Monday, 11 March 2013

The ABCs

Do you teach the ABCs first? Or the phonics? Or sight words first?
I NEVER, (really, NEVER) taught sonshine the alphabet nor phonics. He just picked them up either through the media or school. I only taught him to read by sight words (Glenn Doman Method) and by 12 months old, he could recognise a list or words. From there, reading was never an issue with him, neither his alphabets. And hence my 'work' was easy peasy with him.
Unfortunately, doll is different. She doesn't take in sight words as readily as her brother. So i have been researching how else i can teach her to read. I have seen most local mothers teach the name of the alphabets first but my research shows that it should be otherwise.
I am an avid fan of Glenn Doman and Maria Montessori. Both of them have smilar but still different views when it comes to teaching a young child to read. However, both suggest NOT to teach the alphabet names first. Both have different reasons for this suggestion and also differing recommendations on how to do it.
Glenn Doman
He suggest to teach the child words first before the the alphabets. He's reason? Very simple! When i read it, i immediately went 'but of course!'. Well, here's why. You cannot attach any meaning to the letters, say 'A'. How do you explain to a child what 'A' means? You can tell them, oh A stands for Apple, Aeroplane. Sure, but what exactly is 'A'? There is no meaning to it when it stands alone. BUT, if you teach the child the word 'apple', you can easily & instantly attach a meaning to the word by showing him a picture of an apple. The child would immediately draw the conclusion that the word 'apple' means the object apple.  After the child learns to read, then, you can teach them that each word is made of letters like 'a'. From there, the child would better appreciate the purpose and meaning of the alphabets.
Maria Montessori
She also believes that it isn't necessary to teach the names of the letter first. She proposes to teach the sound of each letter- which we all know is phonics. This, she claims, would help to lay the right foundation for reading. I found children who learn to read by phonics first are better in spelling than kids who are not. Sonshine cannot spell without committing to memory. I suspect it is because he learnt to read by looking at the word as a whole rather than at the letters. Fortunately, he still attempts to decode a new word mostly by 'chunking'.
The other smilier views both hold is not to teach Capital letters first but always start with the small letters. Why so? Look at this post, how many capital letters do you see versus small letters? In any print, small letters are more dominant and common then Capital letters. So, always start with the one that child would see more frequently- small letters.
What do i think?
 I honestly think that even if we start with the alphabet first, it is not a dead end. I was taught that way and i learnt to read successfully (but poor at spelling though). However, i think with each method there is an advantage over the other. I found Glenn Doman method the fastest and easiest way to teach a child to read whereas phonics is a slower, step by step method. But, as i found out with my doll, Glenn Doman does not sit well with all children.  And as i said, phonics lay a very good foundation for spelling. However, I actually don't believe kids who learn phonics first are better readers. I think learning to read by phonics is very slow, breaks the momentum when reading & therefore dulls the reading process. Moreover, i think they will all eventually learn to read by sight-words.
With doll, i am still trying various method. I think i'll embark both journey at the same time. Teaching her to read by sight-words and phonics. I hope it won't confuse her!


  1. I've read about not teaching the names of the letters first too! But by the time I read that, I'd already taught Layla all her letter names.

    The other thing I read was that too much reliance on sight words could result in a poorer vocabulary in the long run, but I forgot the reason behind this.

    I know this is another area that parents go to war over, but like you, I'm gonna mix both. I learned primarily by sight and I find it hard to remember what new words that I encounter mean. The other thing is when I encounter a word that I can't pronounce, it still doesn't come naturally to me to sound it out and I'll just check a dictionary.

    For Layla, I introduced sight words first via Peter and Jane. She's more visual generally and she didn't catch on to the concept of blending until 4+. For my kid #2, he already likes mimicking all the sounds that he hears, so I guess it'll be a different learning journey!

  2. oh! very interesting! I didn't know kids learn by sight words have poorer vocab- would LOVE to know the reaon why so though. Sonshine has great reading vocab but he has poor usage (verbal) of the vocabs he knows. So, maybe it is true? Mind to dig up that article if you can? :P

    I think even if the kid learn phonics first they may not always be able to decode new words. Cause some words originate from greek & you cannot always use phonics to decode them. Like today i read 'Sean' to doll and was wondering how in the world 'sean' is pronounced as 'shaun'? Phonectically it just doesnt add up! *Scratch head*

    But yeah, i think we are the wiser ones who choose to whack both methods lah! :)

  3. I can't remember which article I read... but you might find this quite interesting!

  4. Oh, and this should make us feel good, hehe.