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


  1. This is excellent. I so wish I had kept my now 7-yr old home from preschool and K and taught him this way! I'm now not sure how to proceed and fill in the "gaps" of his reading ability. Actually, more spelling than reading problems... I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!