Self-awareness begins at a very young age, and a child’s ability and desire to express his or her feelings follows shortly thereafter. We are first able to do this through body language and spoken words, but typically starting at age 3 or 4, we must learn how to do this on paper through reading and writing.
Ages 3 to 6 are arguably the most crucial for building a solid vocabulary foundation and developing a healthy appetite for reading.
Reading and writing are sophisticated forms of personal expression and should always be encouraged. However, as with any learned skill, it takes time, practice, and most importantly, the desire to get better. This is where you can help the most. Maintaining an encouraging attitude toward your child’s reading and writing practice is paramount to his or her success.
Children can sense disengagement and frustration from you if they are not meeting your expectations, and this is a proven way to delay or permanently affect their progress in a negative way.
Patience and understanding are also key. Self-correction is an important part of the learning process, as children can become easily discouraged if chided regularly. While you may shake your head at the thought of limiting your reactions to misspelled or mispronounced words, you’ll likely be surprised by how inquisitive children are during this time.
Many boys and girls will say and spell words and turn to ask for your approval. This is your opportunity to correct them if warranted. However, keep the explanation short and simple, using analogies if possible, i.e.,
“Cat is spelled with a C, just like camera.” Long explanations, even with the best intentions, can be interpreted as admonishing and discouraging.
Exploration and self-correction are proven processes that aid children in learning to read and spell at progressively higher levels. And sometimes this means holding your tongue as a parent when your child is struggling through the pronunciation or spelling of a word. While those few moments may be tough to swallow, rest assured that your opportunity to correct and teach is not far behind.
Additionally, look for ways to indirectly teach your child, i.e.,
“What letter does the word fish or frog start with?”
Finally, children, like adults, learn from their mistakes. If you don’t allow them to misspell or mispronounce words along the way, you risk not only discouraging their innate desire to learn, but you also impede their ability to develop self-correction skills and, ultimately, to retain the correct information. So, the next time your child spells a word wrong or botches the pronunciation of a word, smile knowing you have been presented with a great learning opportunity.
Most importantly, pay attention to the gratification they experience when they spell or say that word correctly the next time. You will know then that you both have succeeded.
Headmistress Maria Schuermann-Cole is the founder of The Maria Montessori School.