What can parents do, short of setting up a daycare, so their children become good readers? “The most important thing is to read, read, read on a daily basis,” says Rose Marie DiCarlo of the Pine Grove Country Day School in Mahopac. Beyond that, parents should determine what type of preschool reading program suits their children best.
The Pine Grove School approaches reading in a more abstract manner to match the mind set of three year olds. “Show and Tell” certainly gets them the attention they want but being up in front of the room helps build vocabulary and returns the confidence they’ll later need to read aloud in Kindergarten. “They’ll already have that positive experience,” says Ms. DiCarlo of something usually seen as just fun.
In terms of the written word, they begin with being able to recognize their own names. “Letters don’t mean much to them, but shapes do,” she says. After their names become familiar, the school identifies how words are more are a puzzle than the given we take for granted.
“Reading is a mystery,” she says, so the school sees the process as interpreting a progression of clues that will eventually translate into understanding a progression of sounds. In practice, an object will go in the mystery box and clues will follow – requiring that children utilize the all-important reading skill of listening. Red or green, grows on trees, and soon enough, the word apple is agreed upon.
By four, they’re recognizing the letters and sounds at the start and end of words. As they are preparing to enter Kindergarten, the kids encompass the skills they’ve developed into reading words, she says.
The Hampton School in Mahopac uses a more direct old-school phonetic method to get kids reading at a 4th grade level by the end of Kindergarten, according to executive director Diana Flower.
Kathlyn Messina, who is Ms. Flower’s mother, developed the program 30 years ago.
Ms. Messina focused her efforts to raise literacy levels on the manner in which immigrants learned to speak English. Still very active at the school, “Her mother had learned phonetically so she started doing research,” says Ms. Flower of her mother.
Beginning them at three years old – sight, sound, touch and the use of music all provide the multi-sensory tools they need to master reading. Every morning, they circle up and sing the alphabet. Only it’s done in phonetic form. “Aah as in apple, Buh as in Boy and Cah as in cat, says Ms. Flower – all while they chime in with visual cues.
One child will point to the cartoon figures, the rest follow in song, and everyone learns the lyrics front and backwards – literally. Over time, the daily repetition can’t help but set in. Reinforcing their efforts, the children take part twice a day in 20-minute workbook sessions, where they then apply the repetition to penning each letter.
Once, they’ve mastered their Aah, Buh, Cah’s, they begin blending the sounds together. “We have children as young as three reading two and three letter words,” she says, “and as they get older, they just progress.”
Parent Peter Claro can concur on how reading brings a completely different connotation to the image of preschool learning. “When I say reading, I don’t mean story-time. I mean reading, as in students sounding out words and comprehending their meaning,” he says.
But getting there and advancement in workbook form occurs one on one with the teacher. Still, the kids do tend to proceed with an eye on each other. “Kids know what workbook each one is on,” she says, as they strive to be on top or always moving on to the next book, she adds.
Certainly sensitive to the kids who may fall back, she feels any hurt feelings melt away with the results. “We really don’t have kids that struggle with reading,” says Flower, and they hit grade school not only ahead of the curve but high on themselves.
“They have a lot of confidence,” she says but nothing about the school’s aspirations stretches beyond what young children are capable of. Like little sponges, she says, “They absorb everything, and it doesn’t seem like work for them.”
By kindergarten, stringing letters together into words has turned into stringing pages together into meaning, and soon enough, they are standing in for the grownups. “They do get up and read stories to the other students,” says Flower.
In hopes of further reinforcing what is absorbed, some parents opt to extent the program outside the classroom. “We do send home homework for their parents to work with,” says Flower.
Looking forward, parents working with their children at home will be able to greatly facilitate workbook and video lessons with the help of a very influential producer. Colorado based producer Jim Janicek, who worked on the nationally known Baby Einstein Series, used the Sleeping Giant home materials to great success for his children. As a result, he is now applying his filmmaking skills to enhance the program for mass consumption.
Exciting as that is for Ms. Flower, she sees every reason to think bigger. Adult illiteracy still plagues millions and the same concepts can easily be applied to them, but getter there will take a little more time and exposure. Nonetheless, she concludes, “We’re working on it.”
Rich Monetti interview of Rose Marie DiCarlo, Diana Flower and Peter Claro