Saturday, August 19, 2006


I didn't think about it much at the time, but did think of it later, about the differences in the Montessori approach to beginning reading and writing and the traditional school approach.

While working with my nephew yesterday, he knew the name of every letter, but when I asked him if he knew the sound, he was totally lost. I realized that in a traditional school kindergarten, they will focus on having the kids know all the names of the letters by the end of the year.

It was later on that I realized how unfair this was to him and all the other kids. If they had been taught the basic sounds of the letters this year instead of all the names and no sounds, he would be reading and writing simple words! All of them would be. Why do they do this to kids? Why is it so blindingly accepted that kids need to know the alphabet in order to learn to read and write? It's simply not true. Knowing the name of the letter provides valuable information for somebody who can read and write but is totally useless for the child who is learning to read and write.

I then, of course, felt guilty that my nephew learned all his letter names at school and I had done very little with ds all year in that area (both were kindergarten this year). But ds was far more interested in math and spent time learning to read and write numbers, read digital clocks to us (to the point of annoying us--imagine being on an hour-long trip in your vehicle and your 5yo is telling you the time with each minute that passes...), loved working on addition facts and was even introduced to subtraction... Every attempt at doing letters was met with little enthusiasm until recently. I guess I'm trying to console myself that it's ok that we're only starting just now. Especially since he'll be learning the sounds before the names. In that respect, he's no further behind than my nephew, really.

But back to my point: if you are going to be teaching one of your children to read, please, please, please teach them the sounds of the alphabet first. Knowing the names doesn't help them at all! Don't believe me? Then try this:

The word is

If you teach your child the names of the letters first, your child will say:


I don't know what a seeaytee is, but it sure isn't even close to reading the word 'cat'.

If they know that c is /k/ and a is /a/ and t is /t/ (not 'tuh', but /t/), then they can look at the word and say, "/k/.../a/.../t/ cat!" They can also use their knowledge of the sounds to write words they want to write, even if they're not spelled correctly. Knowing the names of the letters only helps them write if you tell them which letters to write. They can't figure out words for themselves. Essentially, it initially disempowers them because their focus is so much on the names and not on the sounds.

So promise me you'll start with the sounds, okay? Great. :D


FC said...

My son is nearly two years old and we have been teaching him the sounds of the letters, rather than the names. This usually always results in people asking why we're not teaching him the "Ay Bee See" way.

My son knows his letters and will happily sit there with a book pronouncing each one. If this helps him have a little more understanding of sounds and letters, I'm all for it, rather than have him try to work out that cat is not pronounced "see-ay-tee". To me it makes perfect sense-- why on earth are children taught to say "ay bee see" when that is not how we pronounce the letters?

Daisy said...

The really sad thing is there are so many kids struggling today with reading and I'm convinced part of it is that they spent so much time learning the names of the letters and then switching to sounds confused them. The reading programs out there that seem to have the most success, and are often aimed at struggling readers, are the ones that start with learning the sounds. I'm thinking of Reading Reflex and The Writing Road to Reading, mainly, but there are others, too.

When are the school systems going to catch on?