Thursday, June 01, 2006

Teaching your child to read and write using Learning Styles

I attended a seminar on reading and writing recently, and, I must admit, I was a bit taken aback to discover how children in New Zealand are taught to write. Spelling, for example, is something that is no longer important for the first couple of years. The idea is not to learn that “mummy” is spelled M-U-M-another M-Y - the idea is to sound it out: “what does it sound like, mmmm-mummy? Does it sound like something that begins with the same letter as mmmm-mouse?”

Consequently, children learn to spell “cat” as “k” or “kt” if they’re lucky enough to hear the “t” at the end. Their writing books are full of sentences like “i l m k” (I like my cat” and “trtlsl” (turtles are slow). The idea is to liberate the children from the restrictions of having to know how to spell a word and just to let them write what and how they like it, and then to "correct" it further down the line. The trouble is, some children (typically those who love rules and doing things "right") might struggle with the concept that "kt" is now supposed to be spelled "cat" and that what they were originally taught was "wrong".

I’m sure it’s a valid approach, this sounding. But what about children who are not auditory? “Not a problem,” said the presenter. “We use a combination of phonics (sounding) and whole-word learning”. “Whole-word learning is when you show the child a whole word as a picture and tell them the word is “and”. Which is fine for children who are visual. As usual, tactile and kinesthetic students are left behind in this mode of teaching.

So, if you suspect your child may be tactile or kinesthetic (you can assess their Learning Style on, do find out how they are being taught “the three Rs” at school. You may discover that the Montessori approach of drawing letters in sand and tracing them in sandpaper cut-outs works better for your youngster.

Another innovation (since my day, anyway) is teaching to write and read small letters only (they are the ones that are more common in reading books) and in groups of “letters that look similar”, e.g.,: r, n, m all look similar, so do l and t, etc. Again, for children who are not good with visual detail, teaching “similar-looking letters” together may lead to confusion.

Do you know how your child is taught the basics at the local school? How were you yourself taught? Every country is bound to be different, of course, and I’d be fascinated to learn about the various approaches taken worldwide, particularly in non-English speaking countries. Please email me on or leave a comment on this blog.

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