Teaching children to read and write – The Sound Game

When you decide to start homeschooling, if you’re starting with no outside schooling at all, this is the main challenge and probably the most intimidating; teaching your child to read and write.  We know they have to learn their letters, we know they have to learn to sound them out, we know they have to learn to write their letters.  But how does one put it all together?  How to you make a child learn and comprehend and develop a love for reading?  In traditional schooling one teaches a child to sing A,B,C,D….and the names of the letters.  Then they teach them the sounds of the letters and how to write them and read them.  Montessori approaches things different.  How I am teaching Pumpkin 1 is according to a little booklet with a long name put out by NAMATA written by Muriel Dwyer called, “A Path for the Exploration of Any Language Leading to Writing and Reading; As part of the Total Montessori Approach to the Development of Language”.  (see link to purchase, the booklet is inexpensive but shipping is rather steep)

The first step is to help develop the vocabulary of the child through interactions, stories, songs and poems.  Use lots of language with the child, their little minds at a young age absorb language and no word is too difficult for them to learn.  It’s amazing how many new words a child picks up a day.  Reading and singing to a child should not be neglected and should be a part of every day.

When a child is 2 to 2 1/2 one can begin the Sound Game or I Spy Game.  The purpose of this game is to help a child understand that words are made up of sounds and to attune the child’s ear to hear all the different sound that make up a word.  You start off very simple by holding an object and saying, “I spy/I am holding something that starts with ‘buh’.  What is it?”  And the child responds with, “A ball” or “A bear” or whatever it is that you are holding.  Play this game several times a day as the child is interested.  It may take some time before the child catches on so don’t hurry this stage or move on before the child is ready.  Gradually you can make it more difficult.  You can have two objects for the child to choose from, moving up to three and on until the child can identify the object anywhere in the room.   Then you can move on to asking the child what the object starts with.  It took Pumpkin 1 a while to catch on.  Everything started with “buh” to her and I worried that she would never get it.  But then, suddenly, last week, she got it.  And she started asking what everything started with.  It’s so exciting when this happens and you can see their little minds working with this discovery.

The next stage of the game is to identify the sound at the end of words and then you move on to the sounds in the middle of words, starting off with words with 3 sounds, such as “hat” and gradually getting more difficult.  The final stage is to see how many words the child can think of that begin with or contain a sound.  Don’t worry about how “c” and “k” make the same sound or that “ch” is two letters.  This is only about sounds, the focus is on the exploration of the spoken word.  Dwyer stresses the importance of playing this game without any reference to symbols or letters, at all.  She says in italics, “Please, please do not attempt to introduce the letters to the children at this stage.”  and in all caps “DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO INTRODUCE THE LETTERS AT THIS STAGE” and again “IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE WHOLE ‘THE SOUND GAME’ IS EXPERIENCED WITHOUT REFERENCE TO ANY SYMBOLS, WHETHER THE SANDPAPER LETTERS, THE MOVABLE ALPHABET OR TO READING, AS THE AIM OF THIS GAME IS, AS STATED BEFORE, TO MAKE THE CHILDREN AWARE OF THE SOUNDS THEY USE IN SPEECH”.

Now, I must admit, I started off wrong.  I was introducing letters.  The fact is, it’s really hard not to because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do.  There is a lot of pressure to have your child “know their alphabet”.  Little Johnny’s mom will say, “oh Johnny can recognize all his letters, can Suzy?” or someone will point to a letter and ask your child, “what letter is this?” and you feel like you’re failing because Suzy doesn’t know her letters yet.  But if you’re following Montessori you’re teaching a different way and when the time comes, Suzy will fly through learning her letters, picking up two or three letters at a time and, if you’ve thoroughly done the Sound Game, should know all the letters in 2 to 3 weeks.  Then Suzy will quickly move to writing with the moveable alphabet because she already knows all the sounds the letters make.  So I’ve gone back, removed any letters and am focusing on just sounds with Pumpkin 1.  I’m taking to heart Dwyer’s words, “Do not rush this work for it is the foundation for all that will follow and must be thoroughly covered.”  It’s not about having your child learn things at a young age, or ahead of others, it’s about building a solid foundation so that your child understands and comprehends and builds connection with what comes next.

There are more sounds in English than just 26 letters of the alphabet.  Here are the  key sounds and symbols.

a as in am

b as in tub

c as in tic

d as in lid

e as in egg

f as in if

g as in mug

h as in hut

i as in if

j as in jam

k as in ink

l as in full

m as in am

n as in in

o as in on

p as in up

r as in run

s as in toss

t as in mat

u as in up

v as in move

w as in win

y as in yet

z as in quiz

qu as in quilt

ai as in aim

ee as in see

ie as in pie

oa as in oat

oo as in book

ue as in blue

ou as in out

oy as in toy

er as in her

ar as in car

or as in or

th as in moth

sh as in push

ch as in much

au as in Paul

The Sound Game is so easy to play, you don’t need anything special, though some people like to collect small objects for each sound to use as they create interest in the child.  However, I find this game is played at the strangest times, like when Pumpkin 1 is sitting on the toilet, or when I’m making dinner.  Sometimes we play it while waiting in the car or going for a walk.  That’s what makes it great, you can play it anywhere at any time and it doesn’t cost you anything

Once the child has master at least 2/3 of the sound game, then the sandpaper letters are introduced, followed by the moveable alphabet so that the child can express herself freely and then by the child discovering that she can read.  If a child fails to progress or is not interested in writing or reading, it is often because the proper foundation was not laid with the Sound Game.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching children to read and write – The Sound Game

  1. Hi… this is a great article… thks for sharing… could you please share how you would play the sound game for sounds like – oo, oe, ue, ai, ie etc.. or how do i teach these sounds.. My DD gets confused when she comes to these sounds., probably im not able to explain to her properly. Is there any resources I can check.. Appreciate your response.. thks.. 🙂

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