Isn’t doing this a big NO NO?!
Play is the business of childhood, right?
I will never forget reading Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk by David Elkind (1987). The book had such an impact on me that I avoided exposing my preschoolers to anything that smacked of teaching numbers and letters for fear of damaging them.
There is ample evidence to support the statement, “Play is the business of childhood.” We KNOW toddlers and preschoolers are in a developmental stage in which they learn via their senses, but the rub is that a large percentage of our children are failing to learn to read.
I believe that a disconnect exits between what we KNOW about the development of the young child and what we DO with young children. In our country, when children fail, we lengthen the school day, cut out recess, add tutoring sessions after school, require summer school, and offer formal education to younger and younger children in the attempt to raise achievement levels.
In the years since reading Miseducation, several things happened in my own life that caused me to do an about-face in my career. I became a teacher to struggling learners, then I became a product designer for struggling learners, and most recently I have had hundreds of parents share with me their child’s rather checkered experiences in formal education settings.
So while I still believe that very young children should not be forced into formal education, and while I still believe that traditional ways of teaching reading are not beneficial to the very young, I now encourage people to teach sight words to preschoolers.
- A child usually shows the first signs of difficulty with reading in kindergarten, a pivotal year in the education of a child. Children will either exit kindergarten believing they are capable of handling anything life might bring their way, or they will exit kindergarten without a strong belief in their own competence.
- A child knows if she is not keeping up with expectations! She becomes aware that she is under scrutiny, he senses he is not keeping up, and then emotions come into play. Some children withdraw, avoid the learning activity they can’t handle, or they might act out. But all begin to believe they are not capable. This is not good!
- It is a child’s belief in his abilities that will fuel success in school and in life. This belief and excitement for learning simply must not be damaged.
- Schools most frequently assume the child is not capable of learning if he/she is showing signs of struggle. Parents report hearing everything from “Your child has a reading disability” to “Your child has a disability and cannot learn.” Some parents report they were told their child was incapable of learning.
- This scrutiny and judgment is enough to change the course of a child’s life. For a child it is overwhelming to sense that they are not capable and then to hear the judgment pronounced over them by educators confirming this fact. Well, this early experience will shape their beliefs about who they are, what they are capable of, and the consequences are sad.
Another big, huge disconnect:
In spite of our enlightened times, times in which we celebrate the differences between people, acknowledge the varying gifts each adult brings to the table, we still approach young children with a rigid standard of how to teach them, calling it “the right way” and believing that every child has to learn the exact same way (the way we call “the right way”) or something is wrong with them. Our arbitrary yardstick is held up to child after child after child and so many of them are found wanting.
Is it rational to on one hand acknowledge the myriad ways in which people are gifted and on the other hand force our children into a rigid, lockstep system of learning? How is it possible that those children who are gifted in the arts and athletics are expected to learn and remember the same as those who are gifted in math and science?
So here is why I teach sight words to preschoolers:
- You will prevent possible failure: A very high percentage of children end up either struggling with reading or failing reading tests. If you take action early, it is highly likely that you will be able to create a path of success for children and thus prevent any possible failure, labeling, and loss of confidence. Someone may ask, “What if the child would have done ok without early intervention?” The problem is we don’t know for sure who is going to struggle, so in the interest of making sure they don’t, we introduce words in the most kid-friendly way possible before formal schooling begins!
- You will ensure success by teaching to their strengths: If you teach sight words to preschoolers using materials that utilize their primary modes for learning, you will provide them with a background that will satisfy any kindergarten requirement but you will do so in a developmentally appropriate way. It is important that you not use just plain words for this activity. Use SnapWords® sight words with pictures. Images and body movement are powerful avenues of learning for young children!
- You will provide relevance for what they learn in kindergarten: If you use SnapWords®, sight words with pictures, you will reach right-brain dominant, global learners who have a hard time managing the little details of learning to read (such as letter names, letter sounds, sounding out, blending, etc.). A high percentage of children learn most effectively from whole to part and if they don’t have that, they will bog down in the details. Provide them with a rich arsenal of words brimming with meaning and they will “get” what reading is! They will understand from the beginning that reading is not stringing sounds together but it is actually extracting meaning from words. This is the way to reach those who might struggle in school and keep them from losing belief in themselves.
What does early learning look like in toddlers?
This is what early learning can look like. One child has a very quiet style while the other is a bundle of pure motion. Both are learning SnapWords® rapidly – each in his own best way. When you use SnapWords® with preschoolers, it is easy. Show them a few cards, tell them what each one says, and then ask them later what each word says. If they hesitate, tell them again. You will see from the videos that the quieter child is handling the cards himself, turning them over to read the plain word on the backs of the cards. The active child is literally jumping from word to word, as he is asked what each one says. The plan for the active child is to turn over one word at a time to see if he can still identify the word when the picture has disappeared. However it is important to not rush the process of moving to the plain words on the backs of the cards. In these videos, both boys are just newly two years old, so there IS no hurry to move to plain words.
True Story: Ezzie
In my communication with Ezzie’s grandmother, I learned a lot about Ezzie’s style. He expressed earnestly his interest in learning to read. As they read books together, he would ask Grandma what specific words said. So she picked up Alphabet Tales, assuming the first step was to teach the sounds of the letters. Ezzie was polite, but not interested. He wanted to READ. Grandma asked me what she should do.
Ezzie, age 2
Just this morning I heard from her again. Here is what she said:
“Re Ezzie: Sarah -- We took a short walk two days ago, and Ez was very earnest about taking along a large paper grocery bag holding a stack of his favorite books. I said ok. So we walked, Ezzie dragging the bag of treasures behind him. :) It goes to his wanting to read. He's mastered about 2/3 of the F List. The letters and their sounds are slowly sinking in. A few minutes ago he was looking at a book and said, "Katie Kicker!" Then, "Katie Kicker says "K” (k sound.) I was pleased!❤❤❤ “
At Child1st, we are ALL about helping a child Love Learning. We believe in preventing learning problems before they happen and moving quickly to help once a child has begun to falter. Please join us in spreading the word so more and more children out there can Love Learning also!