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3. Teaching Babies to Read

by Aruna Raghavan

For two weeks now, I have been talking about our personal experience with teaching our own child and how we use the method with other children. The question that the reader has is: can I teach mine? So, here is an easy step by step programme for your child. The programme holds good for any child who does not go to school or does not know the letters of the language. So, you could begin with a babe 10 months up to 3 years. The rules and application are the same irrespective of the age.

It is always best that Nuran knows a word in context before she is shown the card. If she does not know an ostrich, it is best she is shown pictures of ostrich, before she is shown the word card 'ostrich'. Unfamiliar words leave children cold and inattentive.

Nuran always crawls or runs to the living room when the commercials begin. She confines her television viewing to commercials. The commercials are short, quick yet she knows them all. Your sessions with Nuran should be so. Short, quick and fun.

To Nuran, whose eyes are not yet trained to distinguish words and sounds it is best we do not show words that look or sound alike. To show Nuran cards like cat, sat, mat, pat, bat, fat would be disastrous. The reason : they all look alike; they all sound alike. If she feels even slightly confused, she can feel dejected enough to respond by walking away or misbehaving. However, cards that do not look or sound alike gives the untrained eye and ear a fair chance. Hippopotamus, tiger, kookaburra, ostrich and flamingo do not look alike; they bring a response from her.

On the floor, with no distractions, seating your Nuran near you, you are ready to start. Call out the card as you flash it. Ensure that you are in sync with the flashing and the calling out. Put the cards on the floor. Place the cards one on top of another so that two cards cannot be seen at the same time.

Let us take 5 cards as a trial run. The most interesting words for any child are : mother, father, auto, your baby's name, tata. Show these cards at the rate of a second a card. Really fast – remember how fast and enthusiastic the commercials are! That should make it 5 seconds. Do this 3 times a day for 4 days. By the time you have shown the 10th round your baby will know 'tata' and 'auto'. The reason is they are the most interesting words in the set. Mother and father look alike and your baby is not yet certain which is which.

Now that you are convinced that your child can read, you could start a proper reading programme. Make sure that these are words that you have talked about in stories, games, or other contexts.

Select 5 words that are associative.

Make 5 such sets. So, you will have a total of 25.

Show the words at the rate of one second per card – A session of 30 seconds.

Repeat this process three times a day for seven days.

What should be Nuran's the first words?

Each child's experience and environment is different so it would be impossible to make an exhaustive list. But here are some sets that have proved successful every time.

Set 1 : hands, legs, eye, tummy, fingers.

Set 2 : car, truck, autorickshaw, ship, airplane

Set 3: elephant, kangaroo, monkey, bear, dog

Set 4: long, fat, noisy, big, cool

Set 5: zoom, run, yum yum, fly, jump

Show the cards three times a day, for a week. Each time you show a set of cards, change the order of the cards in that set. This will ensure that your tot has to look at the cards each time. Or your tot is quite capable of going by the sound alone without caring to look too!

You will find by the end of the week your child will know some of the cards very well, some are familiar and some have yet to make an impact. Do not worry about the words your child has yet to read. Go on to build on what she knows. The next stage we shall deal with next week.

How does one call the words? With enthusiasm and vigour. Remember, to you it may be quite simple but to Nuran, the words are new. They should evoke a love for reading and keep the light of sense of discovery burning. Do not take time between cards, do not put on such expression on the face that it distracts the child. The expression should be in the voice alone. However, if Nuran talks or repeats your information as you show the cards, say that she is bright and a wow! But do not allow for too much distraction.

HOW TO MAKE THE CARDS:

Materials required : White chart papers cut into 4" by 24" strips.

Red marker wide tip pens.

Centre the words to give space for your fingers as you show the cards.

Points to remember whilst making cards :

Letters have to be 3'' high;

Use only lower cases except in cases of proper nouns;

The letters have to be thick and bold;

Use only print [ do not use cursive, stencils, shadow writing]

Use only one colour for all cards, preferably red or black.

When you teach, hug your child as often as you wish, be relaxed and enjoy yourself. For the secret of any teaching is that you are not teaching a subject but your own love for it. Here, you are teaching your child your love for reading. It is this love that is to be transferred, it is this joy that the child wants to make her own. Then speed and confidence has no bounds. So, have a lovely time with your baby.

When your child responded to 'auto' with curiosity, then wonder and lastly joy, it must have sent you to a new heaven. My child knows these words! And yet, that old conservative thinking mind would have pulled you back and said, "Wait, it might be just a coincidence." Try again. This time with even more fun words like ice cream, Cadbury, Maruti, Tata Sumo. These are words that are close to your tot's heart even if he can't articulate or even speak. Co-relate these words, whenever you can, showing the original -- it makes it more exciting .

Often am I told, "But my child can't talk, so can she read?"

The question is posed seriously, yet the answer is humorous. We need our eyes and not our voices to read.

Often am I asked, "Which language?"

In as many as you are good at, and certainly the language your child hears most.

In 1994, when my husband and I started the school in the deep south, we knew little Tamil. I learnt to read Tamil along with my first batch of children. We began with cards – for them and for me. Today they can write stories in Tamil – I can read the posters and names of shops. Children are always faster than adults; they have no inhibitions, they think reading is a lark and that it was created for the sole purpose of opening up the world to them. And ultimately, that is why we read at all. It opens the world to us.

So, when you teach your child to read, remember that the purpose is not only to introduce but to open a whole world to him. So, if your baby was fascinated by that little thing that flitted by, pick her up and say, "Look, butterfly!" Do that as often as you can both spot the butterfly. Then, presto, open your handbag, pull out a blank card, write butterfly on it and present it to your baby. It can become a game. Every interesting thing can be written right there and presented. The excitement and laughter is spontaneous and your baby knows she has your undivided attention. Your words could range from friend, apple, periwinkle, sand and stone, feather, puddle. (Babies love stones. Every home has a few bags of them that the harassed mother dares not throw out until the child leaves home.)

It means, you cut out the cards and keep them ready. Always have 10 to 20 such cards and your marker pen in your bag. They are the 'essential' part of your outing kit along with the nappies.

What then are cards? They are conversation openers. Lets take a few of the words and see what all we can tell a child.

Butterfly : flies, loves flowers, flowers have nectar, butterflies sip the nectar, butterflies live in gardens, butterfly and flowers are friends

Friends : you, your baby and the tall father, the big dog and your baby, the wide tree and your baby, the banana man and your baby

Apples : are fruits, red outside and white inside with black seeds, sweet, good for the tummy, grow in Himachal and Kashmir. That is the time to make a large map of India with only the borders of the states and show the two states that grow apples. You could even stick pictures of apples in Himachal and Kashmir to aid your child's understanding.

Periwinkle : flower, loves butterflies, is pink, has five small petals (count the petals as you show the flower)

Sand : beach, water, sea, salty, castles, soft, slippery ( get her to hold in her hand and watch her delight)

Stones : round, hard, black / red / brown / sharp / pokey, shiny,

Feather : chirruping birds, colourful, thin,

Puddle : jump, laugh, raincoat, gum boots, dirty , clean, gurgling rain water collected in a hole, what is rain?

What have we covered – Shapes / Sizes / Colours / Sounds / Texture / Numbers / Names / Taste / Verbs ......Did you catch all that in the small text above ?

Can a one year old understand all this? Here again are two answers. If you don't start now, he won't understand even when he is two! Besides, if you say it like a story: give the butterfly a name, say how it flies, how it asked the flower to please give him some nectar and the flower nodded its head in agreement and smiled at the butterfly, you will find that your child listens carefully. If at first you fear that your child is like Maria, who could not be made to stay and listen to all you say, just put her in a bath tub. As her body soaks, as her fingers and toes are busy catching the elusive water, her ears are wide open to your stories. Keep your sentences short, your story short at first. After the basic concept has been understood, you could elaborate and dress up your story.

Isn't all this pressure? Or is it pleasure? You spend time with your child. And with reference to anything we love there is no such thing as quality time. There is only time. And you spend endless hours with your child. You feed, you bathe, you play, you go for walks, you put her to bed, you sing 'lories', you play music for her, you even play the clown. Each of these situations are learning opportunities. And a child who has so much of you can only be loved. And where there is love, learning can never be a pressure.

Aruna Raghavan can be contacted at: Dit e-mailadres is beschermd tegen spambots. U heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien.