Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gearing Up to Teach Reading... Charlotte Mason Style

This post is the first in a series detailing the Charlotte Mason method for teaching reading to children.

As I mentioned yesterday, Punkin has been asking for some time now to begin reading lessons. I almost hate to call them reading lessons - it goes against that "not before 6!" rule ;) But having been largely unsuccessful at stalling and completely unsuccessful at appeasing her with indirect, bits-and-pieces learning (she's had enough fun and games - she wants to read already), I suppose we're starting down the road of reading instruction a little earlier than originally planned. Part of my stalling strategy had been to give her a relatively far off date. I think it was last summer that I told her we would begin learning to read after Christmas. Well, you and I both know full well that it is now officially after Christmas. Guess what... Punkin knows it, too ;)

Last week, SweetP and Shug began their third term of the school year. Punkin was chompin' at the bit. One final stall - I told her that we would begin next Monday. I said that last Monday, though, so this Monday is the day.

SweetP and Shug already know how to read fluently. SweetP learned before I knew much about Charlotte Mason at all, and Shug learned with a combination of Phonics Pathways and some CM-flavored sight reading instruction. I just couldn't take the plunge and really follow the methods that Miss Mason outlines in Home Education. Not, yet. Now, having taught the two older girls and having a better (we hope) understanding of CM reading methods, I'm ready to try it out. Punkin is ready to learn to read, I am ready to learn to teach, so... purist Charlotte Mason it is!

In reading through the portion of Home Education dealing with reading instruction, though, I quickly realized that there are at least three different options for the first lesson. There is the first example, given on page 202 where Miss Mason writes:

"The first exercises in the making of words will be just as pleasant to the
child. Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the power of the letters,
will be better to begin with than actual sentences."

She goes on to explain how to teach the child what we modern readers know as word families and also how to introduce nursery rhymes as sight word reading lessons. Then, several pages later (in Section V.) she gives us another example of a first lesson, but this one is different from the one given previously. This example is from a Parent's Review article and it recommends going "plump into words of three or four syllables" and gives an illustration of using a box of cut out words to learn the poem "History of Cock Robin". Still later (in SectionVI.), there is another example of a first lesson in which a little boy named Tommy learns to read in much the same way only using a poem about a kitty instead of Cock Robin and also utilizing slightly different methodology.

So, practically speaking, there are three different starting points. Where should we begin? Here, I think, Punkin's very young age helps me out. The latter two examples strike me as being a bit more demanding of the little people. They seem like they take more mental discipline and ability than the first. The initial example is the most game-like and, because of that quality, most likely to suit the age of my little girl :)

We have decided, then, to begin on Monday morning with some review of letter sounds and then continue on, using the outline Miss Mason provides in pages 199-207 of Home Education. (That's Section IV). We will eventually get to the next two sections and the word boxes, but for now we will start with the simplest option. My hope is to begin with Word Building lessons and then alternate with Reading at Sight lessons. Translated, that would be alternate days of phonetic word families and sight reading :)

For the sight reading lessons, Miss Mason recommends using nursery rhymes. Specifically, she illustrates the use of "Twinkle, Twinkle" for a first sight lesson. She also mentions that well-written prose is desirable for early lessons in reading by sight, and she recommends Parables From Nature by Gatty. Have you ever taken a look at Parables From Nature? It would not have jumped into my mind as a natural choice for reading lessons. It's a tricky little book for the younger crowd. I do not envision Punkin doing well with the Gatty book (perhaps with an older child it would be fine). I do want to stay quite true to Miss Mason's methods, though, and take her warnings seriously: "Even for their earliest reading lessons, it is unnecessary to put twaddle into the hands of the children".

Don't you love her?

I need, then, to find a non-twaddly book for sight reading instruction. I had thought that I was going to use the Free & Treadwell Primer available from Yesterday's Classics. It is better than the BOB books and similar resources I used with Shug and SweetP, but it is certainly a far cry from the recommended Parables From Nature. I looked for something that seemed to be a happy medium, and eventually decided on using a book we already had on the shelf - For the Children's Hour, also from Yesterday's Classics. There are several simple (but, well-written!) fairy tales and folk stories that should work well with this method. Those won't be needed, though, until Punkin first learns "Twinkle, Twinkle" and, possibly, one or two more nursery rhymes.

Honestly, even after all my stalling, I'm looking forward to this now :) It's such great fun to see the enthusiasm and joy on your child's face when those first words join together to make sense! And, I admit, I'm looking forward to testing out Miss Mason's reading methods and giving them a fair chance. All of the "sight reading" business scared me off last time, but now I'm not as wary. I could see Punkin really taking off quickly this way.

It should be fun to watch her :)

Update: You can read all about our first lesson here