QuestionResponsesIn November, we asked readers to talk...


November 27, 1999


In November, we asked readers to talk about teaching children to read. What techniques have worked well with children? What methods didn't succeed?

What mystery of early reading?

As the mother of three children who were all reading as first-grade students, I am amazed at the "mystery" surrounding how to teach children to read. Perhaps if we return to the tried and true method of phonics, the mystery will be solved.

As far back 1962, when I was one of 60 students in my first grade classroom, phonics was used -- and I would venture that 99 percent of the students were reading three months into the school year.

Phonics was the key then and remains so today.

Of course, as a parent I laid the groundwork when my children were infants by reading to them daily. As they became toddlers, I tried to make our time spent reading a fun activity to be shared and enjoyed every day.

When they reached first grade they were excited at the challenge of learning to read so that they could read to me.

Encourage your child at a young age to want to learn to read and insist that your school follow-up by teaching them to read by using phonics.

Mary Lou Seidenzahl


Teaching our children to read was a painless, natural and joyful endeavor.

As our children reached an age where they could speak and identify objects, I searched for pictures to make flash cards. The stack of flash cards grew with the children's vocabulary.

The introduction of the sounds of word beginnings followed. If our son was eating peaches, there was a flash card with peaches on it. We made a game of emphasizing the beginning of peaches -- puh.

When they knew most letter sounds, I printed on the back of each card the name of the picture. Thus began the game of word endings.

Finally we tried something like this: "Suppose this b in ball were changed to an f? To an h?"

When the two older boys turned 4 and 5 years old, they wanted to read. Acquiring a set of school primers, we had lessons several times a week through one summer.

The first-grade books were read by mid-fall. Introducing phonics to my other two children also proved successful.

Learning to read was a joy, never a fearsome chore.

Gloria Trainor


Our family tradition is "Reading by 4."

I was reading independently by age 4, because my mother read to me when I was a baby. We had a large volume of Mother Goose nursery rhymes with colorful illustrations of each scene. As my mother read aloud, she pointed to each word.

By the age of three I could read along. I was also taught to print each new word I learned on paper, along with my name.

Birthday and Christmas gifts always included new books. Aunts and uncles who came to visit brought a new book which was read aloud.

This was how I learned to read. It was not done as a lesson or as a punishment.

My own children, born in the TV era, also were reading by 4. I employed the same method my parents used: Read to the child starting at the age of six months; point out the words as you read; teach the child new words and have him or her print them along with his name.

In addition to creating avid readers, parents can also instill a respect for the book itself. In our family, we were taught that books are not to be abused by defacing, tearing or throwing them around. A book was to be treasured.

It is sad indeed that many of today's children have never heard of Jack Sprat; Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater; or Brer Rabbit. I suppose their parents are too busy working and using the TV and video games to entertain their children.

Elaine B. Forte


I have three children, who are now all adults. All were reading at a second- or third-grade level when they entered first grade. I never provided formal reading instruction at home. However, my husband and I did engage in reading activities with our children.

First, my husband and I love to read and our house is filled with books. If children never see adults reading for pleasure, reading will not seem important to them. And, since, we chose not to have television when our children were growing up, books were one of their main sources of entertainment.

Second, I read to them from the time they could sit up. We began with picture books, moved on to alphabet and counting books, and eventually to story books.

My use of a variety of alphabet books served as a sort of "natural phonics" program. The children had a phonograph record that included an alphabet song and I would point out the letters on a blackboard as the letters came up.

The idea that written symbols were connected to audible sounds was reinforced over and over. After two or three years of this repetition, each child understood that letters on a page meant certain sounds and could be formed into words.

Third, we regularly read books together as a family and if a younger child asked to "read," we would have him or her repeat after us, phrase by phrase, while we pointed to the words.

Reading was associated with emotional warmth and security.

Martha K. Canner


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