story, the pictures and the sentences. (There is a lot of sight-reading in this method, too.) Simply surround new readers with the written word in fun and meaningful ways, and they will start to get it. The Whole Language approach is loosely based on the premise that children can learn to read the way they learned to talk.
One of the problems with this notion is that toddlers are motivated to learn how to talk. If someone is babbling at them, they want to know what’s going on. When the big kids are playing a game, the little one is all ears. And except for when babies are sleeping, they are practicing all the time.
As far as small children are concerned, reading is optional. (OK, it’s not really. But they don’t know that yet.) Some kids are motivated to learn how to read, but for others, it’s too much work to figure out. If reading is presented to this kind of child in an unstructured ‘guessing game,’ he’s not going to get it. And then later, when he realizes that being good at this game informs everything else he does, the anxiety sets in.
Phonics Based Reading: giving kids the tools they need
Another issue with the Whole Language method is that when the words become harder and the pictures in books go away, children don’t have the tools to ‘guess’ anymore. They might have a hard time reading words they’ve never seen before. Even a strong reader (a smart guesser!) can start to display signs of trouble by fourth grade. And by then, it’s really late to do something about it.
More recently, the Whole Language method of teaching reading has fallen out of favor with a lot of educators. However, many schools still incorporate this style of learning—they just don’t call it that.
But it’s OK if that’s what you suspect your child’s school is doing. Most likely, your child is getting the best efforts of a teacher who cares about his or her well-being, which counts for a lot. And if your child learns the code from you, he or she will thrive, not matter what.
The neat thing about phonics is that it’s sequential and logical. Once you’ve learned it, you’re done with it. From then on out, reading is something you simply know how to do.
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Have You Ever Wondered: "Can I Teach My Child to Read?"
The first step in teaching your child to read is believing that you can. Many parents leave this job to the schools, which is certainly a fine option for some families. But teaching your child to read at home has three distinct advantages:
1) The time you spend with your child is something you will always remember as special. Most likely your child will, too.
2) Your child gets a head start. Early readers tend to excel in school.
3) If your child has a learning style that is incompatible with how the school is teaching reading, he or she will have the one-on-one coaching (and phonics-based instruction) that you are providing at home.
If you have doubts about your ability to teach your child to read, join the club! Many parents aren’t quite sure they’re equipped for the task.
But you are. And if you don’t believe it, challenge that by surrounding yourself with people and resources that assure you that you can teach your child to read. Can I Teach My Child to Read? A Parent's Guide was designed with you in mind.
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No need to wait. Can I Teach My Child to Read? A Parent's Guide eases you into the idea that you can do this. Download your copy for free and read it from cover-to-cover in a single sitting. (It’s only 40 pages.) By the time you finish reading, you will know exactly what to do in your first lessons.
And once you get started, you’ll see how easy it is. Before you know it, you and your child will be on your way!
Leave a comment. How do you feel about teaching your child to read?
Perhaps there was an element of ‘luck’ to the record-breaking popularity of the bespectacled, black-haired boy dreamed up by children’s book author J.K. Rowling. After all, a lot of events had to fall magically in place before one small publisher finally decided to gamble on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Legend has it that the publisher decided to move forward with the book when his eight-year-old daughter read the first chapter and asked for more.
What fabulous luck!
So what does ‘luck’ look like to you? (For example, what does it mean when you say ‘just my luck’? Has something devastating—or spectacular—happened?) Behind every stroke of luck there is typically an iron-willed belief and a lot of hard work. And when these two get together, luck happens.
Alchemy, if you will.
Children's Book Author J.K. Rowling: Dogged by an Idea
According to the well-known story, Rowling mapped out the plot for her first book on a train. The idea of this boy-who-was-a -wizard-but-didn’t-know-it came to her and she simply couldn’t ignore it. Her description of the experience almost sounds like she was receiving a ‘download.’ She could hardly write fast enough to keep up. Where was that stream of consciousness coming from?
We don’t know. But what we do know is that Rowling was an open vessel, ready to receive what was coming to her. She was enchanted by the story and held the belief that she was the one to write it.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience with your writing. Do ideas follow you around, begging you to write them down so other people can hear about them, too? If so, you might be surprised by what happens when you sit down to actually write. When an idea is stalking you, there is usually a lot more to follow. The act of getting it on paper may have a quality of ‘effortlessness’ to it.
Children's Book Author J.K. Rowling: Tapping In to Something Inside of Us
Rowling describes her books as touching on religious themes—but not overtly. She is a master at telling a story that has multiple layers, but all she does is tell it like it is. Discovering the universal truths in her mythology is up to each of us to do for ourselves.
And when we do, we feel something.
The Harry Potter series weaves a golden thread of longing, hope, magic and love, beginning with The Boy Who Lived and not stopping until the end. There’s a lot of darkness in the series, too. This epic tale appeals to the hero inside of us—child and adult alike.
I asked one (young) reader what he liked so much about Harry Potter. His answer was simple: “J.K. Rowling is so creative.” But these words didn’t come close to expressing what was on the boy's face—the way it lapsed into a dreamy, far-away look at the mere mention of his beloved Harry. Now a college student, this young man has read the entire series at least 20 times.
Children's Book Author J.K. Rowling: A Flash of Clairvoyance
I love what J.K. Rowling revealed in her interview with Oprah. At one point, Oprah asked Rowling if she ‘knew’ that ‘one day every child in the world will know his [Harry’s] name.’
This excerpt from the 10/3/2010 transcript of that interview is riveting:
Winfrey: But isn’t it interesting that in the first book, when Harry is being dropped-off at his uncle’s, it is predicted – ?
Rowling: One day every child in the world will know his name.
Winfrey: One day every child in the world will know his name.
Rowling: Well, the screenwriter –
Winfrey: So, didn’t you know?
Winfrey: Wasn’t there part of you –
Rowling: Part of me –
Winfrey: Subconsciously, that knew? Yes.
Rowling: I – I remember once and it was like – it was like – well, like – I’m going to call it clash – a flash of clairvoyance now. Obviously if it hadn’t come true it would just be some crazy thought I had. But I do remember one day, writing Philosopher’s Stone, I was walking away from the café where I’d been working on –
Winfrey: Philosopher’s Stone which became Sorcerer’s Stone.
Rowling: Which became Sorcerer’s Stone, exactly. So that’s the first novel. And I had this moment where I suddenly thought – It was like another voice speaking to me and the voice said “the difficult thing is going to get published. If it gets published it will be huge.”
Wow. Great insight. One that begs the question: If you are a writer, are you listening to the voice in your head? Is your heart telling you it’s a go? If so, now may be the time to follow Rowling’s lead and start creating your own luck.
Just make sure it’s the good kind.
Leave a comment! Share your thoughts about 'creating luck.'
By ‘big’ I mean full. Expansive. Teaching kids to read sets their imaginations on fire. So does playing, coloring—even a video game can spark some juice up there.
But nothing works like reading.
Teaching Kids to Read: Exercising the Gray Matter
Why is reading so important for developing the imagination? Because reading is work. Think about it. When you watch a great movie, the director has created all of the scenes for you. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy. Certainly, good films can go straight to your heart, but they don’t have to work too hard to get there.
Like developing a muscle, reading requires your brain to run through the neural exercise of developing scenes, connecting the plot and filling in all of the gaps. Reading doesn’t use any of your senses. (Sight? Not really. Black slashes on a white page—hardly stimulating. Unless it’s a picture book, you’re on your own.)
Teaching Kids to Read: Sending Imagination on a Lifelong Journey
A well-developed imagination knows how to solve problems. It has a way of mobilizing when something needs fixing. Should we do A or B? What would the ramifications be of each? What could the outcomes be in each scenario? Dreamers think big and figure out how to move mountains when they need to.
Imagination can release someone from a traumatic situation. Re-framing a tragic event by telling oneself a new story about it can relieve suffering and soften a painful memory. Without imagination, the mind can get stuck on ‘what happened.’ This is okay, of course, if someone needs to hold on to the story. But repeating the same story can last a lifetime, and moving on to a happier existence might mean a creative re-scripting of the past.
People with great imaginations are never bored. Waiting in a long line? No problem. One’s own dream world can occupy the mind for hours on end, so that stretches of time with nothing to do invite flights of fancy that take you to faraway places.
And speaking of faraway places, teaching kids to read gives them the chance to travel. Differences between nations and their inhabitants blur when kids read about people who live in unfamiliar worlds. Readers become the characters in books. Children have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to go to wizard school, be a vampire or get stung by a scorpion as an Olympian half-blood, simply by snuggling up with a bound stack of paper with printed letters on it.
Teaching Kids to Read: Manifesting Big Dreams
In some circles, imagination is the real thing, and reality is merely what we’ve decided is true in order to keep things small, manageable and not scary. I happen to ascribe to this. The universe and its powers are vast, and scientists are demonstrating in new ways how the mind creates ‘waves’ of energy that seek similar frequencies.
These matching frequencies can create new realities that are more suitable to the thinker by ‘magically’ making things happen that seem impossible. When someone applies their imagination to what they want to create in their lives, things begin to happen.
Like amazing coincidences. Or meeting the right person. Or getting a job that had no chance of happening. People who are tapping in to this ‘secret’ are using their imaginations to create new life situations for themselves, their families and even the world.
And who wouldn’t want that for any child?
Speaking of Kids
Online phonics program blog: Musings, stories, and tips about teaching, reading, and parenting.
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 KRISTI CROSSON
Kristi is a professional photographer and homeschooling mom of three small children. She has a passion for helping other moms make healthy choices for themselves and their families. To learn more about Kristi, please visit her website.
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