Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Trusting Charlotte Mason (teaching reading with CM methods)

Update: Two years after writing this post, I took the plunge and began full-fledged CM reading lessons with our 3rd daughter in January 2009. If you'd like to read more, here's more about our first lessons.

I'm almost finished reading Home Education! I cheated and read A Pocketful of Pinecones as a little "break" of sorts. Very good. Quick read. I also cheated a bit more and started A Charlotte Mason Companion already, too :) Anyway, the last few chapters of Home Education have been very practical. They deal mainly with how to approach the various school subjects. I've enjoyed these chapters a ton, and I have been really encouraged by the gentle, yet challenging methods she suggests. One topic that really took a few reads and rereads, though, was that of teaching a child to read. I just kept thinking it seemed scary. LOL, not that I thought CM's way of teaching reading wouldn't or couldn't work; I just didn't want to make Shug my guinea pig.

The "scary" thing about CM's reading method is that she utilizes both phonics and sight words - equally. At first I thought she meant from the get go. After further reading, I understand that she introduces sight words after a decent amount of headway has been made phonetically. For instance, the child would most likely be able to decode simple short vowel, four letter words before the introduction of sight words. I felt better after that was clearer to me. But still...

We've been using Phonics Pathways (PP) for our phonics/reading. In PP, the child learns a sight word only after three letter short vowel words are thoroughly learned. Even then, only a few sight words are introduced at a time. I gradually introduced sight words with SweetP, ending up with about 60 sight words after the first year. She caught on really quickly. Many of the words are technically decodable, but were words that PP wasn't going to get to for quite a while. Considering the frequency of these words in children's books, it seemed like a good idea to familiarize her with them. Again, this is after her phonics were already well underway, without trouble.

In Charlotte Mason's method, a child begins with short vowel sounds and the beginning hard consonants. Learning at this stage is often done in the way of a game. "Can you bring Mother the card that says 'ah'? Very good!" After a certain amount of success, the child is introduced to "real word" 2-letter blends like "at", "am", "an", etc. Then, the three letter words that can be made from them. The focus here is on the blending of the sounds and the smooth "sounding out" from left to right. Then word families are learned, still largely by games, until the child is skilled at beginning phonics.

Then, out of nowhere, she advises alternating days of continued word family/phonics lessons with days of sight word reading. Her reasoning is that learning to read interesting, whole sentences is motivating to the child at this stage. He may still get the phonics training for all of these words later, but at this point, sight words offer a sense of accomplishment and an element of pleasure. It seemed precarious to me to add so many sight words at what I considered a fairly early stage of reading . We hear so much these days (especially in homeschool resources) about the dangers of sight word reading instruction. Sight word = scary! ;)

Well, Shug is well underway in early phonics. She's able to read words like "best" and "pulp" - short vowel, single syllable, 4 letter words. Charlotte says it's time for some significant sight word vocabulary building. Eek! I took a gulp on Friday morning, made note cards, and began. Within 10 minutes Shug could confidently read (both in and out of context) "Away in a manger no crib for a bed". She was beyond excited! She was thrilled! Ecstatic even. She was able to read not only a whole "real" sentence, but a sentence that she knew and loved. When I first taught her the words, she didn't realize how they were all going to go together. I wish y'all could've seen her face when I lined the cards up in order. She read them aloud to me, and I literally got teary eyed from her sweet, childish joy.


We are still continuing to go through Phonics Pathways, of course. We will now be adding a degree of sight word sentences to our lessons. Although, they hardly feel like lessons :) I am truly looking forward to teaching her to read the next line of the children's hymn. Nothing scary or educationally devastating ;)

I am so glad I trusted Charlotte on this one.