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A few weeks ago we were on the road in Texas, between conventions, when our battery light came on. My husband is mechanically minded (for which I am often thankful), so he knew what to do. We found the nearest auto supply store that had free diagnostic testing, and they decided that it was either a bad alternator or a loose wire. We hoped for the loose wire, but it ended up being the alternator.
Now, it’s not easy to get at the alternator in our truck. My husband always takes a handy dandy tool kit along on our trips, and it proved its worth that time. But even with all of his tools, it was slow going until the service guy at the auto place loaned us a special tool, specifically built for one part of the process. That one tool couldn’t do the whole job, but it did its part well and contributed greatly to getting us back on the road in good time.
To successfully reach our goal, we needed a variety of tools. We probably could have performed the task eventually using just one wrench and our fingers, but it would have been an excruciatingly long and frustrating experience.
A Variety of Tools
It’s the same for teaching reading. Learning to read is a pretty big task. In order to keep it from becoming excruciatingly long and tiresome, we need to give our children a variety of tools that they can use as they work. One might work best for one part of the task, and another for a different part. The more tools we can give them, the easier the process will be.
The tools that Charlotte Mason recommended we give include
Charlotte did not think we needed to give an exhaustive list of every possible vowel and consonant combination and make up a list of rules to fit every possible situation. Instead she encouraged us to give basic phonics guidelines as the child was ready for them—sort of like handing the mechanic a new tool as he needs it.
Fluent reading happens when a person can recognize words quickly as his eye moves across the page. So Charlotte encouraged the children to recognize words on sight, much like they would recognize the familiar faces of friends in a crowd. She didn’t confine this tool to a prescribed list of hard-to-sound-out words, but used this method with many different words.
Word Building and Components
Charlotte’s word-building activities accomplished many benefits and gave the children multiple tools for reading. Word building reinforced the phonics guidelines while at the same time revealing exceptions to those guidelines for the children to discover naturally. Those activities also got the children looking for familiar components in longer words. For example, once they recognized the at word family, they could spot that letter combination within longer words and use that word-building tool to help them read it.
Practice Reading and Fun with Words
The more a workman uses his tools, the more confident he becomes with them. And it’s the same with learning to read. Charlotte encouraged the children to use the words they had learned to create new sentences, for the more they played with their new possessions, the more confident they would become.
And the great thing is that Charlotte gave the children these tools in a way that they found natural, for her method is multi-sensory.
- Seeing—The child looks closely at the words and practices seeing them in his mind’s eye.
- Hearing—The teacher and the child talk about the words, helping the child make personal connections to them as they discuss.
- Touching and moving—The child manipulates word tiles and letter tiles to form the words and make the sentences.
- Short lessons—And all of this is done in short, focused lessons no more than 10–15 minutes each. A great length for an energetic young one.
So make sure you are giving your children several tools that they can use in learning to read. Don’t get stuck with only a wrench. Yes, you might be able to accomplish the task, but it will most likely be a frustrating experience. Use many different tools to get the job done successfully and enjoy the process.
If Charlotte’s method of teaching reading intrigues you, take a look at the videos on our site that demonstrate her method and explain the difference between basic phonics and intensive phonics. You might also find the Delightful Reading Kit helpful.