Thursday, 25 October 2012
Early reading through play
Most orthodox educationalists, as well as an awful lot of home educators, would be horrified at the idea of teaching a baby to read. This would be particularly the case when it is revealed that the poor mite was given no say in the matter and subjected to the most intensive teaching from the age of three months. This at least is one way of viewing the case.
I mentioned a couple of days ago that many people, both teachers and home educating parents, create a wholly false division between play and structured education and also between teaching and games. Let us ask ourselves what babies like. One of the things that they like is the undivided attention of a kind and friendly adult. They enjoy this all the more if the adult plays simple games with them; things like peek-a-boo. Babies often want the same activities repeated over and over again. Whether it is a game or a favourite book, they like to have things repeated often.
Thinking now about reading, we realise that a lot of it consists of identifying shapes with which we are familiar. I am not talking about letters, but the shapes of words. The word ball has an entirely different shape from the word dog. These distinctive shapes are largely caused by the ascenders and descenders; those parts of the letters which stick up or down. If we want a baby to read, and I can’t imagine why we would not, then the first step will be to teach her to identify different shapes. Most puzzles for children are too complex for our purpose and so we turn to products marketed for children with special educational needs. Here are some which are perfect, being no more than simple, geometric shapes with handles so that a baby or child can grasp them:
A baby of three months will, with help, be able to manipulate these puzzles and learn the difference between circles, squares and triangles. This is a good beginning and after a while we can move on to slightly more complex puzzles; things like this:
From these, it is only a short step to simple conventional jigsaw puzzles.
Now the great thing about this sort of game is that the reward for the baby is intrinsic. Babies love the attention of an adult and they also like to repeat simple games over and over. Doing puzzles of this sort with an adult on hand is unbelievably satisfying to a three or four month old baby. Here is a puzzle which although a little too complex and fussy for my taste, could be used with a year old baby:
Now it is important to realise that it would be no use just leaving these things laying around and hoping for the best. The reward for the baby lies in the attention from the adult. We hope to get the child to associate the identification of shapes with pleasurable interaction with a loving adult.
Any reasonably bright child of eighteen months old can be taught to identify and name individual numbers by this method. By this, I mean that a child of eighteen months will, after a programme of teaching such as this be able to point to and name numbers when she sees them on houses or street signs for example. Once this is done, the process has been established. Here is a baby who can read! What is good about all this is that it has been done only by undertaking the kind of activities with the baby which she would ask for if she were able to do so. Adult attention and simple, repetitive games in which the adult also shows pleasure. All that has happened is that a parent has played with her child in the most natural way possible and the first stage of literacy emerges as a by-product.
In a few days time, I shall talk a little about how to extend this sort of play, with a view to getting the baby to read text.