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3. Teaching Babies to Read
by Aruna Raghavan
For two weeks now, I have been talking about our personal
experience with teaching our own child and how we use the method with other
children. The question that the reader has
can I teach mine? So,
an easy step by step
programme for your child. The programme holds good for any child who does not go
to school or does not know the letters of the language. So, you could begin with
a babe 10 months up to 3 years. The rules and application are the same
irrespective of the age.
It is always best that Nuran knows a word in context before
she is shown the card. If she does not know an ostrich, it is best she is shown
pictures of ostrich, before she is shown the word card ‘ostrich’. Unfamiliar
words leave children cold and inattentive.
crawls or runs to the living room when the commercials begin. She confines her
television viewing to commercials. The commercials are short, quick yet she
knows them all. Your sessions with Nuran should be so. Short, quick and fun.
To Nuran, whose eyes are not yet trained to distinguish words
and sounds it is best we do not show words that look or sound alike. To
show Nuran cards like cat, sat,
mat, pat, bat, fat would be
disastrous. The reason : they all look alike; they all sound alike. If she feels
even slightly confused, she can feel dejected enough to respond by walking away or
misbehaving. However, cards that do not look or sound alike gives the untrained
eye and ear a fair chance. Hippopotamus, tiger, kookaburra, ostrich and flamingo
do not look alike; they bring a response from her.
On the floor, with no distractions, seating your Nuran near
you, you are ready to start. Call out the card as you flash it. Ensure that you
are in sync with the flashing and the calling out. Put the cards on the
floor. Place the cards one on top of another so that two cards cannot
be seen at the same time.
Let us take 5 cards as a trial run. The most interesting
words for any child are : mother, father,
auto, your baby’s name,
tata. Show these cards at
the rate of a second a card. Really fast – remember how fast and enthusiastic the
commercials are! That should make it 5 seconds. Do this 3 times a day for 4
days. By the time you have shown the 10th round your baby will know ‘tata’ and
‘auto’. The reason is they are the most interesting words in the set. Mother and
father look alike and your baby is not yet certain which is which.
Now that you are convinced that your child can read, you
could start a proper reading programme. Make sure that these are words that you
have talked about in stories, games, or other contexts.
Select 5 words that
Make 5 such sets. So, you will have a total of 25.
Show the words at the rate of one second per card – A session
of 30 seconds.
Repeat this process three times a day for seven days.
What should be Nuran’s
the first words?
Each child’s experience and environment is different so it would be impossible
to make an exhaustive list. But
here are some sets that have proved successful every time.
Set 1 : hands, legs, eye, tummy, fingers.
Set 2 : car, truck, autorickshaw, ship, airplane
Set 3: elephant,
kangaroo, monkey, bear, dog
Set 4: long,
fat, noisy, big, cool
Set 5: zoom,
run, yum yum, fly, jump
Show the cards three times a day, for a week. Each time you show a set of
cards, change the order of
the cards in that set. This will
ensure that your tot has to look at the cards each time. Or your tot is quite
capable of going by the sound alone without caring to look too!
You will find by the end of the week your child will know
some of the cards very well, some are familiar and some have yet to make an
impact. Do not worry about the words your child has yet to read. Go on to build
on what she knows. The next stage
we shall deal with next week.
How does one call the words? With enthusiasm and vigour.
Remember, to you it may be quite simple but to Nuran, the words are new. They should evoke a love for reading and
keep the light of sense of discovery burning. Do not take time between cards, do not put on such expression on
the face that it distracts the
child. The expression should be in the voice alone. However, if Nuran talks or
repeats your information as you show the cards, say that she is bright and a
wow! But do not allow for too much distraction.
HOW TO MAKE THE CARDS:
Materials required : White chart papers cut into 4” by 24”
marker wide tip pens.
Centre the words to give space for your fingers as you show
Points to 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
Use only one colour for all cards, preferably red or
When you teach, hug your child as often as you wish, be
relaxed and enjoy yourself. For the
secret of any teaching is that you are not teaching a subject but your own love
for it. Here, you are teaching your
child your love for reading. It is this love that is to be transferred, it is
this joy that the child wants to make her own. Then speed and confidence has no bounds. So, have a lovely time with your baby.
When your child responded to
'auto' with curiosity, then wonder and lastly joy, it must have sent you to a
new heaven. My child knows these words! And yet, that old conservative thinking
mind would have pulled you back and said, “Wait, it might be just a
coincidence.” Try again. This time with even more fun words like ice cream,
Cadbury, Maruti, Tata Sumo. These are words that are close to your tot’s heart
even if he can’t articulate or even speak. Co-relate these words, whenever you
can, showing the original -- it makes it more exciting .
Often am I told,
“But my child can’t talk, so can she read?”
The question is
posed seriously, yet the answer is humorous. We need our eyes and not our voices to
Often am I asked,
In as many as you
are good at, and certainly the language your child hears most.
In 1994, when my
husband and I started the school in the deep south, we knew little Tamil. I
learnt to read Tamil along with my first batch of children. We began with cards
– for them and for me. Today they can write stories in Tamil – I can read the
posters and names of shops. Children are always faster than adults; they have no
inhibitions, they think reading is a lark and that it was created for the sole
purpose of opening up the world to them. And ultimately, that is why we read at
all. It opens the world to us.
So, when you teach
your child to read, remember that the purpose is not only to introduce but to
open a whole world to him. So, if your baby was fascinated by that little thing
that flitted by, pick her up and say, “Look, butterfly!” Do that as often as you
can both spot the butterfly. Then, presto, open your handbag, pull out a blank
card, write butterfly on it and present it to your baby. It can become a
game. Every interesting thing can be written right there and presented. The
excitement and laughter is spontaneous and your baby knows she has your
undivided attention. Your words could range from friend, apple, periwinkle, sand
and stone, feather, puddle. (Babies love stones. Every home has a few bags of
them that the harassed mother dares not throw out until the child leaves home.)
It means, you cut
out the cards and keep them ready. Always have 10 to 20 such cards and your
marker pen in your bag. They are the ‘essential’ part of your outing kit along
with the nappies.
What then are cards?
They are conversation openers. Lets take a few of the words and see what all we
can tell a child.
Butterfly : flies,
loves flowers, flowers have nectar, butterflies sip the nectar, butterflies live
in gardens, butterfly and flowers are friends
Friends : you, your
baby and the tall father, the big dog and your baby, the wide tree and your
baby, the banana man and your baby
Apples : are fruits,
red outside and white inside with black seeds, sweet, good for the tummy, grow
in Himachal and Kashmir. That is the time to make a large map of India with only
the borders of the states and show the two states that grow apples. You could
even stick pictures of apples in Himachal and Kashmir to aid your child’s
Periwinkle : flower,
loves butterflies, is pink, has five small petals (count the petals as you show
Sand : beach, water,
sea, salty, castles, soft, slippery ( get her to hold in her hand and watch her
Stones : round,
hard, black / red / brown / sharp /
Feather : chirruping
birds, colourful, thin,
Puddle : jump,
laugh, raincoat, gum boots, dirty , clean, gurgling rain water collected in a
hole, what is rain?
What have we covered
– Shapes / Sizes / Colours / Sounds / Texture / Numbers / Names / Taste / Verbs
......Did you catch all that in the small text above ?
Can a one year old
understand all this? Here again are two answers. If you don’t start now, he
won’t understand even when he is two! Besides, if you say it like a story: give
the butterfly a name, say how it flies, how it asked the flower to please give
him some nectar and the flower
nodded its head in agreement and smiled at the butterfly, you will find
that your child listens carefully. If at first you fear that your child is like Maria, who
could not be made to stay and listen to all you say, just put her in a bath tub.
As her body soaks, as her fingers and toes are busy catching the elusive water,
her ears are wide open to your stories. Keep your sentences short, your story
short at first. After the basic concept has been understood, you could elaborate
and dress up your story.
Isn’t all this
pressure? Or is it pleasure?
You spend time with your
child. And with reference to anything we love there is no such thing as quality
time. There is only time. And you spend endless hours with your child. You feed,
you bathe, you play, you go for walks, you
put her to bed, you sing
‘lories’, you play music for her, you even play the clown. Each of these
situations are learning opportunities. And a child who has so much of you can only be
loved. And where there is love, learning can never be a