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Friday, October 29, 2010

Teaching Reading: Playing a Foundation to Build On

This wooden magnetic set is my dream... I think it is SO cool... 
though I might play with it more than my kids would :)  
It would serve for letter building and it is AWESOME ( well as expensive!).

Learning Letters:
“Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated.”

“When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play.”

So. First of all, from an early age, the children must have letters! And those letters must be childproof and durable enough to endure many hours of being wrangled and mangled and even sucked on, because, if he can't play with them, how will the child take interest?  Providing his letters ARE inviting, we may take advantage of his interest in them and point out how each one has a different interesting sound, sounding them for him and tempting him to repeat the sound. This activity can be enjoyed from the earliest ages (CM mentions the infant of 2 years old) or as the child takes interest.
The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play.

There are a multitude of ideas you can use to teach letter sounds. It is best to specifically teach the letter sounds, with the focus not on the letter name. I recommend teaching not only the basic 26 letter sounds, but the 70 basic phonograms used by Spell, to Write and Read (begin with the 26, adding the multi-letter phonograms later on). Learning all of the sounds and combinations, it is sure to make things easier in the long run, and will bring your child to the point of being able to read almost any reader once he decides (or you decide) to begin.

As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. He has his box of ivory letters and picks out p for pudding, b for blackbird, h for horse, big and little, and knows them both.

Until the age of 5 years old (CM recommends 6), all lessons should be completely relaxed and playfully informal. Imaginative play, outdoor play, hearing stories, nature walks, memorization (by repetition) of simple poems, hearing another language spoken, etc, will prove more than enough to fill a child's days without formal lessons.

Yes, it astounded all of us that Obama should be the first word she ever spelled. (?)

At around 4 and a half – 5 years old, depending on the child, we may decide to start introducing games for concreting her knowledge of the phonograms (single-letter sounds and later multi-letter combinations). A variety of 10 minute activities may be introduced without the child having chosen them on her own.

I want to strongly emphasize, that this kind of letter play does NOT have to be anything fancy. It doesn't have to involve printables or flashy activities. For instance, we didn't use anything but refrigerator magnets, a foam alphabet set for in the bath, a salt box and letter cards with Bria and Josiah both. And they were perfectly happy! As 3rd and 4th children, they didn't get as extravagant of manipulatives... heheh. I just didn't have time, but I don't think they felt even the least bit slighted, they had no idea! But for those of you with only children or children fairly spaced in age, who have a time to be more creative, by all means! Have a little fun with it. But, keep it simple both for your sake and theirs. :)
(please, I beg of you on behalf of your child, please don't introduce any worksheets until he is around 6 years of age when he will begin writing his letters! if he begs for worksheets - urge him outside! ;)

{a VERY important key to all learning}
“But the learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observation: he should be made to see what he looks at.”

This is pretty much true of every aspect of a Charlotte Mason education. It is obvious in the areas such as nature study, copywork, and we even see traces of it narration! Naturally then, it also holds true that a child must learn his letters by careful observation. The child should be taught from this early stage to really see the letters. I often use verbal prompts to encourage observation when teaching the letter sounds, “Oh, yes, that's the curvy one /S/,/Z/ that looks like a snake and sounds like one too...” or “See this one is shaped like a /H/- horse! See his tall straight neck and humped back? Where do you think we'd put the saddle?”  (letters marked inside slash marks like this /K/ indicate where I would say the letter sound.)

(though not necessarily in this order)

Air, salt or sand letters.

“Make big B in the air, and let him name it; then let him make round O, and crooked S, and T for Tommy, and you name the letters as the little finger forms them with unsteady strokes in the air.

To make the small letters thus from memory is a work of more art, and requires more careful observation on the child's part. A tray of sand is useful at this stage. The child draws his finger boldly through the sand, and then puts a back to his D; and behold, his first essay in making a straight line and a curve.”

My kids LOVE doing this when they get to the stage of learning to write their letters (around 6 or 7). Another way to do the same thing is to use a salt (or rice or sand) box. Make a shallow pan and fill it enough to cover the bottom. The child can use his finger to “write” the letters. We also use a similar idea when they are learning to write. I like to call it full body cursive!  Using our large motor skills, with an arm outstretched, finger pointed, we trace the letters in the air.  I posted a video of one of our lessons here. Another similar idea is using sandpaper letters that they can trace over with their fingers. I used glitter glue on index cards, see my example here.  Another letter tracing idea I've used is with a Magnadoodle.  I write a huge letter with marker on a piece of construction paper which fits nicely on the 'screen' of a magnadoodle.  The child traces over the written letter, and then lifts the paper to see his letter magically written beneath on the magnadoodle. See an example here.

Find the letter.

This is a GREAT activity for quiet time (or during church!). Pretty much any page with words will do, but sometimes it's better with a slightly large or colorful type. It can go something like this, “This is an, /a/ /A/ /ah/... can you say it? Can you find a Mommy (capital) /a/,/A/,/ah/? Can you find a baby one?”, etc.
There is no occasion to hurry the child: let him learn one form at a time, and know it so well that he can pick out the d's, say, big and little, in a page of large print.

Use this same idea of find the letter with paper letters or refrigerator magnets as well... :) "Bring me the /H/ that looks like a horse." Or, "Can you find the red /B/ that has two big bumps?", etc.

“But the devices for making the learning of the 'A B C' interesting are endless.”

Helpful links:

Some of us are VERY creative and the idea of a resource for ideas to teach letter sounds may sound rather ludicrous. There are others of us who for sake of time or lack of innovation can't seem to come up with anything at all. For those of us who need a little help and more ideas than we EVER could use, here are a couple of links:

*(please keep in mind that you only need a FEW fun ideas to use... don't get out of control! Use in moderation! ;) You don't want your child's whole focus to be the alphabet, it is just a PART of a full living CM education in these early years :)

This is a free online curriculum with innumerable ideas for teaching letters here.
Erica has a TON of printable manipulatives and some really cool ideas on her site (for free), or you can get them all as a download for $10 here (for a sample of her ideas see her post on the letter B, here)

[All CM quotes are in italics and are taken from Volume One, pages 202-204]


Print on your child's favorite colored paper,
cut out and use with learning letter sounds as well as for word-building 
(which we'll cover in the next post).  

(right click and 'save as' to your computer).

Here are some cool alphabet sets for learning letters

More posts in this series:

Our Story... I'm a failure. {part one}
Our Story... Struggle no more. {part two}
Our Story... Just relax! {part three}
Learning to Read - The Scary Myth {part four}
The Two Keys to Teaching Reading {part five}
Playing a Foundation to Build on.  << -- You are here. :)
First Reading Lessons in Earnest.


Silvia said...

Excellent post, I specially love CM formidable quotes, I can't help but be amazed at this woman who speaks about astronomy, letter games, nutrition...
And you need some help with Bria, you can send her to Texas. Last year, when my oldest was barely five, we were preparing posters for a Tea Party rally and yes, she wrote OBAMA...NO, very important two letter word to follow.
I gently combine phonograms and politics, so that my oldest knows two "ee" vowels together sound "/i/ as in free, and my three year old knows you are not free to worship in communist countries. :P

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the post ... and the printable! I'm in the "gathering" phase right now of good materials/ideas to use with my up-and-comers :-)

Phyllis said...

You rock, girl. This is one awesome post.

amy in peru said...

you are HILARIOUS! I think that's why Bria managed it, we'd been discussing the upcoming elections with much concern about that particular candidate... our fears seem to be proving themselves not unfounded.

@Raggedy Princess,
I'm glad to help :) it is a wonderful delight this whole process when approached in a relaxed and fun way!! let me tell you, having seen both sides! ;)

thank you. :) It's the writing it down that helps me get my head around the whole thing! ;)

Phyllis said...

Another great alphabet set is BananaGrams. That's what we use.

Thanks for writing this series!

Sarah said...

I just discovered your series. GREAT! We are just coming out of the same experiences you have had but with only three boys and since I have twins I had three boys all about in the same place in learning to read. Personality makes such a difference! I totally agree that it is like magic to see them put it llt together and that when they are motivated they learn. Last year I asked them what they wanted to do in the 'reading lesson' what they chose they are doing and loving. My oldest wanted to learn all the rules, my twins wanted to just read from a set of 1900 old fashioned readers called the Elson readers. I think these tools are working because they were chosen. I plan to fill gaps as they recognize them. Thank you for the reminder to relax and that it is a unique journey for us as teachers because our kids are simply themsleves and we ought to honor that.

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