A parent asked me, “How can I teach vowel clustering to my child while your reading clinic is closed? You’ve been promising a new parenting book, but I need help now.” My new book is stuck on the editor’s desk. I apologize that it’s not ready when we most need it. I do have an older book on vowel clustering that is available and that some parents have found helpful. [Click the envelope icon on the top right to email me if you’re interested.]
In the meantime, let’s revisit the principles of vowel clustering and how to teach vowel clustering at home. Yes, however, you can start to teach vowel clustering right now.
In my last post, I promised to talk about how to work with nonreaders or early readers and that will be the focus of our discussion today. In kindergarten and in many preschools, children are given a list of words to memorize. Wrong. You can go back to almost any of my previous blog posts to find why teaching children to memorize words is a mistake. (See, for example, my blog post of December 31, 2016). The best answer though is given by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, M. D., dyslexia specialist (see Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, 2003): “Children do not learn to read by memorizing a word list. Most children especially those who struggle in reading do not learn to read by memorizing phonics rules” (p. 78).
What should a parent do instead?
Dr. Shaywitz goes on in her book to say that, if we teach letter sounds instead of memorization, that almost every single child across the nation could learn to read. Vowel clustering begins by teaching letter sounds.
There is nothing wrong if a child wants to learn to read before kindergarten, many children do, but we should never push a child to learn to read that early. First, we need to remember that normal childhood development for preschool and kindergarten children is focused on action, not sitting. Therefore, use hands-on learning techniques.
For young children, keep your teaching sessions active. You could make an alphabet train. Have children line up their stuffed animals, identify each animal by name, and then ask what letter sound the child hears when you say the animal’s name. Have the child arrange their stuffed animals into alphabetical order. You’re learning, having fun, and teaching a very important beginning principal needed for reading. If you do not have a stuffed animal to represent a particular alphabet letter, have the child draw a picture and place a picture of an animal that would fit for the appropriate alphabet letter. Yes, you may need to get creative, especially with the letter X. Use the computer and try websites such as this for help:
Older children, able to write or draw, may have fun making an alphabet book. Kindergartners love to make alphabet books. Don’t forget free coloring book pages for young children who need help drawing an animal picture.
Instead of memorizing words, preschool and kindergarten children should be working on
- identifying both capital and lower-case letters (remember to teach lowercase letters separately from uppercase letters.),
- writing capital and lower-case letters on manuscript paper (again, remember to teach the writing of lowercase alphabet letters separate from uppercase or capital letters. We mostly read with lower case letters; therefore, children must learn to work with lowercase letters.),
- learning the sounds for all of the consonant letters. I do not teach vowel sounds until first grade.
You and your child can have fun together as the child continues to learn while the schools are closed. My upcoming post will talk about teaching children to recognize letters by working on their handwriting.