Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Working on Phonics

With reading such an integral part of our home culture, Katie has been expressing a desire to learn to read for the past couple of months. She very much wants to be able to read her own books and often laments that, right now, she cannot. It is time to build on that desire, and I find myself heading now into exciting but, for me, relatively unknown territories of teaching. Teaching the process of loving and analyzing literature is entirely different from teaching the process of reading at its fundamental level. So this is new curriculum for me. I have been looking at various resources, but most resources presume that the student is in first grade (or thereabouts) and therefore tap other skills that Katie does not yet have; few resources seem designed for 2.5-year-olds and their motor skills.

Bill and I are also firmly in the phonics camp (versus whole language, which was the trend for my brother's generation of students). So while there are a couple of programs being advertised on TV claiming that tots will be able to read after studying some high frequency word flashcards, we do not believe that this really teaches reading---which we define to be a process of using phonics and roots to decode new words. We need to build Katie's skills with the fundamentals.

Fortunately my elementary school, Friends Christian School in Yorba Linda, put me through a rigorous phnoics program. I still have all of my "reading group" books from kindergarten, and those are phonics-based. Those will be a useful resource eventually. I also remember vividly the use of flip-charts and drills. I cannot quite remember what we did in preschool, though. I think those were the days when there was still an expectation that four and five year olds came to school knowing basic things: alphabet, letter sounds, how to cut, etc. I know my parents must have taught me all of those skills. I wonder how they did it? Bill's current research online suggests that most pre-school and kindergarten programs are now expected to teach those skills---students are not presumed to enter school with those skills. I wonder if this is very much the case?

We are lucky that Katie has a desire to start young, that she has a natural curiosity to learn. We have also tried to surround her with books since birth. We have thousands of books among the three of us in the house, and she has always been allowed to touch them and look at them---even Mommy and Daddy's books. She wants to read the first thing when she wakes up, the last thing before bed, and several times in between during the day. She sees Bill reading quite frequently. Though she rarely sees me reading (because I read when she is asleep), I try to make it known to her that I am, in fact, an avid reader. I talk with her about my favorite books and show her what book I am in the middle of. We want to make books feel as fundamental to her life as air or water...And she certainly sees that modelled from both of us.

So the challenge before me right now is to start presenting a system to her that will help her to read as quickly as she wants to. There are a few words she recognizes "on sight" but it is time to be systematic about it.

We started an Alphabet Notebook this afternoon, and we are starting with the consonants first. Vowels can be tricky (so nuanced), so I think I will save them for a little later. So "B" is our first study. I made three pages of activities in a blank notebook: 1) I drew a big B and little b with hash marks for her to trace; 2) I drew several more smaller sets of Bb to trace; 3) I chose a handful of nouns starting with "b" and then we looked for those objects in some magazines and cut them out:

She traced the "b" at the start of each word with her pencil and we worked on practicing the sounds. We couldn't find a picture of a banana, so she drew one on her own. Not bad, eh? Then, next to the "blue" shoe, she wanted to draw a little blueberry.

The challenge for me is: what next? Bill suggested we could go on to "c" and everyday do a spiral review. I definitely think he is right about the spiral review technique, but I do think I want to spend one or two more days making "b" a highlight. Should our next page be a collage? We could paste on a button... color and cut out a butterfly? Find and cut out as many "b" letters as we can find in magazines? The trick is, she knows what the letter "b" is... and has since last year (1.5 years old). I need to figure out ways to make the sound of "b" stick in her mind forever (especially when contrasted with the letter "p" for example).

No kidding: teaching is pretty hard work. But it is very exciting work! It is hard and exciting because it is a process of constant experimentation, revision, and creation. If one idea isn't working, we have to think of something else. Hmmmm.

How to teach reading: that is my big project right now, for sure.

In other news, Eric's rug came yesterday! I finally found one from Pottery Barn Kids. Decorating for a boy is more of a challenge because so many stores want to attach certain stereotypical masculine motifs to boys (sports, transportation, space exploration, etc). I think many of these rooms may come out cute, and are fine for later---once a boy is older and decides for himself what his hobbies are. But we don't want Eric to feel like he has to like certain hobbies (especially highly gendered ones) right out of the womb---and this has been a particular philosophy of Bill's, with which I very much agree. We kept Katie's nursery fairly gender neutral, too (I initially did hers in blue and yellow and only after meeting her did I know I wanted to change it---and I had plans to change it even before we moved). We are making Eric's nursery green, blue, and red, but we're trying to use very classic designs. So finding a rug without a motif on it but those colors has been a bit of a search. I ordered it just a few days ago, and by yesterday it was already here! My mom came over and we rolled it out together. I really think it is perfect for what I have in mind, so I am excited!