A pattern of learning

Think about it

November 04, 1998

Like pieces of a puzzle, five essential connections come together for children as they learn to read. Sara Wilford, director of the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., explains the steps of learning to read in this excerpt from the October/November 1997 issue of Parent & Child magazine.

* Insight 1: Words represent ideas and objects. Speaking is the gateway to reading. And right from infancy, adults speak to children as they interpret and respond to a baby's facial expressions, cries and coos. Their enthusiastic responses let the baby know she is communicating with her parents.

* Insight 2: Print carries meaning. As their vocabularies grow, children begin to attach meaning to print. Children who have been read to on a regular basis, who watch adults reading books and magazines, and who see people write letters and lists, learn that print carries meaning.

As children observe the world, they look for the letters and sounds that have meaning for them. A child who goes to the train station every day, for example, may soon recognize the word "Train."

* Insight 3: Print consists of letters and words. Unscrambling mysterious marks on the page is a natural activity for your problem-solving child - and an important piece in the puzzle of reading.

Long before children can formally read and write, they engage in time-honored acts of imitation. Making line after line of scribbles and looking at picture books are the beginning steps of reading.

* Insight 4: Letters stand for sounds. Children approach written language with a host of strategies. One set of tools is phonemic awareness and phonics - learning to recognize the sounds in words and to connect those sounds to particular letters.

Many children naturally engage in blending consonant sounds and common letter patterns as they have fun rhyming words and making up new ones - "Man, can, pan, fan, san, ran, ban, lan!"

* Insight 5: Book language is special. Children who are read to soon develop an intuition that written language is often different from spoken language. It has rhythm and pattern; it uses imagery; it may offer an unusual choice of words.

Predictable books allow children to anticipate which words come next. Nursery rhymes and chants such as, "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring" set the stage for the role of prediction in learning to read. Stories and storybooks with repetitive rhyming sections give children a sense of what comes next.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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