Tag Archives: learning to read

reading magic - read, talk, play, laugh, have fun

A sprinkle of this, a pinch of that, and poof! It’s reading — magic!

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

My children were early readers. Both began reading real books well before their fourth birthdays. Of course, the timing, whether early or late, matters little now that they are adults. What matters is that they are readers who read competently and confidently for a range of purposes including for information and pleasure. They are readers by choice as well as purpose.

The ability to read is something that most of us take for granted. Many have no recollection of learning to read, only of being able to do so all of a sudden, as if we just could, by magic.

But, as with any spell, there are certain essential ingredients that make the magic happen and others that inhibit the process. Creating readers of choice and not just purpose is the real magic. Creating non-readers is the effect of a spell in reverse, of a bad mix of ingredients, that sadly occurs all too often.

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

My children were readers of choice long before they could read anything for themselves. I wouldn’t say I set out to “teach” them to read. In fact, I didn’t at all. I set out to encourage in them a love of books and writing. Their learning to read was a by-product of sharing the love of words, language and reading.

The magic ingredients for developing readers:

  • Talk
  • Play
  • Read
  • Write
  • Love
  • Fun

I loved having time with my children. Being with them, watching them grow and develop was special, the best and most magical of days. They taught me as much or more about love, life and learning as they learned from me.

Talk

From their earliest days I talked to them, explained things to them — what was happening, what we were doing, and how things worked. I pointed things out and told them what it was called, what it was doing, what it was used for, or how it worked. When we were out and about, I’d point out signs and explain how I knew to stop or where to go. I avoided “baby” talk and always used appropriate everyday language.

Play

We played and had fun together, using our imaginations to create our own games. Sometimes we played simple board games and completed jigsaw puzzles. Whatever we played, talk always accompanied it.

Nor and Bec reading the family book

Reading to Bec at about 12 months old.

Read

I read to them, every day, not just one but many books. As I read, we discussed details in the illustrations and made predictions about the stories, sharing our thoughts. If a word was presented in a large or colourful font, I’d point to it as I read it. We’d laugh at the funny stories and cry at the sad and discuss all the story events. When they could read, they’d read to me, and we took turns reading together until they were early teens.

Write

When they first started to talk, I made books with pictures and words from their growing vocabulary. I labelled items in their rooms; for example, bed, shelf, window, door.

I made books about things we did with photographs and text. A book about our family made for my daughter’s first birthday was one of the favourites when cousins came to visit too.

The environment

I provided my children with an environment rich in language, books and opportunities for thinking. I’d read and write with them and to them, and they’d see me reading and writing for myself as well.

When son Rob was little, I didn’t yet know what I now know about the development of language, reading, and thinking. He taught me much that was later confirmed by my studies.

Rob reading to his toys at age two

Rob, aged two, reading to some of his toys.

When he was only two, Rob would line up his toys on the couch, sit in the middle, and “read” to them. He would almost recite the stories from beginning to end. He already knew that the words in a book remain the same each time they are read — an important concept for beginning readers to grasp. When he was only three, he’d jump into bed beside me in the early morning after Hub had gone to work, prise my eyes open, and read to me! Magic!

Daughter Bec was born twelve years after Rob. Meanwhile, I had returned to college and studied the development of reading and language. I was amazed to find that we had unwittingly created the essential mix of ingredients for his learning to occur

Naturally, armed with experience as well as understanding, I did things pretty much the same for Bec — talking, reading, writing, playing, having fun and enjoying time together.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

When she was five, Bec was invited to participate in a study of children who learned to read before starting school. Of the children (maybe half a dozen) involved in the study, Bec was the only one the researcher considered to be really reading. She was reading fluently, with comprehension and at a higher level than the other children.

Some of the children were able to recognise isolated words, but not read them in continuous text. Others had been taught letters and sounds using flashcards and stopped to ‘sound’ out every word. They hadn’t become real readers.

Bec was not subjected to reading “lessons” as the other children had been. She was immersed in an environment that encouraged a love of learning, language and literacy.  The other parents had a need for their children to read as if their value as parents depended on it.

While I had an expectation that Bec would read, I was confident that she would come to it in her own time. My credibility as a parent was not tied to her ability. Having said that, both children (adults) are now very successful in their chosen fields, so I must have done something right. Or perhaps we were just lucky that we chanced upon the magic mix of ingredients.

I do wish that all parents would include a sprinkle of language and a pinch of reading mixed with love and fun into their children’s lives every day. It would contribute greatly toward eradicating illiteracy.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills: magic

What got me thinking about reading, and magic in particular, is the challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic. It can be a supernatural force, a moment or idea, or use it as a verb. Go where the prompt leads.

The ability to be transported into other realms is pure magic. The ability to share this magic with others is bliss.

Mem Fox has more to say about that in her lovely book for parents Reading Magica book I always include when selecting gifts for first-time parents.

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Here is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it.

A Sprinkle of This and a Pinch of That

“Whatcha doin?”

“Makin’ a spell.”

“What sorta spell?”

“A magic spell.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure.”

“Whadda I do?”

“Put stuff in the pot.”

“What sorta stuff?”

“Gotta read the recipe.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ya gotta read it.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll help. Look, it says …”

Mum stopped at the door to the kitchen. “Wha— What are you doing?”

“Nothin’,” mumbled the older.

“Makin’ magic spells,” grinned the younger, covered in flour from head to toe.

“What sort of magic spell?” asked Mum, wishing for her own magic spell.

“Take us to outa space.”

“Can I come too?”

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Listen to the sounds

Charli's picture

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about sound, and has challenged writers to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound. It can be an onomatopoeia, a swearing session with sound alike substitutes, lyrical prose or a description of a sound. Go where you hear the prompt calling.

I thought it was quite timely for me as I had just written a piece about audiobooks. However, I have decided to keep that for posting another day and have instead decided to look at picture books. Regular readers may not be surprised.

Picture books are often a child’s first introduction to stories, poems, fantasy and other worlds. The language of picture books is immensely important and must captivate the ear as the illustrations engage the eye. Through picture books children are learning the sounds of the language: its rhythms and intonations; its accents and pronunciations; its beauty and its meaning.

Many picture books are written in rhythmic, rhyming language and we are quick to note when the timing is a little off or the rhyme not quite right. Successful picture book authors write and rewrite until they get the sound of the language just right for a read aloud experience. Though the words may be few, the task may be difficult. Children, their parents, and teachers are a discerning audience.

As onomatopoeia (a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes) features in many children’s songs and picture books, it is the focus of this post.

Old MacDonald had a Farm

Animal sounds, familiar through songs such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm, frequently occur in picture books, including Hattie and the Fox and Fancy That!

Hattie and the Fox

Fancy That

The sounds of machines are also popular. Some of you may recall the song about The Marvellous Toy that “went zip when it moved, and bop when it stopped, and whirr when it stood still.”

the Train to Timbuctu

The repetitive rhythmic sound of a train’s motion is frequently portrayed, as in The Train to Timbuctu that went

Timbuctu rhyme

the Little Engine that Could

and The Little Engine that Could with its

“I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can.”

followed by

“I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”

A great demonstration of a growth mindset.

Bertie and the Bear

There are also the sounds of musical instruments as in Bertie and the Bear.

An Old Witch Song

There are the sounds associated with actions, like the swish of the broomstick and the plop of the hop toad in Old Old Witch;

Going on a bear hunt

and those from Going on a Bear Hunt with its swishy swashy of moving through grass, splash splosh of wading through water, and squelch squelch of walking in mud.

Night Noises

Some stories introduce a variety of onomatopoeic words. Night Noises, about a surprise party for Lillie Laceby who was nearly ninety, includes the click clack of car doors opening and closing, the crinch crunch of feet tip-toeing on a garden path, the murmur and mutter of voices whispering, the creak crack of knees, and the snick snack of bolts on the door.

Possum goes to school

When there’s a Possum in the House or Possum Goes to School, there is nothing but trouble, with possum making a mess at every opportunity.

At home, in the pantry the cornflakes go crunch crunch, in the kitchen the saucepans go clatter clatter, and in the study the pages go rustle rustle. Each time the possum’s whereabouts is discovered, it goes screech screech and runs off to another room to create yet more mess.

The same occurs at school with paints going drip drip in the art room, claws going scratch scratch in the staff room, and the goldfish going splash splash in the science room.

Burping Baby

Then of course, there are also the body noises that children seem to take delight in, like those from Burping Baby.

I recently discovered Lauri Fortino’s Frog on a [B]log, a blog celebrating picture books. Lauri has a delightful picture book of her own The Peddler’s Bed, illustrated by Bong Redila. Lauri recently shared a reading of the story on her blog. Since we are talking about sounds, if you have a few spare minutes, pop over and have a listen.  You will also find an example of onomatopoeia in her story with the repetition of squeak squeak squeak.

Onomatopoeic words are often presented in fonts of different size or colour, or even different type. Children are fascinated by them, pointing to, asking about, maybe even recognising them, long before they are able to recognise any other words. You can help to get them started by pointing to the words and inviting them to join in the hullabaloo. What a great introduction to the world of reading.

Now that I have reminded you of these types of onomatopoeia and provided you with these wonderful examples, I wonder what I was thinking. How can I match them in my flash? I need a flash of inspiration, or maybe a flash of lightning to begin my story about a mother and child hurrying to make it home before the storm hits. I hope you enjoy it.

The eye of the storm

“Storm’s coming!”

Pit pitter-patter Pat pitter-patter hasten four feet.

Lightning and thunder boom down the street.

“H-h-h-hurry.” Mum urges. “Home – nearly there.”

Pit scuffle-scuffle Pat scuffle-scuffle “Straight up the stair.”

Clink-chink-fumble-fumble “No need to knock.”

Scritch-scratch “I’ve managed – the key’s in the lock.”

Whoosh! chortles wind, as it rushes inside.

Damn! cusses chair chucked onto its side.

P-u-sh!  The door bangs! Avoid pellets of ice

Smashing and tumbling like millions of dice.

Rat-a-tat raindrops, another crash-boom!

Shuffle and scurry. “Straight to the safe room.”

Huddled together, hardly daring to breathe,

Listening and waiting for the monster to leave.

Then sudden quiet, the child whispers hope

“Is it all over?” Mum answers, “Nope.”

 

The first fifteen lines meet Charli’s 99 work criteria. I added the last two because I was thinking of the eye of a storm that brings a quiet calm but not the end of the storm –  there’s still more to come. I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Formal Schooling and the Death of Literacy

Paul Thomas in this post describes the literate home environment of his early childhood days, an environment that created his advantage, his privilege in becoming literate.
He also describes the tedium of school days that had to be endured rather than enjoyed, and decries the cult of measuring and labeling texts and students that “murders literacy among our students“.
He goes on to say that “The very best and most effective literacy instruction requires no textbooks, no programs, and no punitive reading policies.
Literacy is an ever-evolving human facility; it grows from reading, being read to, and writing—all by choice, with passion, and in the presence of others more dexterous than you are.
I couldn’t agree more.
If you enjoy this post by Paul, check out this follow-up post Everyone Learns to Read by Direct Instruction on his blog the becoming radical. You may find many other posts of interest as well.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

radical eyes for equity

My privilege is easily identified in my being white and male, but it is the story of my life that better reveals my enormous privilege established by my mother when I was a child.

I entered formal schooling with such a relatively high level of literacy and numeracy that from those first days I was labeled “smart”—a misnomer for that privilege.

From Green Eggs and Ham to Hop on Pop, from canasta to spades, from Chinese checkers to Scrabble—games with my mother and often my father were my schooling until I entered first grade. And none of that ever seemed to be a chore, and none of that involved worksheets, reading levels, or tests.

Formal schooling was always easy for me because of those roots, but formal schooling was also often tedious and so much that had to be tolerated to do the things I truly enjoyed—such as collecting, reading…

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