An Approach to the Teaching of Reading – part 1

An Approach to the Teaching of Reading

by Craig Smith
This skill is absolutely basic and foundational. It is not
a “subject” one might choose to teach, such as the subjects
of Science or History. It is more foundational than
either of these subjects, for it is a skill that must be
mastered. It is not a negotiable item on your home education
curriculum. Why?
First, the Lord reveals Himself, His glory and wisdom
specifically and especially in the written Word, the Bible.
It is far superior to His general revelation of Himself
in the creation. It is different also from how He
reveals Himself in His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ. It is obvious and clear to all that our God expects
us to be readers so that we can read of His works,
His wisdom, His character, His intructions, ordinances,
precepts, laws, commands and love letters to us, for
unless we do, He will remain mostly a mystery to us.
Second, one who cannot read is not just limited, he is
positively crippled. He or she is cut off from so much
useful and pleasurable information that our Lord in His
Providence has provided for us: factual, fictional, instructional,
devotional, inspirational, technical, historical,
biographical, poetical, documentary and more
kinds of literature are denied to the one who cannot
Third, reading is one of the Three Rs of Reading, wRiting
and aRithmetic, acknowledged for centuries as the
starting foundation blocks of education. (It is interesting
to note that in the brand-new, 2007 New Zealand
Curriculum statement, the one replacing the previous
7-volume version, the word “reading” only appears
twice in the entire 49-page document. In addition writing
and arithmetic are also downgraded. Reading is
now one of the “receptive skills of listening, reading
and viewing” and writing is now one of “the productive
skills of speaking, writing and presenting or performing.”
“Arithmetic” does not appear at all in the
New Zealand Curriculum. “Mathematics” is the term
used. It appears 14 times, 13 of which in the same
phrase “mathematics and statistics”. The 14th time is
the following definition: “Mathematics is the exploration
and use of patterns and relationships in quantities,
space, and time.” It is no longer even a skill.)
So how do we parents go about teaching this essential
skill of reading to our little children?

1. Read to your children.

This immediately opens their minds to the fact that lots
of good things are locked up on the printed page. It
increases their listen-ing vocabulary. This becomes
evident later on when they become able to incorporate
these words into their spoken vocabulary. This means
that our children will have a listening vocabulary, that
is, the ability to mostly comprehend what is read and
spoken to them, far above the level of their speaking
vocabulary. It means they take in far more than we
normally expect for one of their age.
This also means we need not be afraid of reading to
them books which one might think at first are way beyond
their “level”. We read “Pilgrim’s Progress” and
Gulliver’s Travels” to our older children when they
were only aged 4 to 8. It was in the Old English, King
James kind of thing, which we found personally really
difficult to read at first. But the children loved it! We
never told them it would be difficult to understand;
they didn’t know it was supposed to be way beyond
them according to some opinions; they just figured it
was part of the way life was, that it was important or
worth something since it was Mum and Dad who were
feeding it to them. It was simply accepted and enjoyed.
There are many other good bonding and instructional
benefits that accompany reading aloud to your children
which have been addressed in earlier articles in Keystone.
But note that I am not talking about reading with
my finger under each word and expecting the child to
follow along that he or she will learn to read in that
way. This is akin to the “look-say” or “look-guess”
method which, in my opinion, has caused the epidemic
of 25% of primary children in state schools ending up
in reading recovery programmes. It is expecting children
to memorise the look and shape of words, as if
English was not a phonetic language but a pictogram
language such as Chinese. Don’t go this route, folks.

2. Be readers yourselves.

You want your children to be so convinced about the
importance and the pleasure of reading that they will
never question its value. If they grow up in a home
environment where reading was just part of the
wallpaper, an integral, everyday activity like breathing,
you won’t have to lecture them on it.

3. Teach them the alphabet.

Make up your own flash cards with the capital letters on
one side and the lower case ones on the other side.
Teach your children the proper names of the letters, not
just the sounds the letters make. That comes later. I’ve
heard some say we should not unnecessarily confuse our
children by teaching them the names, such as “double u”
for W, “aitch” for H or “why” for Y since these names bear
no resemblance to the sounds they make, and it is just
clogging up their minds with extraneous information.
Not so. Why do we underestimate the intellectual capabilities
of our children? They are created in the likeness
of the Omniscient God, remember. Certainly none will
come within a million miles of God’s wisdom, and certainly
some children seem brighter than others, but virtually
all have intellectual capacities and potentials
which few of us even imagine possible.
Teach the letter names! Then they can clearly communicate
with you and others as to which letter is being
asked about when they have questions. Teach the capitals
first because, since these are the first they will
learn, they will never forget them. This is important
because later on when they come across rarely used or
seen capital letters in their reading and writing — such
as Y or Q or Z — they will not be stumped nor have to
ask you to tell them but will effortlessly remember
them. Because they will see and use the lower case letters
far more often, they will be thoroughly learned by
repetition anyway.
Drill them with the flash cards in various ways until
they know both capitals and lower case inside-out,
backwards and forwards and upside down. Start by doing
them in alphabetical order. Then do them randomly.
Make it a game: you hold the cards, and when
they get it right (first time, without any wrong guesses),
you hand the card to them to hold. If they get it wrong,
it goes to the back of the pile to come up again. Once
they’re pretty good at this, time them to see how fast
they can do the whole pack, this time giving only one
shot at each card, keeping track of how many were
done right and how many were done wrong. Our children
loved to see their progress in getting fewer wrong
and more right in less time. Do this with the capitals
first and then do it with the lower case letters until they
know them all thoroughly.

4. Teach the letter sounds.

I am not a purist here. Near enough is probably good
enough, I reckon. Hey, I speak with an American accent
(even after my 35 years of immersion in Kiwi-speak).
My wife Barbara speaks with a Kiwi South Island accent.
We are required to listen to and understand a multitude
of other accents on a daily basis. OK, maybe I’m just lazy.
But when I see the multitude of sounds assigned to each
vowel in some dictionaries, I simply shudder and shut down.
English spelling and pronunciation do have rules. Yes,
there are exceptions, and we should endeavour to teach
the exceptions. But I’m not going to strain every word
in our huge vocabulary for every single rule, every single
exception, every single variation of pronunciation.
This is especially true with the many words of foreign
origin which emphatically do not follow English rules
of pronunciation. So if you can simply point out that
“police” does not rhyme with “lice” or “ice” because
police has a foreign origin (Greek) and that there appears
to be no comprehensible link between the spelling
and pronunciation of both “beautiful” and “beau”
because they come from the French language, well,
that should suffice as an explanation for your children.
And “one”, “two”, “done”, “come”, “some” and other
such common words don’t follow the spelling rules
most probably because of laziness in constant, common
use (it being easier to say “too” for “two” instead of
“twoe” as normal pronunciation rules would require).
(To be continued.)
Craig was born and grew up in Sanger (near Fresno), California,
came to New Zealand as a 21-year-old in 1973 and
has lived here ever since. He has a BA in Social Policy from
Massey University. He and Barbara have four natural children,
three by adoption and one permanently fostered, aged
from 27 down to two, all being exclusively home educated
from day one. Craig & Barbara established Christian Home
Schoolers of NZ in 1986 which later became the Home Education

From Keystone Magazine

January 2008, Vol. XIV No. 73
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