Monday, June 04, 2012

How to teach your child to read

I have been frequently asked, both by the readers of this blog, and from mothers of Puttachi's friends, about how Puttachi learned to read and write words so quickly.

Since I am no expert, and I have not really "taught" her consciously, I'll just outline our journey together. 

Before that, I must say that I believe that language and word skills, just like any other ability, differs from person to person.  Perhaps Puttachi has that ability, in addition to interest, of course.  Though I don't know what influenced her to get interested in reading, I will list what I think might have helped.

1) I am frequently found with a book in my hand.  A child is naturally curious about anything the parent does, so Puttachi used to come and peek into my book very often, even as a young child.  I guess that at some point, they make the connection that these marks mean something that is obviously very interesting, and that probably induces them to try and find out what it is all about.

2) Once she learned to recognize the alphabet, she would find them everywhere.  Sometimes, she held carrot sticks at different angles and showed me T and Y - so obviously, letters fascinated her.  You could also, if you wish, point out letters in unexpected places - such things excite little children.

3) At about 2 or 3 years of age, Puttachi did not know English, and so when I told her a story from an English book, I kept it open for her to look at the pictures, and told her the story in Kannada.  But sometimes, I would point out a word to her, a word that was exciting in the story.  If the story had, '"Help!" said the lion,'" and if "Help" was in bold and a bigger font, I would show it to her, and say, "Look, here is where the Lion is shouting "Help!"  Then she would naturally want to read out the alphabets in the word Help, and then I would follow that up saying, "Huh-Eh-Ll-Puh - Help."

She must have then made the connection, that each alphabet has a sound.  And once this concept enters a child's head, the rest is very simple.

I did this quite a few times - but please note, I didn't do this in a calculated way or as a "I MUST teach her," way.  I just made use of any opportunity that came by to point out certain words to her.

Once she got this concept, she would split words into phonic sounds, in a very exaggerated way, sometimes wrong too, but she did it, mostly to amuse herself.  But that was the basis of learning to spell. 

4) It was at this point that I played word building with her - check out the last incident in this post  -- I think all these little things help put the pieces of jigsaw in the head together - and suddenly - ping! Everything falls into place.

Once she connected all the alphabets to their sounds, the rest was easy.  She learned to spell very soon after she learned to read.

For a child who's learning to read, there are many, many sites that have Reading Games.  Here's one that Puttachi played with for a while. It is simple enough for children to work on their own (do supervise, though,) and gives them a chance to explore their newly learned skills.  It's exciting since it is interactive.  But please beware - too much of it is bad.  Control, control.

5) One thing that a couple of people have asked me is - "Okay, fine, my child knows the phonic sounds and strings the sounds together - she strings the first half of the word, pauses, and goes on to the second half.  But by the time she strings together the second half of the word, she would have forgotten the first half - what to do?"
My answer - Patience.  It will come. Puttachi did that too, and as adults, it is totally incomprehensible to us - how can they forget something that they just said five seconds ago?  But remember, that little head is trying to juggle so many bits of information, trying to use a new skill and concentrating so hard!  Just give him a little more time and he'll do it himself.

One more thing.  If you are actively trying to teach your child the letters, or to read - or anything for that matter, let the child take the lead.  If she wants to explore further, then do it.  If he displays disinterestedness, stop immediately.  Don't push, not even a little bit.  The child will usually come back himself once he is ready, because they really love to learn new things.

But again, please remember that every child has its own pace, and please do not panic if one child has learned something early and yours hasn't.

If you have tips or suggestions about what worked with your child, do leave them in the comments. Any more questions?  I'll try and answer those too.

Edited to add:
Before Puttachi learned to recognize which letters make up a word, she used to split it into sounds - For example, Dog was duh-oh-guh.  Only much later did she graduate to D-O-G.

One more thing, in the very beginning, if she said K-A-T for Cat, I didn't correct her.  I don't know if what I did was right, but I felt that just when the child was learning something with great excitement, it will be wrong to ply her with the idiosyncrasies of English, and undermine her confidence.

A couple of weeks later, I would say something like, "Yeah K-A-T cat sounds correct, but you know the funny thing?  It is C-A-T Cat.  In English C has the "K" sound too, right?" And then we would laugh about how strange English is.  In a few days, she caught on and started asking me - "Amma, for Kangaroo, is it K or C?"
That way, she didn't lose confidence before she gained it.

Like I said, some might disagree with this approach, and I am open to listen if you want to tell me why! :)


Anonymous said...

Some or all the activities mentioned here might help the child to pick up the language. But, 'language' is NOT a taught phenomenon....we are biologically 'pre-wired' to acquire a language. All we need, as parents, to do is, just provide the appropriate 'linguistic' environment to the child, and child will pick up the language...reading and writing are secondary skills that have to be taught, and that has nothing to do with language...and, there is a mismatch between the sounds, and orthography, especially in English cut the long story short, just keep taking to your child in whatever language you want the child to acquire, rest is done by the child. And, the only thing you do is provide not give dictionary meanings because it is circular. Use words in context (this is where reading to the child help)...

Radhika said...

True Shruthi. Phonetic method is very useful. Most schools now a days are using it I guess. My daughter's teachers advised us not to teach English at home as it may confuse the child, if we teach differently than what is taught in school. We stuck to that. All kids in their school were able to read small books in their 2nd montessori (4 + years). One can checkout this too:

Anonymous said...

Teachers who say that the child will get 'confused' if it is taught differently at home and at school, or speak one language at home, and the child is taught in an another, especially European, language do not know what they are talking about....this is one of the 'language myths' perpetuated by those who have no or little knowledge on how a child acquires a language or languages....don't believe such misconceptions. Child has the ability to sort out impoverished input and develop a system of rules that makes the child generate fully developed language.....

Radhika said...

@Anonymous, you have a point. Also, it is no good to burden the child at home too when the child is learning well in the school. Unlike other schools, here teachers never insisted that we should speak in English at home rather they said speak in mother tongue at home and English anyways the kid learns in school.

Anonymous said...

Radhika, fyi...Montessori method of teaching is different from other methods. It focuses on child's 'cognitive development' and not the secondary language skills....cognitive development is crucial for logical thinking...which language child uses to express ideas coherently, logically (this is absolutely essential for all disciplines) is not important here. In this pedagogical method, language skills are not the primary focus of learning.....

Anonymous said...

The children's site 'Starfall' teaches the alphabets,phonics & reading.We live in the UK where children right from UKG are assigned 2 books weekly to read.The books are divided into various colour codes as per the childs reading ability.They start with the beginners 'Pink level' & progress all the way to the 10th colour level (which generally happens in Year 2 where they learn to mind read).The teachers advise that parents read out stories,look at the pics & ask questions.Such as ''How does Ben feel?What a lovely dress!What do you think happens next?''My daughter who is 5 years old 'raps' out large words like a song.Funny but effective!About the languages,the more languages they know the better.British children speak only English & they struggle with European languages.Most Indian children can speak at least 3 languages by the time they are 10 years.

Radhika said...

@Anonymous, well all this was done but in mother tongue :-) . Some parents might prefer to do so in English. As children have the ability to learn languages quite quickly, no thrust is required from the parents' end to teach English at home is my take. They would learn anyways in school.

Anonymous said...

Reading out loud, showing pictures, asking children questions, making them retell/recall the stories read, narrate events that happen on a daily basis (this is what Shruti does with her child) are all what is known as 'language behavior' activities. This is crucial for child's cognitive/academic development and helps them succeed in their academic life. These activities can be done in any language. And, proficiency in more than one language is proven to be cognitively an advantage...but, one has to make sure that children have competency (oral, aural, reading, writing) in both languages...otherwise, superficial bilingualism is detrimental for academic success...

Subh said...

You have written perfect but is also important that we provide 'linguistic' environment rather than books to the child, and child will pick up the language.

Shruthi said...

Anon and Radhika, thanks for your conversation :)

My take is that whatever is done is school, if the child shows an inclination to learn or know something at home, not to encourage and enlighten the child is unfair to the child! :)

Anon, I wish you would give your name, and do tell me how you happen to know so much about this subject!

Subh, that is true for learning a language. But in this post we are talking about learning how to string letters and words together and read. And for that, books are necessary.

Radhika said...

@Shruthi, my comments here(except for the first!) were replies to anon than on your post. Since the school used phonetic method to teach there was no need for us to teach at home other than getting her some books to read. It does make sense to teach phonetic method to kids if it's not done at school :-)

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