A couple of weeks ago I went to a meeting at Becky's school where her teacher gave a little talk about how they teach phonics to the children, how this ties in which learning letters and reading / writing, and how parents can support this at home. It was really interesting for me. Even though part of my Masters degree was English and Linguistics, and therefore phonics and phonetics are not an alien concept to me, the way reading and writing is taught in England is very different to how I was taught in Germany, which was more in a “conventional” way, I suppose, based on learning the letters and not phonics. This may have something to do with the fact that the German language is pronounced how it’s spelled, which obviously is very different in English.
Anyway, I digress. The reason I’m bringing this up is because the talk was followed by a little class-room visit to see the kids learn their phonics in action. We were able to watch Becky’s teacher read a book with the children (Becky was super excited when she saw me in her classroom, bless her), and the kids all took an active part in shouting out the correct phonics. And that’s when I noticed that some of the children – albeit only a few – were a lot more advanced, or shall I say, confident about the use of their phonics than Becky. And this made me think. Have I not done enough to support her at home? Have we not practised enough? Should we have done more before she started school?
To be honest, this was the first time I had this thought, this little parental wobble with regards to her academic development, if that’s the correct term. Until then, I had always been of the mindset that I would not push Becky into anything, and merely support her in whatever interests her. So no, until she started school, I hadn’t been sitting down with her to teach her letters, numbers or phonics – though she picked up a lot of them via pre-school and through us playing letter and number games at home as and when she showed interest in it, but it was never anything that I forced on her or insisted on.
She is an extremely creative little lady, and she can spend hours beautifully drawing, painting, gluing, sticking and crafting the most fabulous things. It is this that I always facilitated and focused on until now, not phonics, because that's what she enjoys most.
My attitude to this may also have something to do with the fact that back in Germany children don’t start primary school until they are seven, six at the earliest, so learning to read and write any time before this age has always seemed very young, premature even, to me. It took me a good while to accept and come to terms with the fact that Becky would be entering compulsory and institutionalised education at the tender age of four (I am over it now and can see that Becky is happy and thriving!), so up until that point, I wanted her to be just a child, enjoy childhood without any pressures or enforcing an early curriculum on her, when in my eyes this is the job of the school.
But still, at that moment in that class-room, I suddenly felt like my relatively relaxed attitude to early learning was biting me in the backside. Like I had let my little girl down somehow. Even though we read books all the time and practice her homework every day, I felt like I hadn’t been on top of it enough, or not pushy enough. In my defence, John and I both work full time and by the time we have picked up Becky from after-school-club, Alex from nursery, cooked dinner, eaten dinner and got Alex ready for bed, it’s already Becky’s bedtime, too, so there is little time to do much more than we already do. And I don’t want to exhaust Becky by going on about phonics and letters at 8pm at night, when she should be going to bed. We do more at the weekends, but in the week it’s just the bare amount of homework.
Thankfully, it was only a few days later that it was parents evening at school, and I brought up the subject with Becky’s teacher, who was great, and totally reassured me that Becky is absolutely on track and in line with the other children. The teacher also said that I shouldn’t worry about having been quite laid-back about learning and that in most cases it is better for the teachers to start with a clean slate and teach the kids from scratch. She also explained that for teachers pre-existing knowledge can sometimes be a downside, as those children can get bored in class easily, because teachers have to teach the curriculum anyway, and often “bad habits” have to be undone when it comes to things like writing, pen holding, pronunciation etc.
I felt a lot better afterwards. I later bumped into my friend, whose son goes to the same class as Becky, and we compared notes. She told me that whilst her son had taken well to the phonics cards she was practising with him – and which Becky isn’t keen on – he on the other hand struggles to hold a pen correctly or draw or write anything particularly well, whereas Becky can write her name very legibly and can draw the most complex drawings beautifully. Which just goes to show that kids really do learn differently and individually and with different strengths.
I know that Becky is a very bright and clever little thing, and I have no doubt that she will be able to read, write and count brilliantly, whether that’s at the age of three, four, five or six. She’ll do it in her own time, and I will support her as much as I can, but my attitude will remain that I’m not going to push her, just facilitate her.
Sure enough, as of last week, Becky has suddenly completely mastered her phonics, and now knows every single sound with corresponding letter - capital and small - and is making brilliant progress blending all the sounds into words and sentences. Something clearly just clicked. Maybe I needn’t have panicked. Maybe every child has their own pace indeed - and I just need to follow hers.
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