Charlie and I sit together on the sofa, close, close. The way we always sit. Charlie likes close. His little head is bent over the paper I am writing on.
"What's this, Charlie?" I draw m on the paper.
"mmmm for Mama!" He grins up at me.
"What's this one?" f
Charlie puts the palms of his chubby hands together and wiggles them back and forth through imaginary waves. "fffff for fishy!"
"And this one?" s
"ssss for sword!" I duck out of the way as he brandishes an imaginary weapon.
Now there are five. Five kids in school. This is how we start, with a piece of paper and a pencil, lowercase letters and letter sounds. (Uppercase letters and letter names will come in a few years when Charlie learns how to write. ) It takes a couple of minutes each day and in a few months my last child will know his letters. When we pull into Wal-Mart, he will start yelling, "There's a wuh for water! There's a tuh for tickle!"
After letter sounds comes combinations like ea, ai, th... for a very long time. This is not so exciting as learning letters. I've never found anything that I love for teaching the very beginning of reading. A different phonics program for every kid. Teach Your Child to Read in a Hundred Easy Lessons. Sing, Spell, Read and Write. Reading Made Easy. Phonics is boring, necessary, but boring.
And then, after we have slaved over phonics and Charlie can read The p-i-g t-oo-k uh b-a-th, we will move on to my favorite readers, Pathway Readers, an Amish reading series.
After Charlie hopped down this morning Claire came and sat next to me but not quite as close as Charlie. She opened her second grade reader, More Busy Times, and began to read about Peter and the measles. Faith looked up from her math book, "I remember that story. Peter wants to go to the zoo but he can't because Rachel has the measles and it wouldn't be fair to leave her at home." She comes and leans over the back of the sofa to listen while Claire and I read pages in turns. An old friend.
I love these books. That is saying something because I have listened to four children sound out, P-e-t-er s-a-i-d, ("Said.") Y-e-s R-a-ch-el. You c-a-n r-i-d ("No, that's ride. The e jumps over the d to make the i say i." ) r-ide...
The stories are interesting. They are about family and kindness and all of the values we want our children to claim as their own. The black and white line drawings complement the story but do not compete for my young reader's attention.
The first couple books in our set of readers have all of the b's marked in blue. b's and d's are hard to tell apart. There are marks where letter combinations have been underlined and then erased. I had to cut "word windows" out for a couple of kids who couldn't keep their place. This is a narrow strip of card stock with a small rectangular hole in it, just big enough to read one word at a time. In time, all of these crutches fall by the wayside. In time, much time, my readers stop sounding out every letter and read whole words. Andthentheyreadeverythingasfastastheycanwithoutregardforpunctuation.
Pathway Readers go through the eighth grade but we only own the first through third grade readers. My kids graduate to Henry Huggins, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Stories from Grandma's Attic...They read in the car, in the bathroom, in their beds late at night and early in the morning.
So today, Charlie says, "It's t for tickle" as he reaches over and tickles my arm but in a few years he is going to join the chorus that the other children sing:
"Can we go to the library today? I finished my last book and I haven't got a thing to read!"