By Laurie Detweiler
As you may know Marlin and I have four grown sons spanning 23 – 28 years old. Yes, 23 years ago things were rather crazy at our house. In fact I’m sure if a camera could have been going in the middle some of the night then we could have won America’s Funniest Videos. We began our journey in classical Christian education when our oldest was 6 (you can read about this in Marlin’s blog post scheduled to be posted next Monday) and there was no turning back.
We are also extremely blessed with an amazing daughter in law, and a granddaughter that is the joy of our hearts. Everyone always tells you that grandchildren are different, you can’t imagine how much you will love them, and I am here to tell you how true that is. But, for me Ava has had another affect because of what we do. She has made me excited again about classical Christian education. Like all good and hard work, one can get tired and she has reinvigorated me.
Yesterday I happened to have the Phonics Museum, our phonics curriculum, on my desk as I am currently beginning the process of writing scripts for a new product centered on it. Stay tuned for further information on that. Ava was visiting our office so I played the alphabet song for her. She just lit up and as usual did her flappy bird arms in excitement as she danced to the music. Okay she’s only seven months old, so she has no idea what she is hearing, but by the time she is three she will be singing along.
I am only half joking when I say it’s never too early (or too late) to think about your child(ren)’s education. Why do you do what you do? Over the next year I am going to be taking a look a different disciplines (subjects) and try and help you understand why we teach what we teach and why we teach it the way we do.
Since I have the Phonics Museum on my desk that is where we’re going to begin. As Christian’s I believe there is nothing more important we can do for our children when it comes to education than teaching them to read. Giving your children the ability to read God’s word is truly a gift that cannot be described. To watch the faces of children light up when they realize they have just read their first book is a joy not easily forgotten. But, as with all good things we must plan if we are going to accomplish our goals.
What is phonics?
Phonics is nothing more than a systematic method of teaching sounds conveyed by letters and groups of letters, and includes teaching children to combine and blend these to read or write words. Sounds easy doesn’t it. Well it is, but you need to have a plan in place. And that is why we created the Phonics Museum.
You may ask what age should I begin teaching my child to read? In one way I would say the day they are born, but of course I don’t mean that literally. But, you can begin playing songs that teach the alphabet and sounds each letter makes very early in a child’s life. Before you know it your three year old can recite the alphabet. About the age of four or five you can begin a formal approach to teaching phonics. At age three or four you can start to show the child the written form of the alphabet. It is easy to play a game where you hold up a card and ask the child what letter is this. After they can identify their letters they are definitely ready to start a bit more formal approach to learning to read.
We have studied many various phonics curricula and have considerable of experience working with many of them. Our research, including historical standards and methods, convinced us that children would be much better off if the content they were reading had some meat to it. Consequently, we set out to create a program that had Biblical and historical content and also made use of the soundest phonetic/linguistic principles and methods found throughout history.
Teaching children to read is not a complex or complicated process. We know that alphabet tablets date back to Ancient Egypt where they were baked tiles that had been scratched or etched. Looking back to the founding of Plymouth Colony, we see that children were taught to read from a hornbook. The hornbook was an alphabet board which was covered in front with a thin sheet of horn to prevent it from being soiled. The horn, harvested from cattle, was heated to make it malleable and then pressed until thin and translucent/ Hornbooks were used because actual books were so precious children were not permitted to use them.
Another consideration was to get children reading something, anything as quickly as possible. We want children to love reading. Get a quick helps that happen. That is why the first book they read has so few consonants and only one vowel. We have found that this quick success helps them to love reading and effectively captures their interest in books. We have seen incredible results. Not only do students read their first book in a matter of a few weeks, but the complexity builds to where they can actually read most anything by the end of the program. Standardized test scores have born this out with averages routinely being in the 90+ percentile.
As we surveyed the market we found that most phonetic readers were “Dick and Jane”ish – offering no real story. We thought this an unfortunate waste and sought to create readers (which we call primers) that had connections to meaningful events and stories. Some of these stories may not be familiar to you. In every case there is an explanation on the back cover.
Feedback from parents and teachers frequently includes questions about some of the awkward word choices in the primers. The difficulty of some of the words in the primers is intentional. You will be teaching phonetic word attack—an extremely important principle in learning to read. Students benefit from sounding out unfamiliar words for which they do not know the meaning. Another side-benefit is that they develop their vocabulary by learning the meaning of these new words. There is great historic precedent for this approach from several hundred years ago, when many children learned to read with only the Bible as there reader.
Teaching reading should be fun and interesting – captivating the student’s interest and love, hopefully for life. Whether you consider the Veritas Press Phonics Museum or another great program it is my hope that you and your children will enjoy the wonderful world of reading for a very long time.