Our Preschool Studio

A not so literal journey

Thank you for your questions about the LOE Foundations curriculum and some of them have made me reflect a little on my still on-going journey to help my daughters to read.  I am especially heartened by those who also shared with me your own struggles and the familiar sense of feeling lost and confused.

We are parents who are told time and time again that a child surrounded by books and is read-to regularly would learn to read organically.  I definitely bought into this myth hook, line and sinker.  Partly because that was precisely how I learnt to read and believed that the skill would naturally pass on to my daughters. But you know what: I have four daughters and it was four times the effort to read a storybook or two individually and my husband and I have invested so much of our precious time reading to them everyday.  From the moment they were out of the womb, and came home from hospital, even through all our exhaustion of sleepless nights taking care of triplets plus one solo, they never went a day without being read-to at least once.  Most days we would read aloud as many as 5 books per child.  Do you know when you accumulate that into 4-5 years and multiplied it by 4 children, do you realize how many hours that is?  A ridiculous amount.  Mainly because we believed like everyone said, that children who were read-to would learn to read independently.

Except no.  That didn’t happen. At all.

So I started looking into phonics.  When eldest kid turned 3, I got involved in the Montessori pink, blue and green language series.  The whole system was like a dizzying array of materials that it proved a challenge just to keep track.  And after my effort printing and laminating the Montessori cards, and getting all the object boxes lined up, my daughter showed zero interest.  So I postponed till she was 4 and it was the same – she did not like it, nor did it help her learn her alphabet, its sounds or made it interesting for her to learn.  So I sold off the movable alphabets and the pink language series.  Thank goodness I didn’t prepare the blue or green language series ahead of time after being turned off majorly by its large inventory.

I also got into the Dick and Jane look-say method of reading train because it seems every Singaporean household used it and swore by it.  This was the only curriculum that proved to bring my kids and I actual tears of torture.  Not only were the books boring, it made no sense. So Dick and Jane were quickly abandoned, like in 3 days.

In the meantime, other that being read-to everyday, we both brought them outside to play lots.  So many hours under the sun, in every green or blue corner you can find in Singapore.  I figured well maybe when she goes to school she would learn to read so for now, we would just enjoy being innocent children playing with wild abandonment.

Then school came along. After a whole year at a play-based kindergarten that encourages literacy through physical activities and games, her teachers reported the same frustrations.  She was just not registering with the basic alphabetic code.  Like we can’t even get into reading short phrases or simple sentences because she couldn’t even remember her alphabet after an entire year at school.  She also demonstrated struggles with writing despite having above average fine motor skills. Her Mandarin reading and writing, however, started taking off but for English, she barely even kick-started.

At this point I really felt something was deeply amiss.  I did what academics do: read a ton of longitudinal research by PhDs specializing in brain development, reading skills and linguistics.  The results of their findings amazed me.  It turned out that everything I thought I knew about reading was deeply misguided.

The most glaring finding was that while reading aloud to children helps them build their speech skills, it does not help one iota in helping develop reading or reading processing skills.  Reading aloud corresponds to parts of the brain that deals with speech, not parts of the brains that does phonological processing which is precisely the part of the brain that helps you learn to read. 1/3 of children are able to figure out linguistic patterns by looking at text in storybooks on their own but 2/3s cannot.  For these 2/3s, they need to be shown and taught how to break words into their simplest sound units and how to unglue and glue these sounds together to form words, then phrases, then sentences, and eventually into paragraphs.

The second most glaring finding was that children growing up in bilingual environments do not have language acquisition delays.  They do demonstrate a period of lagging behind but they would eventually catch up.  Children who show persistent lag in language acquisition are considered red flags.

The most positive finding to come out of all my research was knowing that intervention helps and early intervention was crucial.  So I began my hunt for curriculums to intervene and it was in no way to help her catch up to her peers.  I just wanted to find a system she would at least enjoy so that the process of learning English Language was a positive, not negative experience for her.  Her teachers at school have been extremely caring and supportive so she did not develop any negativity towards learning English, and I am thankful to them for that because teaching a child to read was not so hard, but teaching a child with confidence and self-esteem issues however, was extremely difficult. So to not need to deal with motivating her because she was extremely motivated to learn was fortunate on my part.

I think you have read in immense detail how I started with Explode the Code and then switched to Logic of English Foundations so I do not need to repeat that part of the story. It was a relief to finally hold on to a curriculum that worked for us.  We didn’t even spend all that much time on it, just a simple 10 minutes to as long as 30 minutes a day.  Explode the Code gave us a good start but soon it became a drag.  What I didn’t like about it was that I still needed to teach her high-frequency sight-words separately.  So I needed to devote extra time to prepare additional materials. While doing Explode the Code, she was also concurrently learning words from the first 100 Fry word list and also reading Level 1 Books. It was fine for a month or two and then we then hit a brick wall.  Explode the Code did help her to start reading but getting her to continue doing the exercises proved challenging as she started resisting. She mainly disliked the fact that each lesson in Explode the Code was one big written exercise and it got tiresome.  For her writing was tiring and especially at the early stages where she was just learning to read and write, she was fatigued.  And obviously also, learning sight-words by rote got to her.  The Level 1 reading books – similar to the Bob books –  were also terribly boring.  The stories make no sense and I didn’t feel by reading lines like, “the hog sat on a log” was helping her improve one bit.

So I asked on an overseas-based homeschooling website who used these curriculums for advice and other than suggesting we take a break from Explode the Code and sight-words, one lady pointed me to an all-in-one reading integrated curriculum called Logic of English Foundations.   I definitely thought to myself: do I want to invest money in yet ANOTHER curriculum? I already spent quite a lot on Explode the Code.  I think what eventually won me over was reading Denise Eide’s book, Uncovering the Logic of English.  She was writing for a general audience but what she wrote resonated so squarely with my struggles in helping my child so I decided to take the leap.  If the curriculum proved to suck then well, I would just sell it off. Thankfully, it did not suck one bit.  We love Foundations and I need to go back to find that lady who suggested it to me to thank her. It covered phonics decoding, writing skills and practice, sight-words, age-appropriate readers and storybook suggestions, comprehension skills, spelling skills, grammar analysis and so on.  It basically covered all aspects and did so in an integrated way which engaged all types of learners.

I have nothing to gain financially from sharing my experience with both curriculums.  I am not sponsored by any of them, and I bought both curriculums with my own dime.  My motivation to share is a result of feeling lonesome the past year, trying to decide whether to intervene or to let my child be.  Connecting to parents who went through similar struggles and came out on the other side with positive news was like coming out for fresh air for me.  So I hope by sharing it would help the two-thirds of children today who struggle with language acquisition and reading.  That yes, they need help.  That yes, its okay to get them help and to do it soon.  That yes, with structured learning and positive reinforcements, they can overcome their difficulties.  For us the journey is still a long one because I believe that while its good you can read proficiently, there is still so much more to learn to be deeply and highly literate.  I believe its something you need to always continue learning, especially in an era of social media with short attention spans, inability to process complex sentences, distaste for long articles and books and heavy dependence on television and iffy Internet websites for main sources of information and knowledge.  We need to help cultivate a generation with above average reading skills now more than ever.

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