Dick and Jane

(The image is Dick and Jane. I wanted to put an image of “One, Two, Three and Away“, which was the reading scheme they used at my school featuring Jennifer Yellow-hat and Roger Red-hat and so on, but didn’t have much luck finding these 😦 )

I have no recollection of learning to read – except that I would hang on the back of the sofa trying to learn from my older brother because he was going to school and having to learn whereas I was not going to school and denied learning. He wasn’t interested or ready, but had to do it, and I was absolutely desperate to learn, but “too young” to be allowed. Hmph.

Rather than enter into a discussion about the different ages at which children are ready to start learning different things like reading and such, however, I just wanted to say that I don’t remember how I learned to read. There was no jolly phonics, I don’t remember having flashcards. I think I have always assumed that we just read books with parents / teachers and kind of picked it up. (I will ask my mum. Watch this space…)

So it’s amazing for me to see Ariel learning to read.

For quite some time, many months, she has been interested in letters – although for some reason she calls them “numbers” – and has been able to recognise her own initial, and mine, and one or two other letters.

Over the last couple of months she has been constantly asking me to write things down for her, to write specific words or letters, or to tell her what letters are that she sees in books or on signs. Some days it can take us 20 minutes to walk 100 yards down the street because we have to stop at almost every sign and identify each letter.

She now knows most letters on sight and once she is warmed up she can identify almost all of them by herself. She will even see shapes and identify them as letters – for example if she sees a waxing crescent or half moon she will point and say Look, the moon is D for Dolly or she will see line markings on the ground in a car park and recognise them as T for [Tamsin*] or I for Ice-cream.

So for the last few weeks I have from time to time been spelling out words for her, not in any expectation that she would “get it” but just because she is so interested in letters and it seemed like the natural next step. We might draw a picture of a cat, and she might ask me to write CAT and as I do it I will say something like C for Cat, A for Asda, T for [Tamsin*], C-A-T makes CAT. Or she might point to a word and ask what it says and I will say something like T for [Tamsin*], R for Rabbit, A and I together makes an AI sound, then N for [Nima*], T-R-AI-N makes TRAIN. Mostly she will then look at me wisely, which usually means that she thinks I am completely barking and am having her on in some way.

(* Not her friends’ real names.)

And today she picked up the DVD case for a film she wanted to watch and said H-O-what’s that? (C for Cat) H-O-C-what’s that? (U for Umbrella) H-O-C-U-S, P-O-C-what’s that? (U for Umbrella again) U for Umbrella, S – what does that make, Mummy?

This is breathtaking. For the first time ever she is consciously sounding out the letters for herself, knowing that together they make a word and that she can maybe figure out what the word is if she sounds out the letters. It’s also pretty impressive in that usually when she identifies a letter she wants to know what it is for. On another day, she wouldn’t have said H-O-C etc but H for House, O for Orange, C for Cat etc.

It’s completely thrilling to see Ariel learning to read. She has loved books ever since she knew what they were. She loves stories of any kind, she likes being read to, and she will “read” independently as well. She looks at the pictures and, if it is a story she knows well, she will recite what she remembers of the words (often, a surprising lot); if she doesn’t know the words, she makes them up. Now, although she still obviously has a long way to go, for the first time I can really see into the future, to a day when she will be able to get the whole rich experience of books that independent reading enables, something that I myself have loved for as long as I can remember.

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Happy as I am to know that Ariel is getting appreciably nearer to reaching out for the gift of reading, excited as I am at the whole process, there is a little lump and this is where I want to get just a little bit preachy.

Reading is a gift – the most magical gift any child can have, that any person can have, and there are so many people in the world who do not have it: indeed, there are so many people in the world whose lives are so difficult that the fact that they cannot read may well be the least of their worries. We, yes and I mean all of you who have access to a computer and can read this blog post, are so astonishingly privileged it’s hard to fathom.

So here’s what you can do to help ease the lump, as we approach the orgy of self indulgence and waste that is a western Christmas… If you can afford to buy Christmas presents this year, then you can afford to buy them for people who have nothing rather than people who have just about everything.

Here are some suggestions:

Frankly, it’s the least you can do, right? Aunty Mabel will probably be just as thrilled and/or just as indifferent to think of a child learning to read with her Christmas money as she would have been with yet another box of chocolates, bottle of smelly stuff, or whatever it is you usually get people when you can’t think of anything particular that they want. Can you spare a fiver out of your Christmas budget, to help build a classroom? Please?

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