Early Childhood Literacy And Bragging Rights
By Martha Pascal
My child is eighteen months and knows all his letters. Now what?
Little Miss Awesome
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Dear Little Miss Awesome,
Wow, that iPhone app must have been really effective. I’m sure your son spent some quality time with that iPhone while he learned his letters. Well done. Awesome.
So that’s lesson number one: don’t get snooty about your precious little angel knowing all his letters before his second birthday. It makes other parents feel like they’re doing something wrong and they’re not.
Anyway back to my little Nick. At one point around his third birthday, when he had long since abandoned chewing on the letters and had moved on to pretending like they were action figures, Nick picked up the foam ‘T.’ “Look Mommy!” he exclaimed. “T for tree!” Lord knows where he gleaned this bit of wisdom. Perhaps I mentioned it off-handedly during some late-night bed time story hour. Perhaps I should give credit to his father, who I sometimes forget is also capable of teaching things. In any case, I decided to pounce.
See, if Nick hadn’t expressed any sort of interest in reading until he was seven, that would have been fine, too. Truly, Little Miss Awesome, I don’t give a shit about the eighteen months part of your story. I actually find it rather distressing that you would see fit to mention such a thing. Stop bragging, it’s unbecoming.
“Mmmmmm. Sssssss. Man, I love reading,” and then we’d walk away. This invariably piqued his interest and he would usually (let’s just say about 90% of the time to be accurate) voluntarily repeat those sounds. We would also change the order regularly so that once there were more than two sounds, he wouldn't just learn the order by heart. Hello, teaching moments during breakfast!
Oh did I mention the star chart? Sorry, maybe I’m not as awesome as I thought I was. We introduced a star chart right out of the gate. “Okay, Nick, whenever you want to do a reading lesson, you’ll get to color in a star here. As soon as all these stars are colored in, you get to pick a prize!” Enter prize box. This has been my mothering jackpot. Because we can use it for an incentive for all kinds of behavior, both anticipated (“Look, you’ve colored in all five stars! Let’s go pick a prize!”) or unannounced (“Wow! A dry overnight diaper! Go pick a prize!”). We can also throw all kinds of otherwise disposable bullshit into the prize box. I especially love to make him earn back his birthday presents. Yeah, that’s a good trick.
It’s cool though if you think your instincts offer a better methodology for early childhood literacy. Do what you gotta do. Some people get all uptight about the whole phonetics approach. (I don’t mean to act like a salesman here, but the Teach Your Child to Read book addresses silent letters from the beginning. They print them noticeably smaller than the pronounced sounds and the instructions you give your child say ‘remember, we only say the big sounds.’) They’d rather have their child read by guessing the word based on the picture. Because that’s how reading works, right? You just use the illustrations to guide you through that New Yorker article?
If this is getting too bossy for you, Little Miss, remember that you’re the one who asked. Run don’t walk to buy yourself a copy of my new favorite book. I hope this post answers your question. And please let me know when your little angel starts trigonometry. I do hope it’s soon.