Natasha’s Path to Reading.

This began as a comment on Karen’s My Two Cents on Learning to Read, but quickly grew into a story, so I moved it here.

I find this topic interesting because my oldest (the only one truly reading yet) falls squarely between the “whole language” and “phonics” models.  (Jay proposed a theory on that, which I’ll get to in a minute.)

I bought the “Teach your child to Read” book when Natasha was almost 4, because she was expressing an interest in learning and I felt the method/approach made sense (certainly the research did).  Her first reading “lesson” was part of her birthday celebration.

Yes, I realize this could make us look like nerds.  I’m over it.

She tried to follow directions at first, but as soon as she saw there were “real” stories further back that she had to work up to, she lost interest in the early stuff.  We shortly gave up on formal reading lessons (she was only four, after all) and returned to our picture books and fairy tales.

She began asking me to keep my finger under the words (always disliked it as a distraction before), and soon had the 1-to-1 correlation down.

She memorized the look of words (a thing decried by some phonics proponents) recognizing them in new contexts and stories.

We got to phonics backwards from there: once she knew words we would sound them out and apply what she knew to a new word.  Homophones became a wonderful game.

At this stage “this is a dress” (to reference Karen’s post again) was quite enough, even preferred.  She wasn’t interested in the deep or why (how to get to the components and sounds) of the language, she wanted the *story*.

At some point Jay pointed out that she had been our prolific signer.  Owned at least 75 signs by the age of two.  She didn’t talk (much) until she was almost three, but then sky-rocketed.  The theory he proposed was that she was wired toward whole-concept.

I’ve seen this as I dink around with leaching her music: she has much more patience to repeat (say) a cord pattern that she can recognize as a song than in a drilling in fundamentals that will lead to meaning later on.

Yes, I’ve thought about the “solid foundation” approach, but for the age she is I think simple delight is all I care about.  Disciplined knuckling down (Jay and I agreed while they were babies) will wait until they are 8-years-old.

Thinking of these indicators, I’m very curious to see how Melody’s reading personality will develop.  She wasn’t interested in signing at all: more in babbling and being frustrated when no one understood her on her terms.  I finally insisted on a few basic signs until her speech was more intelligible.

Elisha was solidly between these two extremes, so we’ll get to test the correlation between signing and reading from several angles.

To return to the original idea, I would argue (based on the “all children are different” model), that “This is a dress” is perfectly adequate for a child who wants nothing more than to play princess.  When she matures enough to desire a *particular* dress she will learn This is a sleeve and  this is the left bodice.  Until that point those details are only a delay or distraction from her true purpose.

I will note again here that I am no longer in a hurry to see my little ones into chapter books.

Knowing how much age and available material can be out of alignment I feel no sense of urgency to move quickly.  And while I can see a tendency in Natasha to lean more toward visual than phonetic (she insisted hoppyness was happiness until I made her break down the word and pointed out the joke), she also has a very teachable spirit that I expect to balance anything that may be out of place.