I posted this on my college discussion board for an assignment called "The Reading Wars" - phonics-based vs. whole word concepts. I have not had any responses yet; but I'm eager to see what others have to say. Please note that this is written to those studying the field of education. When I refer to "teaching," it's actually "natural learning," which I have written about quite extensively in my classes. This is just a more structured class and I have write my assignments accordingly. :^)
I can honestly say that I used to be a big advocate of a phonics-based reading approach. I had seen the results - three and four-year olds that could read! My own sister ran a preschool years ago in which she taught the children to read using a strict phonics-based approach. In three years of grade school, I attended a Christian school that used the A Beka curriculum; and, also, their preschoolers learned to read! I felt that the results spoke for themselves. And, in fact, when we first began homeschooling Taliesin, I had plans to order this exact same phonics-based curriculum.
Then my thoughts changed. And it was nothing else than working with my son on a day-to-day basis that changed my mind. The more I truly watched him, paying attention to his educational needs rather than my own theories; the more I understood that a rigorous program was not for him. When we attended a homeschooling co-op, when he was four years old, in which the students were given a lot of seatwork; I realized that it was not just Taliesin who was frustrated with such activities. The boys, especially, became irritaed, grouchy, and wiggly as the class time wore on.
This year, Taliesin has really shown an interest in reading. We, however, are taking several different approaches. I see nothing wrong with kids learning their phonics sounds. I now, however, do not think phonics-based is the only, right way to learn. I advocate a blended approach, because I truly do believe that all children learn in their own way, in their own time. For Taliesin, learning to read has taken the form of Dora, the Explorer; Go, Diego, Go; and I Spy phonics readers; sight word readers from The Learning Company; a McGuffy's Primer; and any books and magazines that he is interested in. It also takes the form of reading street signs and store signs. It also takes the form of playing "I Spy" phonics games as we drive down the street. Learning to read also takes the form of writing our own stories and writing and drawing in a journal of our daily activities.
For Nathanael, my four-year old, learning to read takes the form of learning the sounds that the alphabet makes plus introducing all of the above activities that Taliesin enjoys.
I, therefore, have to conclude that there really is no right or wrong way to teach a child to read. Sometimes, depending on the child, phonics may be the best approach. At other times, sight words may be the best approach. It really depends on the child. I have noticed, in my experience, that girls oftentimes tolerate seat work better than boys. I think, all too often, traditional learning is tailored to children who can tolerate sitting at a table or desk for a good portion of the day. Such misconceptions on the part of the educator, I believe, are the only wrong approaches there are.
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