Some helpful hints for parents from a veteran educator
One of the most frequently asked questions in early childhood and elementary classrooms is “When will my child learn to read?” I wish I had a single answer. Hundreds of books and research studies have been written on the topic. Ultimately, reading remains a mysterious and magical phenomenon. There are no secret formulas to make a young child read. Some children put everything together so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to see how they do it! Other children need guidance and months of skill building before they unlock the process.
Research has proven that literacy begins in infancy and continues to grow and develop in early childhood. We know conclusively that opportunities to “play” are critical to literacy development. Print-rich environments, both at home and school, inspire children to explore pictures and words.
At St. Luke’s Episcopal School, we have long employed the Spalding method of language arts instruction to teach children reading, spelling and writing. This method is child-centered and sets high expectations for all learners. Students are taught 45 speech sounds that are represented by 70 symbols, called phonograms. Consistent oral and written reviews require students to actively engage in learning. St. Luke’s early childhood teachers and learning specialists introduce Spalding to our youngest students in prekindergarten 3. Continuing in PK4, students are exposed to the sounds and formation of the first phonograms, with the goal of mastering the single sound phonograms. During this time beginning handwriting skills are also emphasized. Students are exposed to all 70 phonograms in kindergarten and are expected to master the first 26. In first grade, students are expected to master all 70 phonograms and apply them in spelling, reading and writing. This method allows teachers to continually monitor student progress and adjust individual instruction to meet specific needs.
Many parents try to reinforce the Spalding method by using the phonogram app or purchasing flashcards. We strongly advise parents to allow our certified Spalding teachers to reinforce this method during daily classroom instruction. At home, parents are encouraged to reinforce skills in the following ways:
Read to your child!
Research has proven that children who are read to discover that printed words have meaning quicker than their peers. The more children are read to, the more they become intrigued to understand the printed page.
Select books that are predictable.
Look for books with large print and large spaces between words. Find stories with one or two lines of print per page. Illustrations should provide clues and support the story. Find books with repeating phrases and familiar experiences, so that children can relate to the story. Ask teachers and librarians for book recommendations.
Illustrations provide context.
Pictures give the reader important clues. Encourage your child to study the pictures. This is one of the first ways children use printed text. Refer to illustrations to help your reader get the beginning sound of the word.
Memorizing text is important.
Memorizing is an integral part of the process. Beginning readers match their speech to the printed words in a familiar pattern.
Track the text.
Emerging readers are encouraged to use a finger to follow words. This helps them focus on the text and reinforces the left to right concept. The reader can focus on predictable lines and notice parts of words or known vocabulary.
Some words are recognized by sight.
We all know that some English words are difficult to decode. The Spalding method allows students to decode any English word, no matter how difficult. Some words become more recognizable, and students remember them by sight.
Teachers have key phrases they routinely use when helping students learn to read. Try using these expressions at home with your child.
- “Get the word started.” Readers will focus on the initial sound of a word. If they just get the word started, context and picture clues can help pull the word together.
- “Stretch it out.” Children must see that words are connected sounds made of letters. When encouraged to stretch the first few letters, the word will come to them.
- “Does that make sense?” If your child reads something incorrectly, or it doesn’t make sense, redirect them to go back and check it. Using context allows children to check what they are reading. Once kids see the necessity of doing this, they will begin to self-check.
The ultimate answer to this essential question is that your child will learn to read on a truly individual timeline. At St. Luke’s, we are committed to establishing fundamental skills that lead children to a lifelong engagement with literature and encourage them to become confident readers, writers and speakers.