Thursday, 31 May 2012

Teaching Reading with Whole Language

 As much as I firmly believe phonics lay foundation for reading fluency, I am not a strict phonics only supporter. Successful readers use a variety of strategies to decode unfamiliar words, but in order to read fluently, we must eventually learn to recognise most words by sight. Whatever method you learned to read by, I am willing to bet you are reading this post by sight reading now.  I did originally plan to teach my son using phonics only. The problem is he had other ideas, We had bought a set of Oxford readers when my son was 5, and he sat down and taught himself how to read them. Seeing how much he enjoyed these books, and delighted that he was reading for pleasure, I bought further sets and soon discovered Oxford Project X, designed to encourage boys to read. They did just that and my son quickly moved through the various levels, reaching level 16 at age six, and then moving on to Horrid Henry, Young Adult and now at age seven he prefers graphic novels. I did continue teaching phonics. We are currently using phonics sets to teach spelling, but the simple fact is, some children learn better through whole language immersion, others through phonics, and while my son benefited from phonics instruction, whole language helped him develop into an avid reader.

 Whole Language instruction takes many shapes and forms. At one extreme lies the Doman method, which relies primarily on flash cards and has been used to teach even infants to read. There is a some controversy with this though, and I tend to agree with detractors who feel that pushing reading before a child has reached reading readiness can do more harm than good. At the other extreme is a very natural method of reading instruction often popular with unschoolers, although some might resent the word instruction here. This method involves immersing a child in quality literature,  frequently reading out loud to them and tracing your finger underneath the words as you read. In many cases children will memorise favourite books and soon come to recognise certain words in these books and this has been the case with both of my sons ( ages 3 & 7).

 Once a child has started to pick out a few words, it is easy enough to start with very simple books in which a child can easily memorise the text, such as Where's Spot. In addition to this, many whole language advocates write words of common objects on cards and tape them up around the house. A photo album with familiar pictures and the words labelled beneath each one is also a brilliant resource for this, as are several key word reading schemes.

 My son starting reading with the Oxford Reading Tree books. We bought these simply because we were on holiday and desperate for extra story books, and they also happen to have a fun picture search in each book, but level one starts with only a few words which my son was easily able to teach himself, using the pictures as clues. Each progressive level uses many of the same words but adds a few new words. My son found this method of learning to read fun, as opposed to phonics which was work. After going through the books in the ORT set, we moved on to Oxford Project X which uses the same principle of starting with a few simple words and adding a couple of new ones with each  new title. We found Oxford Project X especially useful because the stories really did encourage my son to read. As important as it is for a child to learn to read - I feel it is just as important for them to like to read, and Oxford Project X is just the series to show boys that reading is fun and exciting.

 If teaching a child to read through whole language, I would recommend: Oxford Reading Tree, Oxford Project X, Brand New Readers ( very simple booklets which will be memorised in no time) and Ladybird's Key Word Reading Scheme.  Many simple story books will also be very useful, such as the Spot Books, Even Usborne's "That's Not My....." series.  The best resource in whole language reading though is yourself. The more time you can devote to reading your child's favourite stories, the more books your child will be able to memorise, and then follow along picking out familiar words.

Below are links to reviews of some of the books we used:









Teaching Your Child to Read With Phonics

A Phoneme is the smallest unit of speech, or sounds. I would suggest googling the word for a more detailed definition, but for my purposes, a phoneme is simply the smallest unit each word can be broken down into - c-a-t has three distinct sounds, so has three phonemes, the same as as the number of letters. m-o-u-s-e also has three phonemes  the "m" sound, the "ow" sound and the the "s" sound. Phonics is a method of reading instruction which is based on sounding the words out, or building words from a set of sounds. I have found a mixed approach of phonics and whole language has worked best in teaching my own child reading, but each child learns differently, and the important thing is to find the method that works best for your child.

 I do feel phonetic awareness is necessary to fluent reading though, so whether your child learns to read through phonics or through whole language, phonics are still a useful tool for spelling and decoding new words. You have probably started teaching your child phonetic awareness in infancy - whether you realise it or not. All those silly songs and nursery rhymes we sing to our babies and toddlers develop key skills in phonetic awareness, as do a large number of books aimed at very young children, including Dr Seuss, Duck in the Truck and the Gruffalo. The ability to recognise rhymes is a key skill in phonetic reading.

The next skill in phonetic reading is letter sounds. For this reason, some strict phonics advocates encourage parents and educators to teach letters by sound rather than letter name, using the most common sound for each letter. Personally, I find this confusing as so many letters have more than one sound, I have always read letter name and sound together with my young children. If I read an alphabet book I would read "Big A - little a - says "a -a -a" (I'm not sure how to spell a short a sound). My children also leaned to associate letters with a certain word. "M" is Mommy's letter - "P" is for Pingu. We have a wide variety of alphabet books and toys, but by far the most useful is a picture album with a familiar picture for each letter.

 Once a child has an understanding of rhymes and letter sounds - they can begin to learn to combine these in simple words. It is entirely possible to do this without any special materials. For many years children were taught almost exclusively with a slate and a piece of chalk sounding out simple words like  " cat" and "sat". Alphabet blocks are also an easy way to teach simple words, as well as magnetic refrigerator letters. The simplest words follow this pattern consonant - vowel - consonant  and are referred to as c-v-c words. A basics phonics programme will start with c-v-c words using only soft vowel sounds and very slowly progress to longer words and more complex sounds. You can teach phonics without any special materials, using this same approach, start with letter sounds, then simple c-v-c words and when these are mastered start adding long vowels, combinations sounds like "ch" etc...

If you choose to teach phonics without a special programme, I can not recommend Maire Mullarney's book "Anything School Can Do You Can Do Better" strongly enough. In fact I would recommend this book to any home educator, and in fact any parent regardless of teaching methods, but it does give a very clear explanation of how they taught there children to read with very simple materials.

 While it is possible to teach phonics in this manner - I do think it is much easier with with simple phonetic readers, such as Bob Books and Starfall Phonics, and I found the Hooked on Phonics programme absolutely brilliant. It is expensive, but it does provide a very complete set which will take your child from sounding out the simple phonemes right through to fluent reading. Bob Books are also an excellent resource in teaching phonetic reading and have the advantage that you can buy one set at a time ( roughly £8 new). Starfall Phonics is has wonderful illustrations but with only 12 little books starting with the most simple  c-v-c words and progressing all the way through to long vowels and three syllable words, this will need some supplementation.

Several other phonics sets such as Curious George Phonics, I can Read's superheros sets and more are helpful to teach phonetic sounds to a child who has already learned to read by another method, or as a refresher, especially for spelling, but they will not work to start from scratch in reading instruction. While many people have blamed Dr Seuss for the death of phonics, nothing could be further from the truth and many of his books are wonderful for children who are starting to read with phonics.

Below are links to my reviews on several phonics resources, as well as the Maire Mullarney books:









Friday, 18 May 2012

Teaching Your Child to read

 If there is one subject that frightens potential home educators - it is literacy. How will you teach your child to read? What if you fail? These were questions that kept me awake at night when I was making the choice whether to home educate or send my child to school. We have been conditioned to believe that teaching a child to read is very complicated and requires specialised training. Nothing could be further from the truth. A child who grows up immersed in literature will learn to read, just as they learned to talk. You never worried about teaching your child to speak did you?

 That said, I am a great supporter of phonics, not only for reading, but for spelling as well. I would suggest a good phonics programme as the single most important investment for home educators. My personal favourite is Hooked on Phonics which really does give you everything you need  for three years of reading tuition which will bring your child up to a level of literacy that makes reading any other childrens books possible.

 As much as I love phonics though, it is a long process between sounding out the first simple words like "cat" and "sat" and actually reading a good story. For this reason, we have used a mixed approach. I have taught my son using various phonics programmes and devoted quite a lot of time and money to it. Then I picked up a cheap set of Oxford Reading Tree books, and my son, age 5 , picked them up and taught himself to read them. We then found Oxford Project X and my son raced through the levels to get to the more exciting adventure stories before switching to Young Adult novels and graphic novels at age 7.

 All children need to learn to sound out unfamiliar words, but we all reach a point where we read simply by sight as well. I do not believe anyone is reading this blog by sounding out each word. When it comes to the phonics vs whole language debate - I say use both! I think children will benefit from having several tools to decode new reading material - why limit them to only one? Additionally, different children learn best by diofferent methods. Schools swing from one fad to another, and each time parents protest when their child struggles, or rejoice when a new method helps their child. But what works for one child may not work for another. As a parent teaching your child to read - you have the luxury of choosing whatever works best for your own child - not a fictional average child.

Introduction - Home education resources and curriculum

 As I child, I looked on compulsory education as a 12 year prison sentence. I had some wonderful teachers who I will never forget, but for the most part, school was a drudgery that turned even the most exciting of subjects into something dull , boring and distasteful. Although education can not all be fun - there must be some hard work as well - I am determined that my sons will experience education as an adventure. This blog will be dedicated sharing the ideas, resources and curriculum that we have found to that encourage a child's joy of discovery and make learning fun.

 Of course this blog is not just for home educators - if you are looking for books or resources to help your child learn to read, books that boys will really want to read, science kits, history, or anything else educational, you have come to the right spot. I'm just getting started now, so it will take awhile to build up a lot of reviews and subjects, but if you are looking for anything in particular in reagrds to education, do let me know - I most likely have something, I can easily add.

If you found my blog helpful at all - please leave a message. If you happen to have a page related to home education, children's book or other educational topics for children - please leave a comment with a link back to your site.
 I do review books on other sites as well, and in most cases I will have a longer, in depth review of the book at dooyoo as well under broxi3781.