Sunday, February 24, 2008

Preparing for Literacy

I am so excited I feel a victory lap coming on! This is the last post about Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds. Plus, I have finished half of my first presentation for the Charlotte Mason Conference from June 11-14, 2008. Boiling Springs or bust! Be there or be square!

I prepared my children for literacy without even thinking about it or trying. My children saw my husband and I reading, typing on the computer, writing Christmas cards, etc. I took a label maker and made labels for everything in Pamela's room. I did not actively teach her to read them but thought it educational to have them there. We always had plenty of books in the house for adults and children, supplemented by trips to the library. I read aloud picture books to the children before bedtime. Both of them taught themselves to sight read in very different ways!

Pamela has always loved videos. We put them up in the closet so that she would have to tell us which one she wanted. That caused major tantrums sometimes, but she did pick up words that way. In fact, she picked up sight words that way, unbeknownst to me. One day, when she was five years old, I noticed her matching video cassettes to video cassette boxes. What surprised me was that she could match the right video to the right box, even if the video cassette featured only words. So, I wrote down the names of different video titles on a piece of paper and she read them to me! This was my very language-deficient, autistic child reading, and I did not lift a finger.

When David was two years old, we bought him a wooden alphabet puzzle for Christmas. He taught himself his alphabet by holding up a piece and asking, "Wha' dis?" I began homeschooling Pamela when David was three-years old. Since he was so young and wiggly and active, I let him be a la masterly inactivity and focused my efforts on Pamela. Again, unbeknownst to me, while I was working with Pamela, he sometimes stayed busy typing Dr. Seuss books into computer software that highlighted each word and read it aloud. By the time he turned four, he was reading simple picture books, and I did not lift a finger.

So, when I read the following quote by Laura Berk, my response was, "Well, DUH!"
Children can become competent readers and writers without being trained, pushed, or goaded into literacy learning in early childhood . . . Young children are enthusiastic and self-confident about learning and who achieve at their best in the early grades have acquired literacy-relevant knowledge informally--through exposure to books and other reading materials at home, in preschoool, and in child-care environments; through observing adults reading and writing in everyday life; and especially through narrative conversation (page 62).
Here are three points Charlotte Mason made about emerging literacy that dovetail nicely:
  • "Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education, although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour" (Page 199).
  • "But, as a matter of fact, few of us can recollect how or when we learned to read: for all we know, it came by nature, like the art of running; and not only so, but often mothers of the educated classes do not know how their children learned to read. 'Oh, he taught himself,' is all the account his mother can give of little Dick's proficiency" (Page 200).
  • "Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated. When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him" (Page 201-202).
Clearly, children do reach an age in which educators will begin reading instruction for those who have not already picked it up. Charlotte Mason recommends not earlier than six years old. However, drilling very young children who are not in the zone for literacy destroys interest in reading.

I have found many parallels between the writings of Laura Berk and Charlotte Mason, but the section on dialogic reading with preschool- and Kindergarten-aged children contains major differences! Laura recommends that the adult select picture books with limited text to allow the child to become the storyteller. Charlotte Mason did not require any narrations of a child that young but listened to any freely offered. She preferred literature with "tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other langs and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales" (page 152). Laura believes that "adult behavior--warmth, dramatic quality, and attempts to get the child to participate actively" (page 63) fosters attention, while Charlotte believed that living books read in short lessons captured attention. In fact, she warned against the "dangers of personal magnetism" in a Kindergarten teacher:
No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no not even that of Nature herself, can get at the childeren without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part (page 188).
On which side of the issue do I fall? I end up doing both, based upon my objectives. When Pamela reads living books for the purpose of comprehension, learning, and narration, I go with a Charlotte Mason perspective, "We narrate, and then we know." However, when we are working on our relationship objectives or the association method for her language issues, we follow the dialogic reading described by Laura Berk.


JamBerry said...

Fascinating. Mom & I both remember how I learned to read. She'd read to me, and *I* would have her run her finger under the words as she read. Then I'd repeat what she said. She didn't teach me. She just humored me. And so I learned to read. The only 2 kids in my first grade class who could read on the first day of school were me and the only other kid in class that didn't go to kindergarten! Gee, go figure! :)

Betsy Brock said...

Hi! Thanks for commnenting on my blog. It's nice to meet you! Your Pamela is facinating! Reading about her matching the videos to the boxes when there were only words.....oh my, that brought back memories! My triplets did that, too, at a very young age. They are non verbal, but can type, read and are beginning to loose that "noodle hand" so their writing has improved. I'll check back with you often. Thank you!

Bonnie said...

I have to say I'm a bit of both as well. Sometimes I have to dramatize for G to understand, especially when it comes to emotions. Reading comprehension is such a struggle with history now because he doesn't understand the motives behind actions. I don't like our history cur. Next year I’m changing, I'm on the lookout for something else.