Educating your child can be a confusing business, especially when it comes to literacy.

There are thousands of theories and courses on the market, thousands of educational gurus - and yet, despite all the information out there, literacy standards have been dropping for several decades. Obviously something isn’t working.

The main problem, perhaps, is that just as your average person would struggle to understand the wiring of, say, a radio, parents often struggle to understand the issues involved in teaching children to read and write. They don’t know what to look for in a reading course; they don’t know how to use one effectively once they purchase it.

Worse still, even a large percentage of today’s teachers are often confused because they have been exclusively taught what is fast becoming an outdated literacy method (the whole language method) – one that just doesn’t work well.

This final comment might sound controversial; but results from decades of whole language experimentation can’t lie. What else but the advent of whole language can explain the drop in literacy standard throughout the 20th century? Why else would countries like the United States and the UK legislate (in the mid to late ‘90s) for phonics, the other literacy method?

To make things clearer: once upon a time – say, your grandparents’ generation – if you were fortunate enough to be able to go to school for any decent length of time, you learnt to read and write. You might not have become a Pulitzer Prize winning author; but learning with the time-old phonics method meant you could spell respectably and write a fair – and grammatical – sentence.

Not so any longer. How many people do you know who, when you ask them about spelling, lower their head, shuffle their feet and mumble that actually it’s not their strong point? Do you, yourself, really feel comfortable when it comes to spelling?

Yet it doesn’t have to be like that. The English language, for all its irregularities, is designed – thanks primarily to the alphabet – to be easy to read and write.

And it does have rules. Simple rules: Rules that enable you to spell the vast majority of words. So why not learn them? Why attempt the near impossible task of memorizing every word without any help? Why attempt to memorize whole words when there is a simple set of tools available to help 'decode' and read them?

But if you still believe those who tells you that English is too irregular to bother with rules, consider this fact: If you add the fifty most common ‘sight’ words (that is, irregular words like eye and said) to English spelling rules, 90-95% of English words can be read – including ones that have never been seen before.

So the question confronting parents and educators is this: Would you prefer children to be forced to rote memorize 100% of words (which, in the English, language amounts to hundreds of thousands) or what is left of the 90-95% of words, i.e. 5-10%?

Important Questions

How phonics literacy systems (i.e. the ones where you break words down into their sounds) really work;

What to look for when choosing a phonics system;

How to best use a phonics system once you have invested in it.

Proven techniques for teaching the first letters

Games and strategies for making the jump from letters to words

The psychology of learning to read and write.


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