Friday, January 20, 2006

Oh, oh! Look, look! Phonics works!

This was originally posted on my parenting board in 2004 and published in the church newsletter.

See Dick go.
See Jane go.
Go, go, go.

Not all that inspiring, is it? I'll tell you what, it sure is when it's your own kid reading it, one careful sound at a time. Mary has been able to say the alphabet since age two, name all the letters on sight since three, and give all the sounds of the letters (including a few long and short vowel sounds) since preschool at age four. We have been trying most of this time to help her learn how to put sounds together, but it wasn't clicking. She would look at the word BAT and say, "Buh, aa, tuh. Buh, aa, tuh. Buh-aa-tuh. ...Bird?" It just wasn't working. We got this whole little reading system with ten books that use carefully graded lessons to teach reading, and tried it several different times, but she always got too frustrated because she couldn't figure out how to connect sounds.

Well, a few nights ago I could hear Michael reading to her and I could tell Peter was getting in their hair, so I had Petey come upstairs with me. After about 20 minutes, Mary came running upstairs saying, "Mom, I can READ!" I thought, "Oh, sure." Sorry, I know that doesn't sound very nice, but she has been known to memorize books and inform people that she could read, so I was skeptical. Well, we sat down together and with plenty of help she sounded out all the words to a chapter of a Dick and Jane book. She was so excited about it that we did the next chapter too, and tonight we read about Spot and Puff. I was so very proud of her!

What really made me laugh (somewhat ruefully, I'll admit) was that when she finally put it all together, it wasn't with our fancy-dancy reading system, or even with a nice politically correct modern book with carefully planned introduction of sounds and no history of controversy over sexism, racism, or gender stereotypes. It was with a scrungy old copy of We Come and Go (written in 1940) that my parents gave us because they couldn't stand to throw it out. The cover fell off long ago and the pages are stapled together, and it looks pretty ratty, but apparently the magic is still there.

Sure, it's boring. The words are short and they say them fourteen times in a row. But when it's your daughter reading them and laughing for sheer joy to hear herself's great literature.


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