How Children Learn, Part Two

"Mom, what does this spell?" Aidan asks.

"Ah maid in dee manam," I sound out as best as I can.

"Wow, I spelled something!" Aidan says in excitement.

Aidan and I love to play this game, whether it be with pen and pencil, magnetic letters, wooden blocks or alphabet cookies from Trader Joe's. It is amazing to see him string together the letters he knows into groups to form words, real or made up.

Playing with words is a family pastime. My dad sent me this email:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too

Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Reading the above passage is like reading Aidan's spelling. The exercise affirms the importance of both whole language and phonemic awareness in the process of reading, which is ultimately tied to the process of writing. It's word recognition, and sounding out words we don't recognize.

I have to admit I am intimidated by the process of helping Aidan learn to read and write, but I have no doubt he will learn despite my worries. Although I know better, I sometimes think kindergarten teachers possess a magic ability, or at least a highly guarded trade secret, to teach children to read and write. When I asked Avery's kindergarten teacher to share her secrets, she told me two things: Read to your child, and celebrate where they are in their development.

So we read, sometimes for several hours every day. We listen to books on CD as we fall asleep every night.

We write.

We play with toys that teach, like this Spin Spell I found at the thrift store.

We play with our food.

And we do some phonics for good measure.

The ability to read and write is the ticket to exploration and expression, and we have the privilege of helping our children prepare for their adventures. We pack their bags with 26 letters, a passport to the world of endless possibilities, and the freedom to learn.


  1. It scares me to think the words are understandable if not completely readable. The power of the brain is simply amazing. That we could communicate with people in Europe by simple words and gestures was one of the most satisfying parts of our trip. However we all need to expand our languages, the world is getting smaller daily. I'm glad to be home to read your blog!

  2. Love this post, Molly. For a cruddy speller like me, it's wonderful to know that even if people think I'm a blithering idiot, they understand the meaning all the same :-) And yes... he'll learn to read. I have two little men who are living proof that they learn in spite of your meanderings along the education path ;-) Happy reading!

  3. great post . . . but i love the last sentence the best. may i quote you??

  4. Quote away Dana - it's a wonderful compliment.

  5. Sounds like you're doing all the right things, Molly. We have one that was a "normal" reader - learned at school in late kindergarten. one who has dyslexia, so is very challenged by reading and especially by spelling but is a prolific story writer, and one who started picking up everything and reading it at 4. We did the same things with all 3 - read, read, and read some more. They all pick it up in their own way.

    Great work!

  6. I love it when my kids do that - string a bunch of letters together and say, "Mom, what's this say?" Of course after I've sounded it out, they'll inevitably ask, "What's that mean?" To which I usually reply, "It's not a word ... that I know." I think I'll start asking them what they think it means :).

    My ten year old learned to read somehow. I don't recall having "taught" her. My six year old is getting it, but she doesn't think she is, and her four year old sister isn't far behind her. It's amazing what they can do. I have to remind myself not to underestimate them :).

  7. When Hannah was learning to write her alphabet, she asked me one day how to make an "ellemeno." (I had to try very hard to smother my giggle). Now that I am teaching her how to craft an essay, I still love to think of that moment.

  8. An "ellemeno" ha,ha!!! that's funny.


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email: mollydunham@sbcglobal.net
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