Language Skills Ahoy

Miss Oh Waily has been big into letters recently.
I’d have to be blind, deaf and stupid not to have noticed her “sensitive period”. It’s all about language, writing, letters and numbers.

We have been reading and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading three of my Beatrix Potter* books. The little Miss is now well versed in Peter Rabbit, the Flopsy Bunnies and Mrs Tittlemouse.
These are my lunchtime bribe in order to get Miss Oh to have quiet time (and preferably a short sleep). But for some time now she has been coming to the concept that we adults don’t actually ‘read’ the pictures.  She has bluntly asked me “Mummy, are you reading the pictures or the words.”  I, of course, answer that I am reading the words.  But like her ex-scientist father, she must do her own experiments.  This involves alternately placing her hand over the top of the picture of dear little Peter Rabbit and then the words on the next page.  Naturally my memory (being an older person) is not as good as hers and I must request that she remove her hand from covering the text so that I can continue the story.  She has repeated this experiment several times now.
I am unsure as to her need to re-check that I wasn’t fudging the first dozen times, but then she is a child and repetition is their thing.

On top of this fascination with the idea that maybe, just maybe, her Mum reads those funny squiggles rather than makes up the story about the picture herself (does that mean she’s going to think less of me as a storyteller ?), comes the ongoing interest in creating letters.

I have already shown you her A in playdough and now I get to add that she is actually capable of the odd bit of writing.  A couple of days ago I encouraged her to “do some art” so that I could concentrate on packing some more of the 25+ boxes of books for our move to Wellington.  Well blow me down if she doesn’t sit on those boxes with her paper and crayons and proceed to create the letter E.  And I don’t think it was one of those fortuitous “it kinda looks like it, so I’ll say it was it” moments.  She turned to me immediately and said “look, I made an E /e/”.  There was intent.

According to Montessori the capacity to write comes before the capacity to read.  I can’t remember exactly the approximate age that this begins, but I certainly didn’t think it was a few days before Miss Oh turned three !!

Photograph to come.

In addition to this increased interest in letters and writing comes an interest in numbers larger than 10.  This is also being addressed through the Miss Potter books.  I am having to explain numbers at the bottom of each page.  Miss Oh can recognise numbers into the teens – but not all of them, and not consistently.  She can count to the high teens without too much trouble as well.  So I am thinking that a bit more formal help from me is now required when we get settled in our new abode.  There definitely needs to be some more number recognition games made available to her, so watch out for more mathematical posting in the near future.

Now, on the mundane blog admin side of things.  We will be packing up the house tomorrow and Friday, then heading down to Gran and Pop Oh Waily’s place for Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday we head south and are planning to stop at Palmerston North overnight.  On Monday morning we shall be up for the last leg of our journey to the capital.  Then, no doubt, we will spend all of Monday moving in to the apartment and rearranging boxes around and about.
What this means in a blogging sense, is that I may have to rely on the goodwill use of other people’s internet should I have the time to write anything of interest, otherwise it will be the middle of next week at the earliest when I can confirm our safe arrival.   So, if it goes quiet, then either I have nothing of note to share – or I am having battles with our internet company of choice in Wellington.  😉
No matter which it is, I will be back.  But in the meantime, I wish everyone a happy last week and a bit of winter (or summer), and I’ll see you on the other side of the move.

* Miss Oh Waily-ism “Lectrix Spotter”  or even odder “Not Lectrix Spotter”

7 thoughts on “Language Skills Ahoy

  1. Good luck with the move. Catch you on the otherside!

    I’m impressed by Miss OhWailey’s experiments with the books. It’s interesting to think that our kids think we are making it up. I must choose the books I read with even more care – I must plagirise only really good books.

    Interesting about Montessori saying that writing comes first, as in my profession we would tend to say recognition before production. Is that meaningful writing though or just letter production?


  2. Hi Sol,

    Thanks for the good wishes. We are more or less on the other side now and I have fished out the books on Montessori to check up on that writing / reading thing.

    It stuck with me that I read somewhere that the writing comes before the reading because I thought it was odd. But now I can’t find the reference – typical !! I’ll keep looking to make sure I’ve understood correctly.

    In How to Raise an Amazing Child the section on learning to read and write is called “The Writing Road to Reading”. From re-reading this it looks to be a tandem process, but that the physical act of writing is used to enhance the process of learning to read. And a quote from David Gettman’s book makes it even clearer I think:

    The other preparatory Language Activities enhance the child’s attention to and use of words in everyday speaking and train the child to hear the component sounds in all spoken words (see I Spy). At this point, the child is provided with the bridge between the spoken word and the written word: the component sounds in spoken words are individually associated with particular visual and tactile images, that is, letters (see Sandpaper letters).
    After this early preparation, the activities that actually introduce writing and reading are conducted simultaneously. The reason for this is that it is easier to appreciate reading someone else’s thoughts if the child has experienced the satisfaction of recording his or her own thoughts.

    So recognition definitely comes before production – at least at the letter level. After that it may be that most children run the production right alongside the recognition. Does that make more sense to you?


  3. Okay, I looked a bit more and here’s another view:

    Children should never be forced to read and write at a young age. But the tools to do so, when offered and their use shown, prepare and inspire many to read. This is the sensitive period in a child’s life for knowing the names of everything, including the sounds of letters, and for touching and feeling. So we offer letters made of sandpaper to trace with their fingers while saying the sound.

    Children often spontaneously “explode” into writing, which naturally appears several months before reading.

    – this is from the highly respected Michael Olaf site.


  4. Interesting. My field is adult educaiton, of course, not child development, and they don’t always match up. I suppose once kids have the letters and some idea of the sounds they represent, they can have a bash without recognising individual words. In fact, of course they can, as long as (in English) you aren’t expecting correct spelling! Working out that ‘cough’ means ‘hack hack hack’ would be much more difficult than writing ‘kof’ after all.

    Although in these days of phonics teaching (do NZ schools do that?) I suppose the idea is to make sure kids know that ‘ough’ = ‘off’

    Actually, Italian is much more phonetically spelt, so I daresay it would work perfectly well and painlessly there.


  5. I don’t blame you for being unconvinced. There seems to be two schools of thought at each end of the spectrum and the pendulum swings from one to the other depending on the latest “study”.

    Personally I have to admit to a bias – I am old enough to have been one of the last generation to have been taught predominantly under the phonics system here, then in the 1980s we began an experiment in NZ schools and went the other way to “whole word” learning. As for what goes on now, I have scouted out an article from 2008 about the ongoing battle of techniques.
    School Literacy Levels Continue to Dive.
    The literacy levels here have been taking a dive – or at least it pops up in the media every now and again as an ongoing problem. Like all media events, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    On another personal anecdote (I know – not the least bit scientific), we had a young relative from an in-laws extended family come stay with us for her last year at school. She would have been 16-17. We knew she had trouble with spelling so I thought we’d do a bit of reading aloud as a starting point to see what words were difficult for her to recognise and/or spell. We started with Terry Pratchett’s kids/young adult books and were surprised horrified to find that they provided as many struggles as successes. So not a poster child for the recent methods. 😦

    As for Montessori teaching methods – I’ll have a better idea shortly as I’ve ordered a book on their reading/writing methods since the local library here doesn’t have a copy. I may have got things ar$e for elbow since they certainly do a form of word recognition too – you just have to look at any number of the three part cards and classified cards that you can buy from online retailers to know that the kids are immersed in “whole” words of all sorts (in their context – word matched to object) too.

    It seems to be a perennial debate.


  6. More appropriate regarding NZ teaching – the Min of Ed’s “Literacy Taskforce Report”.

    A quote:

    The taskforce also considered that a statement of best practice needs to be quite specific about what comprises appropriate instructional approaches, particularly in the light of the public debate about phonics and whole language. Although the debate has brought important issues about the teaching of reading to the surface, the taskforce felt that it had been conducted by the media in a way that polarised views. The taskforce strongly believes that such polarisation has been unhelpful [1] when the focus of attention should be on ensuring that instructional approaches include an appropriate mix of strategies.

    The Literacy Experts Group’s advice on appropriate instructional approaches was based on a concern they expressed that teachers may not always select appropriate strategies, particularly when working with struggling readers. There is sound research that indicates that children should not rely on context as the primary or only strategy for working out unknown words but should develop the use of word-level skills and strategies. For some struggling readers, teachers may need to place a stronger emphasis on the development of word-level skills and strategies than for those children who quickly develop alphabetic awareness and are able to use language prediction skills such as context much more readily.

    The taskforce agreed that it is essential that all teachers be skilled and able to use a wide range of strategies with children, selecting those that are most appropriate at the time rather than trying to provide a balance or following a particular approach.

    Full report for those requiring self-flagellation is here.


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