When my daughter wasn’t quite 2, she frequently used her iPad to watch an animated phonics video on YouTube. She had full control to choose any app she wanted, but again and again she’d watch the same phonics video. I liked the video for its entertainment value, but otherwise didn’t give it much thought. Until, one day my daughter and I were in the hallway leading to our apartment when she pointed at the “Stairwell B” sign and she said, “B says /b/.”
I knew at that moment that I wanted to teach her to read. The problem was, I didn’t know how.
First, I thought I could learn from experience. I volunteered to read to six and seven year-old children once a week. I thought that by reading to kids who were at the typical age for learning to read, I would be able to help them improve their reading skills from week to week. I thought I would teach the kids to read and then apply my experience at home to teach my daughter. However, after several months of volunteering, the kids weren’t making any noticeable gains in their reading. One day a kid in the program pointed to the word “circle” and asked me how to pronounce it. I said, “that says circle”. She asked how I knew. I said, “It just does.” Today, I know that I could have used that moment to teach the soft and hard sounds of c and the ir phonogram and the silent final e. But, at the time, the teachable moment was lost. I was part of the problem.
The volunteer experience sparked my curiosity about how to teach reading and deeply motivated me to learn how to teach it with confidence. I started doing a lot of research and found an article by Linda Schrock Taylor titled, “180 Tools for Reading and Spelling.” The article provided an outline for what kids need to know to be good readers and spellers in a simple, approachable and complete manner. With this, I learned that the phonics video my daughter loved so much was exposing her to incomplete phonics and may even make it hard for her to learn to read. In Taylor’s article, she recommended the book “The Writing Road to Reading” by Romalda Spalding. So, I bought Spalding’s book and learned to recognize what makes a phonics-based approach to teaching reading complete. However, the content was far too serious for my little toddler. In fact, the instructional approach recommended in the book was designed to start in kindergarten and that was at least 3 years away.
I started to think about ways to turn the complete approach to phonics from Spalding’s book into something accessible to my daughter. Teaching through song sounded extremely promising since I’d already seen that work from the phonics video on YouTube. So, I wrote a song for the two sounds of c:
c says two sounds /k/ and /s/
c says /k/ before a, o and u, like when c says /k/ in cat, cot and cut
c says /s/ before e, i and y, like when c says /s/ in cent, city and cycle
But, the song had some problems. It had no tune. It was too detailed for a toddler. It only covered one letter, leaving work to be done for 25 more letters and 46 more phonograms. I wanted to make it work. I thought, “Would it work to the tune of Farmer and the Dell? No. How about Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? Maybe.” I almost gave up.
Then, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, someone else had the idea to teach the English code through song. To find out, I started with a very specific search on Google for “a makes three sounds” (and yes, the letter a does make three sounds: the long a, short a, and the often forgotten “broad a,” like in mama.) Sure enough, I found Wordy Worm Reading.
The Wordy Word program met every expectation I had for a complete phonics program and then some. You can start using it at birth and use it to take a kid all the way to reading fluency. It has songs for every one of the 72 phonograms. It organizes the phonograms together in groups so you can teach them in small bunches instead of all 72 at once. It even has songs to introduce each phonogram group. The program includes a sequence for teaching the phonograms in a groundbreaking way, whereby kids get early exposure to multi-letter phonograms (like the ee that always says e). It even covers six types of syllables and teaches syllable identification in a fun way. The whole program revolves around making it fun for kids. I’ve learned ideas from Wordy Worm that I never would have thought of on my own, like using props for each phonogram song and going on phonogram hunts using environmental print.
Today, my daughter is 3 ½. She’s knows all the single sound consonants and we’re working on some multi-letter phonograms. Even though we haven’t spent much time on the multiple sounds of c, g, s, x, a, e, i, o and u, my daughter has awareness of them, just not quite at the level where you could quiz her on it. From time to time she’ll say things like, “Mommy, the letter a says /ă/, /ā/, /ä/ right?”
She loves sitting down to read together. She asks for books by name and enjoys retelling the stories we read. She’s beginning to take an interest in sounding out words and has a very high interest in spelling and writing her name (sometimes typing it even). Here’s a picture of her handwriting:
I expect 2014 will be a big year of building reading and writing skills at my house. I hope you’ll follow along on our journey.