Do you know what I love? Seeing my 6-year-old and 4-year-old with books in their laps, sitting on the floor, legs sticking straight out, flipping through the pages. Reading is an extraordinary process, and seeing my two little monkeys in the budding stages of reading development is really nifty. They’re far from being proficient readers at this point, but they know that the arbitrary visual symbols (letters) represent the arbitrary sounds of spoken language, and somehow the whole thing makes sense when a grown-up reads it. But how do we get there?
We know that the brain’s language centres are responsible for understanding and expressing spoken language. Most people are born with their language centres at the ready. Although some children need extra help, most will learn to understand and speak pretty quickly, from coos and babbles all the way to basic conversations in three short years, and all they need to do is hang around with people who talk to them. Is the same true for reading? If we simply immerse a child in written language, teach her the ABCs, will she learn to read and write? It turns out that there is not really a “reading centre” of the brain that is ready to take off on auto-pilot, like there is for oral language. Instead, there are separate systems that need be taught how to work together.
There are a number of methods for teaching children to read and write, some more efficient and effective than others. I am fascinated with literacy instruction, and how the choice of approach can be an enormous factor in determining whether some children struggle or soar. In my work, I find the best method for each child, because everyone can read with the right kind of help! That’s what I want to talk about here, among other things related to language and literacy development.