Friday, 18 May 2012

Reading Post 2 of 7: Charlotte Mason Reading: Stage 2, Word-Building (part 1 of 2)

WOW!  I had no idea that my post on Charlotte Mason & learning to read & write would be so popular!  I’m glad it was helpful to so many of you.  Because of its popularity, I decided to start right away on the second post in this series.  

All quotes in this post are from Charlotte Mason Homeschool Series Volume 1, pages 202-204.  If you would like to read the few pages in their entirety, please click here.  Scroll down to “Word-Making” and read through “Early Spelling.”  

STAGE 2:  Word-Making (PART 1!)

When:  Upon completion of Stage 1 (learning ABCs & more - see post here for all this entails).  Charlotte Mason still considered this to be “informal” enough to take place prior to age 6 if the child is ready.  

How:  Still a game.  
-  “The first exercises in the making of words will be just as pleasant to the child. Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the powers of the letters...”

What:  Games with short words, not sentences.  (see below)
-  “Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the powers of the letters, will be better to begin with than actual sentences.”

Is This Reading?  No.  
-  "This is not reading, but is preparing the ground for reading; words will be no longer unfamiliar, perplexing objects, when the child meets with them in a line of print."

STEP 1:  Short Vowel Word-making.

GOAL:  “The Child... will master the short-vowel sounds with initial and final consonants without effort.”

REMINDER:  “Do not hurry him.”

1.  “Take up two of his letters and make the syllable 'at': tell him it is the word we use when we say 'at home,' 'at school.' Then put b to 'at'–– bat; c to 'at'––cat; fat, hat, mat, sat, rat, and so on.”  (Note:  YOU place the consonants at the beginning (or the child does as you hand them to him, but the CHILD says the new word.)
2.  “First, let the child say what the word becomes with each initial consonant to 'at,' in order to make hat, pat, cat.
-  Note:  Don’t use words your child won’t recognize:  “Let the syllables all be actual words which he knows.”
3.  “Set the words in a row, and let him read them off.”  Here a blackboard might be helpful.  

-  “Do this with the short vowel sounds in combination with each of the consonants”
-  Here is my Short/Long Vowel Combination Spreadsheet for you to download for free of all the different short vowel combinations I could come up with (now finished!).  You probably won’t have to teach all of them; just enough to “get it” thoroughly.  Some children are able to combine the letter sounds surprisingly quickly; others need more time.  

-  Definitely use tactile letters for your word building lessons.  I like fridge magnets (see next comment), but you could also use sandpaper letters, bananagram tiles or scrabble tiles.  At one point I made cursive letters with puffy paint on 3-inch cardboard squares, which worked well.  (Although I don’t think I’ll use cursive again this early - more on that in a later post).
-  I recommend using lower case letters at this point, unless you’re making a name.  
-  I like to use Leap Frog’s Word Whammer at this stage.  It lets the child make 3 letter words while they play with their refrigerator magnets.  However, it is not a replacement for one-on-one time.

-  The AIR WRITING that was helpful in visualizing letters when the child was learning them (see previous post) continues to be a useful tool in learning how to visualize words.  So I suggest including this in your short vowel sound games until your child is ready to close his eyes and visualize (see below).  
-  Instead of using physical letter tiles, you can have your child write a 3-letter word in the air.  (To connect the phonetic sound to the visualization, sometimes have the child say the phonetic sound of each letter while he writes it in the air, rather than the letter names  .)  Then, have your child “erase” the first letter, and tell your child a different letter to air write in its place.  Have your child “read” what he’s visualizing in his mind’s eye.  
-  Make sure to read my previous post, since it includes details on beginning “handwriting.”  

-  When your child has mastered visualization using air writing, move on to merely having him or her shut his eyes and read the 3-letter word back to you from what he sees “in his mind’s eye.”  
-  “Early Spelling.––Accustom him from the first to shut his eyes and spell the word he has made. This is important. Reading is not spelling, nor is it necessary to spell in order to read well; but the good speller is the child whose eye is quick enough to take in the letters which compose it, in the act of reading off a word, and this is a habit to be acquired from the first: accustom him to see the letters in the word, and he will do without effort.”
-  Note that this visualization is an important component of learning to spell!  If you are consistent with this, your child will master much spelling along side of learning to read.  
-  Note:  Please do not confuse Charlotte Mason’s emphasis on visualization with “whole word” learning to read.  Because you are laying a solid phonics background, and emphasizing phonetic sounds at the same time as visualization, this method should not cause the same problems which plain old “whole word” memorization as implemented in many public school settings has caused.  
**If your child is still struggling with learning to visualize words even after using air writing with word families, please pick up a copy of Nanci Bell's Seeing Stars.  It's expensive, but could provide invaluable insight into using air writing to more specifically challenge your child to visualize words more effectively.  It's much more detailed and in depth than Charlotte Mason's discussion of the subject.  (This advice per my friend Lorraine...  Thanks, Lorraine!)  

-  “Require him to pronounce the words he makes with such finish and distinctness that he can himself hear and count the sounds in given way.”
Modern educators call this "phonemic awareness,"  and it is a vital skill that a child must possess in order to read well.  Many children who cannot identify sounds within a word will be diagnosed with dyslexia.  

-  There are many ways to do this.  One way would be - when visualizing, have the child sometimes say the phonetic sounds of the letters rather than their names.  I say sometimes so that you know he’s actually visualizing, not just sounding out the word.  
-  Here is an example of how the curriculum Spell to Write and Read accomplishes this.

-  “Let the syllables all be actual words which he knows.”
-  Charlotte Mason did not suggest this, but I think an idea in keeping with her holistic philosophy for this stage would be to, as you teach them, print words on index cards and attach them to items around the house.  This would be easy to do with bed, cat, Dad, Mom, (animal) cage, etc. - anything you have in your house.  If your child has fun with this “game,” go for it!  If not interested, you could put a few words up and later, if your child gets excited about it, you could make more together.  

-  “the child will learn to read off dozens of words of three letters,
-  “and will master the short-vowel sounds with initial and final consonants without effort.
-  “Before long he will do the lesson for himself. 'How many words can you make with "en" and another letter, with "od" and another letter?' etc.
-  When your child can read the short vowel sound words mixed up in this Blend Phonics Reader from Don Potter’s website, they’re likely ready to move on.  Or you could read some of the first 33 pages (probably towards the end) from Florence Akin's 1913 Word Mastery , also from Don’ Potter’s website.  

PROS & CONS of EARLY READERS at this stage
-  One of the highlights of Charlotte Mason’s word-building lessons is that there is still no need for books.  The under-6 child is still very kinesthetically- oriented; thus the letter tiles & air writing are most appropriate.  You risk boring the child when you switch entirely to paper.  
-  Though your child may be able to read some easy readers such as the BOB books, I feel that Charlotte Mason would not recommend that he spend much time in “twaddle” (which most easy readers at this stage are).     
-  from V. 1, page 209:  "I should never put him into words of one syllable at all. The bigger the word, the more striking the look of it, and, therefore, the easier it is to read, provided always that the idea it conveys is interesting to a child. It is sad to see an intelligent child toiling over a reading lesson infinitely below his capacity––ath, eth, ith, oth, uth––or, at the very best, 'The cat sat on the mat.' ... We should be lost in a hopeless fog before a page of words of three letters all drearily like one another, with no distinctive features for the eye to seize upon; but the child? 'oh, well––children are different; no doubt it is good for the child to grind in this mill!' But this is only one of many ways in which children are needlessly and cruelly oppressed!"
-  Note that this quote is talking about the next stage of reading - learning to read sentences and “read by sight.”  Still, it is clear that a parent must guard against the child’s boredom if you choose to use easy reader books at this stage.  
-  However, if you think it would encourage your child, go for it!  Perhaps just make easy readers from the library available if the child is interested in his free time.  Don’t push or require them.  My kids have never been interested in these for more than 5 minutes.  Total.    
-  CAUTION:  Make sure not to have your child “show off” at this stage to grandma or your friends!  (Unless your child brings it up - that’s different.)  

STEP 2:  Long Vowel Word-Making

Word-making with Long Vowels, etc.––When this sort of exercise becomes so easy that it is no longer interesting, let the long sounds of the vowels be learnt in the same way: use the same syllables as before with a final e; thus 'at' becomes 'ate,' and we get late, pate, rate, etc. The child may be told that a in 'rate' is long a; a in 'rat' is short a. He will make the new sets of words with much facility, helped by the experience he gained in the former lessons.

-  Repeat the activities you completed with the short vowel sounds, emphasizing closing the eyes and visualizing the word, and ensuring that phonetic pronunciation is in place.  
-  The child will quickly get the idea that the silent E makes the vowel say its name.  
-  I’ve collected long vowel combinations in this Short/Long Vowel Combination Spreadsheet (now finished!).  Please note that the words in italics have coordinating short/long vowel sounds when you add a silent “e” at the end, such as fat, fate; pip, pipe; etc.   
You could read pages 34-39 from Florence Akin's 1913 Word Mastery (from Don’ Potter’s website). 

A Recommendation:  May I suggest the book The ABCs and All their Tricks?  The chapter on "Long" and "Short" vowel sounds is eye opening!  I'll be recommending this in a later post, as well! 

COMING UP NEXT:  Word-Building Step 3, Introducing Blends

Friday, 4 May 2012

Post 1 of 7: Charlotte Mason Reading. Stage 1, The Alphabet & Visualization

My dear children, being 7, 5, and 3 years old, are all in various stages of learning how to read and write!  As I've taught them with various methods, I've discovered that Charlotte Mason's holistic method really is best.  She combines phonetic work with using living books to make reading interesting and fun to children.  However, her methods are not readily apparent to someone who is reading through her works quickly, since pieces of them are in various places.  So I've decided to create a series of posts covering the various stages of the learning to read & write process, in hopes that they will help someone in addition to just me!  

(Feel free to leave comments, especially if they shed further light on Charlotte Mason's methods or purposes behind what she was doing!)  

STAGE 1:  Learning the Alphabet

Charlotte Mason has a wonderful description of a child’s beginning stages of learning to read!  Let’s break it apart phrase by phrase so we can catch all of her important points and nuances.  (To read the whole paragraph, click here and scroll down a little to “The Alphabet,” page 201)

All Quotes taken from Charlotte Mason Homeschool Series Volume 1,  pg 201 - 202

“The Alphabet.”––

When:  - when a child is interested, often before age 2
“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;”
~ Note:  All of the activities in this first step could take a few years.  No rushing!  In fact, rushing could be very detrimental to what you are trying to accomplish. 
- “There is no occasion to hurry the child”

Atmosphere:   - as a Game ONLY
“and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him.”

Caution:  - No pushing or showing your child off!!!
“But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play”.

Goal:  Child knowing both form (mental visualization) & sounds (phonetics) of all the letters, and connecting the two in his brain.  
“if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated.” 
How:  1 Letter at a time:
“There is no occasion to hurry the child: let him learn one form (letter) at a time. 
FAQ:  Does it HURT to start the child this early?  No!  
“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“

Steps of Learning the Alphabet:

1.  Kinesthetic/ Visual Models of the ABCs:
-  Obtain plastic refrigerator magnets for your child to play with, in both upper and lower case.  (Leap frog has nice sets - Word Whammer contains lower case, while Fridge Phonics contains upper case.)
-  “As for his letters, the child usually teaches himself. He has his box of ivory letters...  big and little, and knows them both.”

2.  Encourage association of each letter with the first sounds of words.   
-  “and picks out p for pudding, b for blackbird, h for horse, ”
- Key Point:  This is part of Charlotte Mason's holistic view of learning to read.  It is important to connect the letters to an aspect of language that the child recognizes.  Favorite words will illicit an "I get that!" delighted response in the child when she realizes the sound this letter symbol makes is a linguistic part of her favorite things.  
-  Here is where those ABC books you received as shower gifts will come in handy!  Or search your local library for a beautiful one.  If you are a member of AmbleSide_Year0 yahoo group, you can access a beautiful printable Alphabet Book here.  
-  Do NOT confuse the primary sounds a letter makes with some words which start with letter blends called phonograms.  For example, c says hard “k” and soft “s” sounds.  Pick words which start with those sounds, such as cat and ceiling.  Do NOT use a word that starts with a ch, like church.  Ch is a separate phonogram, and needs to be taught by itself.  (see note at the very end of this post on phonograms).  
3.  Learn both Name and Phonetic sound of each letter. 
 "The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters” (emphasis mine)
-  “and picks out p for pudding, b for blackbird, h for horse,” (phonetic sounds)
-  TIP:  Focus primarily on the phonetic sounds, but make sure your child learns the names, too.  
-  For a listing of the phonetic sounds the letters of the alphabet make, see the beginning of this document from Don Potter’s website:  The Alphabet Code and How it Works.  The only thing missing in this article (at least for the 26 letters) - Y as a vowel makes the same sounds as I (and sometimes long E at the end of a word), and S can also make a Z sound at the end of a word.  (Note:  Don Potter has a lot of great resources, but please do not confuse his methods with Charlotte Mason’s.  I do not believe she would have endorsed all of his suggestions, though many are good.) 
-  Ask your child, “What letter does your name start with?  Juh Juh Juh John?” etc.  Names of family members, favorite toys, & other items of special interest will catch your child’s attention and make fun play for him.   
-  Encourage your child to pick out, from among his letters, the letter that makes the appropriate sound for the word at hand.  ("Can you pick out the letter that starts the word, 'Apple?' /a/, /a/, /a/?")
-  Try to teach all of the sounds the letters can make.  Some vowels make 3 different sounds!  But remember, at this stage in the game we're sticking mostly to letters that begin words.  Your child might not be ready for letters in the middle or end of words yet. 

4.  Begin "handwriting" lessons!  

A.  Timing:  Note that handwriting in sand is recommended by Charlotte Mason as a game for children as young as under 2!!  Because of this, I believe Charlotte Mason intends the following "handwriting" to be done simultaneously with letter learning.  (V. 1 pages 207-208) - "Our children learn their letters without any teaching. We always keep by us a shallow table drawer, the bottom covered half an inch deep with sand. Before they are two, the babies make round O and crooked S, and T for Tommy, and so on, with dumpy, uncertain little fingers. The elder children teach the little ones by way of a game.  The sand is capital! We have various devices, but none so good as that. Children love to be doing. The funny, shaky lines the little finger makes in the sand will be ten times as interesting as the shapes the eye sees."

 B.  Primary Goal of handwriting at this age:  Child’s ability to VISUALIZE letter in his mind’s eye!
-  “But the learning of the alphabet should be made a means of cultivating the child's observation he should be made to see what he looks at. Make big B in the air, and let him name it”
-  It’s important to note:  The child must be able to visualize a B just from you writing in the air, leaving no physical trace of the letter behind.  This is a KEY power to cultivate!  For more information, read Nanci Bell’s Seeing Stars.
-  This visualization will be used heavily in Charlotte Mason’s beginning reading lessons.  

C.  Secondary Goal:  To connect visualization with the phonetic sound the letter makes.  
-  This is not included in Charlotte Mason's writing, but is confirmed in more recent research.  (such as Nanci Bell in Seeing Stars, and successful reading programs like Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Spell to Write and Read
-  To this end, please have your child say the phonetic sounds of the letters as they write.  

D.  Familiarize Yourself with the correct strokes for forming print letters.  
-  Teaching your child the correct strokes now (see steps E & F) will prevent him from forming bad habits, which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to break later.
-  Learn the steps YOURSELF so that you can teach them to your child.  
-  I suggest Handwriting Without Tears for learning stroke sequence.  Check out Handwriting Without Tear’s Kindergarten Teacher’s Guide.  It’s inexpensive, and full of great ideas both for large motor handwriting activities (which you are allowed to use now) and small motor activities (which you should wait until your child is 5 or 6 to begin).  
-  A good free resource is:  Petersen Directed Handwriting’s Ebooks.  Go to this website, and scroll down to E-Workbooks for Print Writing.  Step 1 should be sufficient to familiarize yourself with the strokes.    

E.  Start with Capital, Print letters, IN THE AIR
-  For some reason, Capitals are the most natural to little kids - by instinct, these are the first letters most children write on their own (I’ve seen this in my own 3 kids; Note I haven’t researched this, this is my opinion.)  
-  “Make big B in the air, and let him name it,  then let him make round O, and crooked S, and T for Tommy, and you name the letters as the little finger forms them with unsteady strokes in the air."
-  Notice that Air Writing requires only LARGE motor skills.  Small motor skill writing (pencil & paper) is inappropriate at such a young age.  

F.  Move on with Lower Case letters, IN SAND if in the air is too difficult.  
-  “To make the small letters thus from memory is a work of more art, and requires more careful observation on the child's part. A tray of sand is useful at this stage. The child draws his finger boldly through the sand, and then puts a back to his D; and behold, his first essay in making a straight line and a curve.”
-  Note that SAND could be used with Capital letters if they are too difficult to visualize in the air. 
-  After SAND is mastered, move on to AIR WRITING for Lower Case letters.  

5.  Other games are appropriate at this time, for handwriting, phonics awareness, naming letters, letter recognition, & visualizing letters “in your mind’s eye.”  
-  “But the devices for making the learning of the 'A B C' interesting are endless.”
-  For more Large Motor handwriting ideas, check out Handwriting Without Tear’s Kindergarten Teacher’s Guide.  (I recommend this guide because it will serve you for a few years, not just in preschool.)  

6.  SUMMARY OF PROCESS for learning 1 letter (make sure your child can do this for each letter of the alphabet before he/she moves on to Word Building): 
-  Visual Game: Find The Letter on a Page (both lower & upper case)
-  let him learn one form at a time and know it so well that he can pick out the d's, say, big and little, in a page of large print.”
-  Phonetic sounds:  Associate with objects he knows
-  “Let him say d for duck, dog, doll, thus: d-uck, d-og, prolonging the sound of the initial consonant,”
-  Phonetic sound finally memorized without the aid of words:  
-  “and at last sounding d alone, not dee, but d', the mere sound of the consonant separated as far as possible from the following vowel.
-  Air writing/ Visualization:  Child should finally be able to write the letter in upper & lower cases in the air.  (Sand writing may have to precede this).  Have your child say the sound it makes as he writes it.  
MOVING ON....  The next steps.  

Charlotte Mason’s next step in the literacy process is Word Building.  Read about it here

Also, handwriting will be discussed further at the First Grade level.  Charlotte Mason has more suggestions!