What one thing do investing legends Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger do that is responsible for their financial success? The answer is simple–they read. And I mean they read everything. And that brings me to the topic for today’s article–How do we teach our children to read at an early age? You may have seen those pictures where moms throw their very young child into a pool and the child immediately starts to swim. Well today we are going to apply that “magic” to reading through the wonders of what are called sight words and a game called Erudition.
So can sight words help teach your young child to read? The short answer is yes. Now, the slightly longer answer begins by defining sight words. They are the most common words in the English language. These words are used with such frequency in written text that a mere twenty five words comprise approximately 33% of all English print (add the next seventy five most frequent words and you have about 50%).
Now for the part about how they can change your child’s life. It is no secret that learning to read is a critical step in every child’s development. As eliquently stated by Ontario Canada’s Ministry of Education, “The focus on instruction in the early years is on learning to read, but over time the focus shifts to reading to learn.” The earlier a child learns to read, the sooner they begin to learn about other curriculum areas and life in general.
This is Not The Kindergarten I Knew and Loved
I remember kindergarten, which was a half day, entailing recess, naps, cookies and maybe a little coloring. Today, educators are teaching children to read earlier than they were when I was a child. Now, kindergarten students, many of which have full day sessions, receive a rather heavy dose of math and reading related instruction.
Within the first several weeks of school, most kindergarten (and virtually all 1st and 2nd grade) students will be tested in the areas of phonic rules and sight word recognition. The test results are used to place the students in a below, at, or above grade level. Those above grade students will be accelerated and will learn to fluently read quicker than their peers. Some kindergarten teachers even assign weekly homework. In my view homework for kindergarteners is a little over the top, but I generally applaud the trend of earlier instruction for and evaluation of children.
More aggressive reading curriculums have resulted in most students leaving kindergarten able to read beginner level books, and some are even fluent readers before first grade. Those students that cannot read fluently by the third grade are generally labeled as learning disabled. Not surprisingly, being labeled with a learning disability constrains the child’s educational path in reading as well as other curriculum areas. But, it can also negatively impact the child’s confidence, self esteem, and social interaction.
Sight Words and Phonics: The Dynamic Duo
So, how are today’s educators teaching children to read? The full answer is much too involved for this post. However, at a high level, they are teaching sight word recognition and phonics. Phonics instruction emphasizes the individual components of words (e.g. the “phonemes” /k/, /ae/ and /t/ are represented by the “graphemes” c, a and t). Sight word recognition and phonics complement one another in a number of ways.
Since many sight words do not follow the phonic rules, the ability to recognize and spell these words must be acquired through memorization. Teaching sight words to emergent readers also fosters confidence, which allows them to excel in phonics lessons.
Once a child can recognize upon sight a couple hundred of the highest frequency words the child will automatically read 50% or more of the words on a given page. This allows the young mind to focus and decode the remaining words using phonic rules.
Without sight words, phonic rules become frustrating, overwhelming and confusing. Without phonics, we would need to memorize how to read and spell thousands of words. This approach is simply not practical; there are too many English words for most humans to memorize them all. Yet another approach to teaching reading is the whole language philosophy, which focuses on the idea that reading and writing are ideas that should be considered as wholes – learned more by experience and exposure than by analysis through phonics.
The whole language approach was in vogue during the last few decades of the 20th century (when many of us were learning to read). However, in the past decade, whole language has become less prominent in the U.S. Today, a balanced literacy approach is the popular teaching method. Essentially, this is an integrative approach, taking the best elements of various approaches used in the past.
Games are Just More Fun
When teaching phonics and sight words to emergent readers, parents and teachers have a number of options. For example, many teachers post “wall words” (grade appropriate sight words) on their classroom walls to facilitate students’ easy and frequent reference. Another frequent tool involves the use of sight word and phonic flash cards.
While these approaches can be effective, they often lack any entertainment factor and fail to entice and retain a young child’s interest. This is an important element, particularly with kindergarteners and 1st graders, who just months ago were spending their entire day playing. Research has shown that instruction techniques which children view as fun are generally more effective than those without a fun factor.
Research by David Pierfy, professor at Rider University, found that games offered greater retention over time than conventional classroom instruction methods with students reporting more interest in the game activities. Another research study, conducted by John Dempsey, Professor at South Alabama University, suggested that games hold an advantage over traditional instruction when changing attitudes and holding students’ interest.
Erudites Create an Award Winning Sight Words Game
Some friends of mine developed the perfect sight words game to jump-start the road to reading. The award winning game is called Er-u-di-tion, which is defined as “extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books: profound, recondite, or bookish learning.” While playing the game with your child does not guarantee that your child will become an erudite (that’s right, erudition is a derivative of erudite), it is a good first step.
The game board is somewhat similar to CandyLand, but instead of focusing on candy,
Er-u-di-tion’s game cards contain:
• the letters of the alphabet and their basic phonic sounds – ideal for pre-schoolers; and
• sight words and their definitions, categorized into three levels of difficulty – perfect for elementary school students
Once your child masters the ability to read the game’s sight words, you can play the game focusing on spelling the words. The game can also be challenging for adults and other fluent readers and spellers. Players in this group advance in the game by guessing the sight word based on another player reading the definition. For example, do you know which common word “links words to show despite the fact; however?” While you ponder the answer, let me tell you that this rule really levels the playing field. (The answer is the word “though”).
As a parent, why would you play CandyLand with your child when you can play a game that teaches fundamental skills? The game retails for $24.99 and is available at various retail stores within the United States, or you can buy it by clicking the following link and visiting the sight word games website.
Published or updated February 16, 2013.