Some time back I talked about the differences in teaching a child how to read using Phonics and the Whole Word method. I mentioned that the Doman method for teaching a child how to read uses the whole word technique. I also suggested that one of the benefits of teaching phonics over the whole word method is that it allows a child to read words that the child has never seen before.
However, according to Glenn Doman, children who learn to read through the whole word method will eventually be able to read new words even without having learned them before. Being the longest running educational program to teach babies how to read (Shichida and Right Brain Kids were founded on some Doman philosophies), I figure he ought to know what he’s talking about. Indeed, a woman who was taught to read using the Doman method confirmed that she could recognise new words despite the fact that she had never seen them before.
What I found interesting was that this woman said she was a poor speller and she believed it was due to the fact that she never learned phonics. While this is only a study of one, it does suggest that perhaps we really do need to include phonics into our early childhood reading programs.
How can we do that?
There is an excellent article written by Katherine Von Duyke, a Montessori mother who taught her eleven children how to read. For the complete article, you can find it at HomeSchool World: Phonics the Montessori Way – Part 1, Part 2. In fact, I do suggest you read the complete article.
Why do I like her method of teaching phonics? Because rather than following the conventional method of teaching from a to z in the order of the alphabet, she divides the letters up into manageable groups so that your child can start using the letters to begin making words right from the beginning. I think that anything that a child can implement immediately generates more interest than one that requires more time to uncover its usefulness. Remember that children haven’t learned the concept of delayed gratification.
The other reason why I like Katherine’s method for teaching phonics is that it indirectly teaches a child how to write letters. Her letters are presented as “sandpaper” letters that a child can run his fingers over. You can show your child how to trace over the letters in the same manner that would be required to write it.
One of the problems I had with Gavin when I first attempted to teach him how to write using the Kumon books was that I often had trouble getting him to write the letters properly – he would write the lines of the letters in any order that he fancied. For instance, if he was writing the letter ‘C’, he might start from the bottom of the curve and go backwards. He did not follow the suggested method in the book which often meant that his letters looked weird.
There were also a few other points which Katherine talks about in her article which I thought was very interesting from a teaching and learning perspective. One of the things Katherine talks about which reconfirms my urgency to teach Gavin and Gareth how to read young is this:
I’ve observed that children from about 2-1/2 to about 4-1/2 are highly interested in the letter sounds, but after this age, learning the sounds seems more of a chore. The Montessori method calls this a “Sensitive Period,” meaning the child is more aware of and interested in learning a certain thing at this time. If this period is missed, learning will take longer and be more tedious.
She also talks about the importance of a prepared environment which also seems to agree with the whole “no testing” policy:
Whenever I teach one child to read, the next oldest child, who I’m not focusing on, usually learns to read at almost the same pace as the older one, even though there is usually a nearly two-year difference in age. I have come to believe now that this is because the second child has the perfect environment, but no pressure to perform.
Finally, she also mentions that there is an up time and down time in the learning cycle when children are ready for more and when they just need to do something else so that they can process what they’ve learned. During the down time, there is no point trying to teach the child new material because it is like “the hourglass on your computer when it is processing new information. When a computer is in downtime, you can’t input new information, no matter how many times you hit ‘enter’.” Likewise, when a child is in downtime, no new information will be absorbed no matter how you present it to your child.