Reading: Whole Words and Spelling from Our Experience

I’ve heard comments that learning to read with flashcards is only successful for teaching a child short term word memory recall.  It has also been said that if the child is shown the same words in a different context, for example, in a book or in a different font, he is not able to read it.

This is our experience…

Although Gavin has been learning to read using a variety of mediums, I have always used quite a bit of flashcards with him.  He has been able to recognise the words he has learned in restaurant menus, newspapers, and sign boards.  The only difficulty he has is usually with curly fonts, such as cursive handwriting.  He has also begun to read books on his own.  Words he is unfamiliar with he will either by-pass or make a guess.

Recently, I was using the messenger on Skype.  Gavin came up to me and crawled into my lap as I was typing.  The exchange was completely silent because I have no speaker on my desktop.  Shortly after I typed “I didn’t sleep much last night”, Gavin asked, “Mummy, how come you didn’t sleep much last night?”

Although Gavin can read, I often find that the awareness that he can read often prompts friends and family to test him.  They will ask him to spell a word or read random words that they point to and find that he is unable to comply.  These are the problem with such situations:

  • The ability to read a word is not the same as being able to spell a word.  I believe that this is especially the case when the child has learned to read the word using the whole word method.  That said, Gavin has also recognised words that I spell out to hubby in an attempt to communicate words I do not want Gavin to understand.  It looks like the days of spelling words to avoid Gavin’s understanding is soon coming to an end.
  • Being able to read some words does not mean he can read any and every word you point out.  Gavin is learning to read using the whole word method and he is also learning phonics.  Currently, he reads mainly using the whole word method.  Although he knows the sounds of letters using phonics, he isn’t quite able to put a whole word together using phonics alone because he can recognise the starting sounds but not the sounds of letters in the middle of the word.
  • Asking a child if he can read or spell puts him on the spot.  He may choose to comply or he may play dumb simply because he dislikes being tested.  I have seen Gavin pretend that he cannot read words that I know he can read.  I have since learned not to press him when he does so.

Children know a lot more than we give them credit for.  Just because they choose not to answer our questions, or even to answer them incorrectly, does not mean they don’t know or that they do not understand.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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