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1. Reading without Being Taught
by Aruna Raghavan
"And please bring
Nirupama with you.” That was an
invitation to meet Shri C. Subramaniam when he was the Governor of Maharashtra.
Nirupama was our
three and a half year old who was taught by us at home : to read and to do
math. And through stories, play acting and experiments we also
taught history, geography and sciences. Shri Subramaniam had heard of our ‘home
school’ and was desirous of seeing the results. Giving us a few minutes to
settle ourselves, he asked Nirupama if she would read for him. Sure. So he
picked up The Times of India with headlines that ran ‘Queen agrees to pay tax.’
She read the headlines and the first para. He then asked her if she knew what
“Tax means giving money to the government.”
“Do you know any
one who pays tax ?”
“Gandhiji did not
pay tax for salt, so he was put in prison. Then all the young leaders began to
fight the British.”
“Do you know, I
was one of the young leaders ?”
“ Of course not ! you couldn’t be; all those great leaders are all dead
looked surprised,then laughed.
Nirupama is now
12; her favourite authors are Asimov, Bach and Wodehouse; she enjoys Harry
Potter and fantasy books. She has read Kamala Subramaniam, Rajaji and Munshi’s
epics; has done a three month course in Sanskrit and Vedanta at Swami
Dayananda’s Arsha Vidyashram Gurukulam; she knows three languages fluently and
has begun on two more.
Does that make
Nirupama a bespectacled, boring child? Not really; she is quite naughty, apt to
say things very strongly and with a very funny turn of
And we, her
parents, are we glad we taught her at home?
It is the most joyous aspect of our life. To teach one’s own child the way one
believes teaching should take place is a rare privilege.Of course it called for a lot of
everywhere we wanted to find ateaching method that would go best with the philosophy that teaching
should take off from learning. For it is a fact that children begin learning
much before any teaching ever takes place. For children learn from the moment
they are born. First to breathe, then to taste and differentiate the soft arms
of its mother from all the other arms.
We read Dr Glenn
Doman’s books from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. His
rationale of learning comes from the theory that the mental growth of a child is
directly related to the physical growth of the child. The physical growth is
seen through creeping, crawling, sitting, standing and ultimately walking
straight and without help. Each of these milestones is an external and explicit
growth of a child implying the growth of the brain. Growth of brain in turn
implies neurological growth. Good hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell and
breathing, which are the hallmarks of a good learner, are slowly finessed in the
first five to seven years of a child’s life.
How does a child
learn? By using her senses and having the brain translate it for him. To take an
example: every two year old * knows how to read Pepsi. How? Because she has had
5 pleasures at one go. She heard her parents say Pepsi [hearing], she was given
something cold [touch], that fizzed in her mouth [taste], that looked quite dark
[sight], and that smelt of nothing in particular. Now, it is hardly a surprise
that she can read the word anywhere.
By stimulating all her senses at the
same time, her parentshavesuccessfully helped her learn a word on
Doman builds on this; he says the child
has demonstrated amply that she is capable of learning to read on her own. If we
couldstimulate at least two of the
senses simultaneously surely she could learn to read well and early.
The two most
important senses used for reading are the eyes and the ears. Yet these sense
organs themselves are not the teachers, for the eyes see but do not understand,
the brain does not see but understands. The ears hear but do not understand, the
brain does not hear but understands. It is the brain that does the important
work of putting together what the eye has seen andwhat the ear has heardand coming up with a single idea.
Reading, therefore, becomes a combined skill of the eye, ear and the brain and
reading is said to be perfect when the three work in sync.
To enable a child
hone her skills at using her senses, Doman developed and systematized the use of
flash cards. The cards have large wordsso that a babe can see clearly and they are flashed at the child. As the
card is flashed, the mother calls out the word. Thus a two pronged stimulation
of seeing and hearing enables a child read.
Having read an
apparently enjoyable and simple method, we started with Nirupama when she was
two. A year ofregular, informal
and almost exclusive time with her brought the results. How regular ? every day,
Sundays included, since she did not recognize that the Lord needs a
At what time –
any time was learning time. If she refused her pomegranate juice vehemently, it
was the ideal time to talk about Satyagraha! If the mug popped out of a bucket
of water it was a chance to talk about pressure, air and vacuum.Exclusive – discovering the world and
seeing it through her eyes made every thing fresh and wonderful. So,time spent with her was a rare
But with specific
reference to reading :
How often was a
card flashed? Three times a day for a week.
At what speed? A
second at a time.
How many can one
flash at one sitting?5 cards for
Total time taken
in a day : 5cards x 1 second per card x 3 times = 15 seconds.
There was no
attempt to teach the letters in the words. The reason,the word is seen as a whole. When we see
a painting, we are not at first aware of all the individual features but we can
recognise the Night watch by Rembrandt anywhere. We see a whole. Then, we begin
to see the components that have gone to making it a masterpiece. So also with a
two year old who is being taught to read. For her the words are pictures, each
with their individual characters. Each word looks different from the other.She begins to ‘read’. With Nirupama we
began withher favourite words :
mountain, valley [we were living in a village in the Western Ghats], river,
sand, peak. Now, none ofthose
words look alike. So, it was so easy to identify and read. We began with a very
modest five new words a day; by the end of the year, we were on to 40 + new
words a day.
can well be imagined. We rounded up kids her age and tried the experiment. It
worked! Then we began workshops for parents in Mumbai who tried it with their
children. Those who ‘played’ with their child regularly did well. Soon, we tried
with rural children who were first generation literates. We were successful.
Every success has its own secret. Ours were : regularity, being totally relaxed
whilst converting teaching lessons to learning;knowing that if a child does not know
the word today she will tomorrow;never boring the child by showing the same cards over and over again.
Here is a
beginning for those of you who would like to try with your
interesting words for any child are : mother, father, kiss, milk,your baby’s name,tata.
How to show the
Flash the cards
and call out the card at the same time. If yours is an infant above 3 months,
put her on her back onthe bed as
you show the cards. The card should be at a distance ofone foot from your babe’s face. The
first few times your babe may not respond because the exercise is new. But by
day three, she will wait for the cards, smile or kick her legs or become still
to show that she is enjoying this new game.
For the six
months up, sit your babe. She will even show greater response for some cards
than for others. The one year old will show you in no uncertain terms that she
knows her first set of cards.
For the two and
three year olds, you could have her sit opposite and close to you and put the
cards on the floor. This way you could watch your child and see if she is
enjoying the cards. Place the cardsone ontop of another so
that two cards cannot be seen at the sametime .The two and three
year olds will want more cards, so you could make a second set : banana, orange,
grapes, apples, loves.
So, here’s an
exciting, fun filled week.. Next week, we shall see exactly what happened to
your child and why not to spell the words as you flash them.
In the meanwhile,
do write and tell us how staggered you are by your child!
HOW TO MAKE THE
White chart papers cut into 4” by 24” strips.
Red marker wide tip pens.
Centre the words
to give space for your fingers as you show the cards.
remember whilst making cards :
Letters have to
be 3’’ high;
Use only lower
cases except in cases of proper nouns;
The letters have
to be thick and bold;
Use only print [
do not use cursive, stencils, shadow writing]
Use only one
colour for all cards, preferably red.
Aruna Raghavan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org