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54: Preemptive Reading--Teach Your Child Early



Start before the schools can mess up your kid.
Around the age of three, four or five is fine.
Take your time. Have fun. 

These are the stages that most people
go through to learn to read English:

1) MEMORIZE THE ALPHABET. Blocks and toys that display the letters are good, as are posters for the wall. You can find many good videos about the Alphabet Song and the letters on YouTube (for example, see my “A-Z CAPITALS”). Use all the tricks to make sure your child can say the alphabet quickly and, in time, can identify any letter you point to. Start with capitals. (Learning to print or write the letters is a big plus.) 


2) ENJOY THE LANGUAGE. Encourage children to memorize nursery rhymes, knock-knock jokes, songs, and short poems. Chant them and sing them. Stress the rhymes or word play. Explain the main words. Act out the stories. Use only fun, popular material. For example, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is clever writing, a great song, and a great story.  


3) READ TOGETHER. Have the child sit beside you so you are both looking at the same thing. As you read, touch the words now and then. Indicate that English moves left to right, words have syllables, and sentences start with capitals, end with periods. Don’t expect a child to retain much of that initially. The main thing is to enjoy the story and share literary experiences.


4) LEARN THE SOUNDS.  The whole point of phonetic language is that a printed symbol (e.g., b) stands for a spoken sound (buh-). This is one of the greatest inventions in human history.

Explain to the child that many people have two names--a real name such as Robert and a more commonly used nickname such as Bob. Similarly, we know letters by what might be called their nicknames, A, B, C, which are short and easy to say. 


But the real names are the spoken sounds, which take longer to say. These are precisely what the child now needs to learn. This process is called sounding out: the child sees b and says buh-, d and says deh-, t and says tuh-. Start with the more common consonants. As to how you should pronounce the consonants, try this. Say any small word, for example, "bet." Drop the "et." Say what's left--that's the b-sound! Point is, the pronunciations are hard to show in print; but we know how to say the letters; and so do the kids.


Do not get sidetracked by details. It’s the concept (printed symbols = sounds) that the child needs to learn, not the details. Knowing this concept inoculates children against the worst ravages of Whole Word. 



5) REALIZE THERE ARE TWO ALPHABETS. Historically, when people had only sticks and chisels, it was easier to draw letters with straight lines; capital A consisted of three straight lines. All letters were capital letters. Later, when people developed more delicate pens and inks, they could write faster with cursive (“running”) letters which included a set of lowercase letters. (All this became what we now call handwriting.) Reading lowercase letters is easier; so now capitals are mainly used to indicate the start of a sentence, to show respect as in the names of people and cities, and for emphasis. Experts agree that writing helps reading. (Montessori taught writing first.) Cursive especially helps reading. Encourage your child to practice with family names.


 6) SOUND OUT SYLLABLES AND THEN WORDS. Children learn the sounds of the letters, then pairs of letters (e.g., ba-) and little by little start using this knowledge on the actual words in a story.

Many experts say a large percentage of children will eventually figure out how English works, and learn to read virtually on their own, often without knowing how they did it or what the so-called rules are. Remember that children, even at age of five, already have a huge vocabulary in their heads, words they use or recognize. Probably at least 5000 words. What happens in practice is that the child sounds out a syllable or two, and the mind clicks: “Oh, te-le-vision!”


One team of experts concluded: “It is absurdly easy to teach a child to read with the proper method. Most of the children in America could be taught in a few weeks or months at the age of five. We shall tell you about various schools, now functioning, where a problem reader is virtually unheard of." (Terman and Walcutt in “Reading: chaos and cure,” 1958). 

Many things commonly said about English are actually propaganda created by the anti-phonics crowd. These people like to dwell on the inconsistencies of English pronunciation. But your child is not a foreigner learning English as a new language; a foreigner doesn’t know one word of English and must deal with those inconsistencies. Most children learn to read without realizing there are any inconsistencies. (I did; probably you did. I graduated from college in English Literature and still don't know any phonics rules.) Children in first grade are said to know more than 10,000 words. Everything that could conceivably be in their school material would already be in their heads, so it’s really a matter of recognizing old acquaintances.


This article is, in effect, an informal phonics course. If you think your child will benefit from a formal phonics course, please see “42: Reading Resources” for a list of such courses. Most of them say that a short lesson a day for four months does the job. Sometimes, a slower reader or someone taught sight-words for a few years is the child who most needs a formal course.



7) HAVE FUN. Find reading material that ties in with the child’s hobbies and interests. Avoid literary pretension. It’s better if a child loves to read something, even comic books, than not to like reading anything. In reading, the vital thing is practice, practice and practice.


Terman and Walcutt suggested it might help some children if they read a book out loud, even two or three times. Pronouncing the words aloud consolidates the leap from printed symbols to spoken sounds. That’s what reading is, seeing the noisy sounds in silent symbols. Whole Word blocks this simple connection, and is thus a literacy-killer. 


FINAL WARNING. Phonics is the only way to go but some schools continue to use sight-words, Dolch words, etc. If a school sends home a list of sight-words to memorize, that’s a big danger signal. If a school talks about picture clues, guessing or reading from context, ditto. Consider a formal phonics course.  Note: analytic phonics and intrinsic phonics are deceptive gimmicks. Synthetic phonics--with no mention of sight-words--is optimal. 



BACKGROUND OF ARTICLE: Rudolf Flesch explained why Whole Word does not work in his famous 1955 book. Terman and Walcutt, mentioned above, made similar points in their 1958 book. A striking feature is that all three experts were optimistic that the schools would turn away from Whole Word and embrace phonics. In fact, the Education Establishment doubled down on all their bad ideas, and pretty well vanquished these three troublemakers. Alas.

The United States is now said to have 50 million functional illiterates. Most of this destruction can be attributed to Whole Word. There are a number of articles on this site explaining why Whole Word is obviously a hoax. The human brain simply can’t absorb more than a few thousand graphic designs; and even that number requires many years of hard work. During that time the child would not be literate and all of the child’s education would suffer.

But the main problem is that English is so vast--almost 1,000,000 words--and college students need at least 100,000 of those words. It's obvious that Whole Word has to be a dead-end. Once you start to push this thing into the schools, you’re guilty of a con and a crime.

Reading is the central skill; and the thing we must fix first. I realized that the most helpful thing I could do was to provide a very short article that would tell parents how they can take the job away from the schools and do it themselves. Even if the steps above are followed lightly and partially, the child is probably safe. The crucial thing is grasping that letters = sounds.

Keep in mind that in the early days of Whole Word, the alphabet wasn’t taught; sounds weren’t mentioned. Basically, the schools lied to the children about what a word is. The official doctrine was that a word is a graphic design. The child had to learn the graphic design without any reference to its built-in sounds. It’s totally bizarre. But the Education Establishment got away with it, and still pushes this most destructive of hoaxes.







If you are part of a group that gives books to poor families, please pass along a link to this article. Then the adults, if they can read at all, will be able to initiate the literacy process, and the children can start to read the books.


33: How To Help A Non-Reader To Read
40: Sight Words, Dolch Words--The Big Stupid 
42: Reading Resources
44: The Myth of Automaticity
(Most related)  61: Early Literacy Pack / ELP
Says same things but quicker-- 

"54: Preemptive Reading" 
is also the basis for a PDF booklet titled 
 See next section.