A Word A Day


Those familiar with Glenn Doman know he insists that the easiest time to teach a child to read is in the years before he or she is school age. He says it is easier to teach a child to read at four than at five, at three than at four, at two than at three, and at one than at two. He says that once a child is five or six years old, the window for ease of learning has passed, and while it is possible to teach reading once a child is of an age to be in school, it will not be done as quickly or as painlessly as it could have been done earlier. My parents were not familiar with Doman or his work, but they did teach me to read early. They just saw it as part of a natural progression, and not something unusual or mysterious. I believe that their approach gave reading consistently positive associations for me, and avoided the stress that is often part of learning to read in school.

Interestingly, they say that they did not actively teach me letters. They just happened to watch Wheel of Fortune in the evenings, and they say that I was fascinated by it and learned the letters by seeing Vanna turn them. I do not remember this. My father points out that Wheel of Fortune uses an almost ideal teaching method– someone clearly says the letter, then the letter is shown. Eventually someone reads what the letters spell. They did not realize that I was making connections between written letters, their sounds, and words until one day I looked at the cover of a baby book and said “B-A-B-Y. Baby!” My mother was shocked, because no one had gone over letter sounds or making words with me. Thanks, Pat and Vanna.

This falls right in with Doman’s theory. He says that when very young children are shown written words, and when those words are pronounced clearly, the child will begin to figure out the sounds associated with letters on his or her own. This is why he advocates using the whole word method with babies and moving to phonics when children are older. Phonics are essential– he just contends that older children are more suited to phonetic learning, and that children who were introduced to words as young babies will have much of it figured out and have an easier time learning phonics when they are older.

The next thing my parents did, and something common to many parents, was to label things in the house so that I could see the words. So at one time a visitor to our house would have been greeted with helpful signs: “chair”, “table”, “wall”, “cabinet” etc. There was even a label on the ceiling.

Once the household words were old hat, my father began doing something that I think helped me tremendously in building vocabulary and learning how to spell. Every day he brought me a new word written on an index card. My job was to learn the meaning of the word and how to spell it by the next day. Upon demonstrating that I knew the word and its spelling I was given a new one. This was a delightfully fun game, and I waited eagerly each day for my new word. This ‘word a day’ game laid a broad vocabulary foundation for me which gave me much more confidence once I got to school. My father says that he could have started bringing me words earlier, he just didn’t think of it until I was almost four years old.

Doman would agree– children can learn written words from the time they are babies! And new words don’t have to be introduced one at a time. The younger a child is, Doman contends, the faster the child learns and the more– and more quickly– words can be introduced. A child who reads early is not more gifted than a child who does not read early. The early reader has just been given the tools to be able to do so. I am really grateful to my parents for providing an environment that was conducive to learning to read naturally and painlessly. I am excited about providing the same opportunity for my child from infancy.

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