News from Southwest Florida's leader in early childhood education. College Can Begin at Two!
Success Through Early Literacy at Grace Community School
Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of The Whale’s Tale.
It affects millions of children. Many people don’t know the problem exists, and most of those who do, don’t know what they can do about it. The problem is lack of reading ability—literacy.
Literacy, the ability to read: once the hallmark of the educated person, has become a rare commodity. In the United States, 30 million people have a 5th grade (public school) level reading level or lower. This is not real reading. A person who is a functional illiterate is “a person with some basic education who still falls short of a minimum standard of literacy or whose reading and writing skills are inadequate to everyday needs.”
Imagine not being able to properly fill out a job application, read an Internet news story, or understand the text on a ballot. Good reading skills are a necessity for these basic tasks. Even more importantly, those who cannot read well are limited in the ways they can get information. They are more dependent upon others. We want independent individuals!
The problem starts at the preschool level. Reading instruction is not given early enough, and when it does come it is the wrong kind! Sight reading and “whole language” does not work for most people. The best way for kids to learn to read is not to memorize sight words, or to be read to for hours on end, but to learn the basic sounds and symbols they need to read independently. Today’s emphasis on emergent literacy, the belief that children gradually learn to read by interacting with books and print (as opposed to purposeful instruction), is wrong and harmful. Reading doesn’t “just happen,” it needs to be taught.
This Grace Community School student is graduating kindergarten tomorrow. She is very proud of her reading skills. We are, too! Do you see why College Can Begin at Two is much more than just a slogan?
So how do we teach it? There is a method, one that has been around for as long as the English language has existed: phonics. The letters of the alphabet are code for sounds. Letters and letter combinations represent sounds. When you decode the letters into the sounds they represent, you know what the words are. Teach kids to decode the alphabet, and they can read! With practice comes fluency and understanding. Decoding words into their sounds becomes second nature. The huge benefit of phonics is this: with phonics, you can read a word you have never seen before — memorization of words is not required. Phonics is the method of reading instruction, and this is what is done at Grace Community School.
There is no reason to wait until kids are in elementary school to teach reading. Our slogan says, “College Can Begin at Two,” and this is true. Reading is tremendously important for success in life, and the earlier these skills are acquired the better. More than that, though: learning to read at Grace Community School is fun!