I fancy myself a fairly good teacher of things. I can teach people how to squat, tie shoelaces, and kick a ball, but I cannot teach kids how to read. My son, who just turned six, has been doing home reading for the past month at school with the hope that at the end of the program he will read on his own. The kids start with “A” books and progress through the alphabet. The books have thoughtful titles like “Pals” or “Breakfast” or “Ugly Child from 1970.” The sentences repeat themselves over and over, when you are lucky enough to get to sentences because the “A’ books sometimes have only one word or a phrase on the page, like “pleats” or “homo milk.” You would think that the repetition would make for easy reading, but 90% of early literacy is guessing. So even if your child successfully read “I like Atari” on page 1 and “I like tube TVs” on page 3, they might get to page 6 and say “I look Frogger.” WTF? You look Frogger? You just read that same word ten times. Then your child might laugh and correct himself and say “I AM Frogger.” Because that’s right. “Am” and “Like” are often mistaken.
As your child masters his sight words, the books get more complicated. Take “F” books. They might have entire pages without pictures. “The duck is in the pond. The cow is in the barn. The girl on the horse is legally blind without her glasses because they are thicker than a deck of cards.” Has no one published early readers since 1981? But despite your child’s progress, he will make random guesses at the words. Why sound it out, when you could say, just make it up.
“My Dad plays basketball in the rain. My mom wears shoulder pads and a bowl cut. My sister wears clothes from Marks & Spencer. I like to take my dog to the dentist.” WTF? You like to take your dog to the dentist? Does that make any sense? Maybe you need some glasses like the girl on the horse. Try that again. Try sounding it out this time. What sound does this letter make (I point to the P). “G-g-g-g” G? WTF? A “P” does not make a “G” sound. Do people play the piano or do geople glay the giano? “P!” Yes, now sound out the sentence. “I like to take my dog to the p-p-p-p …” Police station? Yeah, that’s it. I like to take my dog to the police station. And after that I like to take him to the dentist. Where would you take a dog? I ask him and he smiles. “To the park?” Yes! I reply enthusiastically. You take your dog to the park. He proudly reaches for a “G” book. “Can we read another one?” Fuck, no.