I have often been asked this and variations of, ‘When will he learn to write?’ or ‘When are you going to show him how to read?’ There is plenty of research, from my dyslexia work, about what the brain does for literacy. I have met several 2.5-3 year olds who sight- read almost everything: road signs, people’s names, station names; they have never been taught. I am now trying very hard to remember when I started to read.- Since I barely spoke or understood any English until I was about 6-7 years old, I am assuming that nobody tried to teach me how to read something I didn’t understand. And when I’ve asked around, it seems very few of us remember how we came about beginning to read and write. Many of our parents don’t seem to remember the details of any of this when we try to milk them for it. But somehow, a lot of us did come to read and write, and a great number of those, as I observe sitting on a train right now, enjoy reading and writing.
Montessorian’s take on it is very uncomplicated. The adult’s role is in preparing a child to read, directly and indirectly, physically and intellectually. It is important to believe that the child innately wants to acquire literacy for its function in community and society life, and because it is a uniquely human invention and experience, and to have faith that the development of this wonderful skill can be easy and enjoyable. That, accompanied by a giant dose of patience and calm in the storm of leap frog literacy games and little Einstein videos, will ensure it’s all just a walk in the park.
For the unprepared child, one of the most tedious task of literacy is letter formation and handwriting. So prepare the hand for writing and support your child with activities which exercises his hands naturally. No, not this:
Indirect Physical Preparation
Daily life activities which encourage the child to make efforts to control and exert whole body, hand and arm strength such as:
– Carrying objects of real weight, like a tray of things for tea, a stack of books
– polishing silver crockery at home with a piece of cotton wool held with a pincer grip
The thumb, forefinger, middle finger and the wrist are especially important for handwriting.
Direct Physical Preparation
– stencils and tracing activities
– in a straight line (not yet on a line)
Copying words is a particularly challenging task which can be introduced when he can write single letters in a straight line.
Speaking and listening experience should be plentiful before making attempts at introducing literacy skills directly. Introduce your child to a variety of literature and purposes of language and literacy, from reading stories, newspapers to milk cartons and old letters in your family. Using interesting and varied vocabulary in your own communication and listening to him when he speaks.
Recognising the appearance of words often happens first and then exposure to the system of writing allows the individual to slowly realise there are rules and regulations such as the fact that letters have sounds accompanying them (i.e. phonics). It is possible to support this at home with activities for visual and sequential memory, as well as playing sound games.
– Start with something obvious eg. Touch your hair and say, ‘I am thinking of something on my head that starts with /h/. Can you guess what it is?’ (hair)
– Widen the options and say, ‘There is a colour I am wearing that starts with the sound /b/,’ or ‘Can you find a colour on you that starts with /p/?’
These are called initial or beginning sounds. There are also ending sounds and few more. For example, the end sound of ‘June’ is /n/ and not /e/.
By visual and sequential memory, I am relating it to how a word looks and the order of the letters that form it. These are vital skills that a fluent reader and confident speller have. Memory, like everything else, needs exercising to work well. A day-to-day way of facilitating that can be:
– cooking or baking with your child and asking him if he can try and remember some of the ingredients you need to buy for a dish then go to the shop and let him put it to use!
– When he becomes accustomed to making an effort at remembering something, then throw in the sequence challenge and see if he can remember a simple recipe and let him tell you what to do! It’s a good idea to ‘accidentally’ leave a pictorial recipe around so he can have the option self checking and self-correcting.
These are just a few DIY ideas to consider. Reading and writing is one of many human means of self-expression and our attempts to understand another mind. Every prepared human being, including very young children, appreciates the value of written communication skills, and wishes to master it. The best time for your child to be introduced directly to letters and words is when they are well- prepared. Then the experience will be easy. Your child will enjoy it and voluntarily practise it and progress will be observed very quickly. You wouldn’t run a marathon without sufficient training. If you do, you would either hurt yourself, not do very well or not complete it. It wouldn’t make you feel very good and you probably wouldn’t do it again. But if you do prepare yourself, set realistic targets and improve your stamina, strength and time gradually, it can be a rewarding and satisfying experience.
I have never observed a child who complained of tired hands for drawing too much, from carrying the heaviest box or from pouring out water. Younger siblings demand to be shown how to write when they observe their older siblings do so. Children are not afraid of challenges and they often have very keen awareness of their own limits. Prepare your child and follow their lead in this journey. When he seems really interested and ready for direct introduction to letter-sounds and words, be prepared to re-introduce several times before he takes it on. Most importantly, find your own love for words.- That, he will absorb effortlessly.