Monday, April 9, 2012

Dick and Jane Readers

Do you remember Dick and Jane? And their sister, Sally, and dog Spot? A few years ago my mother-in-law gave Beezy a new, 12 volume set of these books. I was initially discouraged from using them for homeschooling, because they contain a lot of sight words, and I was focusing on the Montessori method of teaching the phonetic letter sounds first, then putting them together into three- and four-letter words. A homeschooling friend of mine suggested the BOB books from Scholastic, and at first I thought these were great, as most words could be sounded out, with only a few sight words gradually being added. The art work for these books is, quite frankly, terrible. I think I could do better illustrations, which is a sad statement indeed. It is actually okay for a child to pick up words from the context of pictures in a book. This is a relational skill, so there is no reason for bad drawings.

After awhile I noticed that Beezy would yawn profusely whenever she read the BOB books, but she would not yawn during any other lessons! She always commented on the bad art, and as it turns out, she really does not enjoy sounding out words. I was relieved to read in Charlotte Mason's manual that sight reading should begin once the basics of phonics are learned, as this is where real progress in the art of reading happens. I have found that this is indeed an effective method, simply putting a finger under each word and having the child repeat it. Mason would not have liked the "twaddle" of either the BOB readers or the Dick and Jane series. So we use Beatrix Potter's wonderful books of high quality literature, interesting stories, excellent vocabulary words, and extremely fine illustrations.

Still, I did not want to completely give up on sounding words out, which one should be able to do in the event that one comes across an unfamiliar word, or in case one wishes to look a word up in the dictionary. So out of curiosity, I looked at Dick and Jane again, which at least has good art work. To my surprise, Beezy has progressed quite well in her reading as a result! The repetition of the sight words gets them into her head, and she doesn't have to stop so often to sound something out. She doesn't seem to mind the simplicity of the language and lack of intriguing plot. The feeling of success in developing reading skills without such laboriousness as we found with the BOB books is evidently enough reward to compensate for the lack of literary value.

Once again, the point is well made that you do what works best with your children. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts and try something different when progress is not being well made. And after all, I learned to read with Dick and Jane, and I am an avid bookworm of exceptional reading abilities! The worst thing to do is to force a skill that your child is not ready for, or to allow lessons to be so boring and tedious that they kill the natural joy in learning that we want our children to possess. Go, Sally, go!

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