Reading and Feasting-Learning to Read the Delightful Way

     Mason's feast includes so many wonderful dishes. I have found that the dishes most appetizing, both to partake in and to offer up, are the "riches". I have a deep, multifaceted love for what we could deem "the core" subjects, but I find it easier to share my passion for picture and nature study than to share just how profound Mason's approach to language arts and math truly is. I also have watched it prove true that when mothers begin to offer the feast in their homes, and to seek a peaceful and delightful homeschool, that they are more able to envision their days including art, music, and nature than their days including short, delightful, mostly verbal math and language lessons. These things are hard to imagine both because these things intimidate us, as mothers, and also because these things are vitally important and easily "measure". The pressure to get these things right ensures that it takes greater courage to trust a process that doesn't offer us tests, quizzes, and easily evaluated milestones. However, I have also learned that when we are clear on what to do in order to offer the best in these subjects, that we are more willing to muster that courage. It is my duty, joy, and honor to begin facilitating that courage to a greater degree by not only training personally about these subjects, but writing in more detail about them as well. In order to facilitate courage in the area of language arts, mothers with children at the beginning of the journey that is the English language must be equipped with both the principles and the practices of Mason's method of teaching children to read. That is what I hope to spend my delightful days offering to my feasting friends.

                         Learning to Read the Charlotte Mason Way



The reason for learning to read in this style goes beyond the practical implications, which are exhibited in the method's success. Just like every subject in a Mason style feast, the reasons for the practices are rooted in Mason's divinely assisted ability to understand and see into the hearts and minds of children. Understanding a few key principles allows us to see what Mason saw in children, when it came to learning to read. 

 1. Children must learn to decode AND to visualize. There is currently a decade long debate raging in the educational community about whether sight reading or phonics reading is superior. There is evidence to support both claims, and both can and do have success. However, that success is limited, on both sides of the spectrum. The thing that I marvel at, every time I think about what Mason had to say about reading, is that she solved a debate that was 117 years in the future. The truth is, that children will need decoding skills to continue to encounter and process written language for a lifetime. You can not put before them every word in the English language and teach them to know it by sight. It is an impossible task, and an unnecessary one. When they encounter new words, at any age, they need the skills to work with the letter and blends within those words to decode them. It is also true that if they do not learn to visualize commonly used words, that they will need to decode far too often to read fluently, and that spelling will also be a guessing game. We can teach them to visualize words clearly, allowing them the ability to immediately reject a word misspelled as they compare it to the picture of words in their mind. We can also teach them to decode a word when they encounter one that their mind does not possess a picture of. By teaching them both of these things, we are equipping them for a lifetime of reading.
2. Reading instruction must start in real, living, quality books. Mason bluntly said that there is never an occasion that children should suffer twaddle. I, though not as bluntly, am wholeheartedly agreeing with the admonition that we should never withhold children from the best in language, if we want them to develop a love for the best in language. An early reader should be geared to the child's reading ability, without being boring, rote, or divided into specific phonetic sounds or groups. Real books are necessary for real reading. 
3. Children must read in order to learn to read. Just as you can give a person all of the instruction available in the mechanics of riding a horse, but they can not claim to know how to ride a horse until they have mounted one, we can give children mountains of instruction on the mechanics of reading, but they can not claim to know how to read until they are reading. They should be reading within every reading lessons, even the first one. They shouldn't be working with letters and words without the sentences and books that those letters and words are a part of.

Within sight lessons, sound lessons, and early dictation lessons we can offer instruction in visualizing and decoding, the best in language, and real reading; which constitutes Charlotte Mason reading lessons. I will first provide a step by step checklist of the process of each of these lessons, then I will elaborate on how each step is done. 

The tools needed to complete these lessons are: a lively reader (see below for my recommendation), buildable letters (wooden, reading rods, magnetic letter tiles, etc), a Word Notebook (composition notebook or file folder), plain unlined paper (like printer paper), unlined index cards, and a white board. 


Sight Lessons Step by Step:
1. Introduce word from the current reading passage. 
2.Identify each letter.
3. Visualize word. 
4. Air write word. 
5. Locate word.
6.Build word. 
7. Use in a sentence.
8.Write word in Word Notebook
 9.Read reading passage (focusing on visualization or "sight" words) 

Sight Lessons Described: 
Choose a sight word that is within the reading passage for that day. The words for these lessons are "sight" words, or words that do not follow phonetic patterns. Your reading passage could be two sentences or two pages of the reader, depending on your child's ability and confidence, but the word used for the lesson must be within the passage that is to be read. The reward for reading instruction is actual reading, and they need to be able to immediately see the word labored over within the book that makes the laboring worth it. Cut unlined index cards into thirds, and these become your word cards. Write the chosen sight word on 3-4 of the word cards, along with other sight words. You want to have 6-8 cards with sight words written on them, including 3-4 of the current word. 

Open the lesson by introducing the chosen word, whether new or repeating a word still being worked on. (Step 1) This is done by simply writing the word in clear handwriting on the white board in front of the child and saying, "this word says:...". You can then ask the child to repeat what the word is in front of them. Then identify each letter in the word (Step 2), by pointing them out one by one. My favorite verbiage for this is "This word is: _____. The word _____ is built by the letters ____, _____, and______." Physically point out the letters and have your child repeat what letters the word is built with. Then ask your child to look at the word and take a picture of the word in their brain (Step 3). Ask them to look at each part of the word and the whole word together until they can close their eyes and still see the word in their brain. Tell them that it is okay to take as long as they need, and that if they can't see the word when they close their eyes, to open them and keep looking at the word and taking the picture. Next, have your child join you in writing the word in the air (Step 4), while saying each letter as you write it. Then invite your child to hunt for the word and find it, by spreading the word cards out in front of them and asking them if they can find the ones that have the word. Immediately move to opening the book to the passage and having your child locate the words there in the same way, cementing their connection between the unfamiliar words in front of them with written language and it's build in reward. (Step 5) It is okay, while asking them to locate words in the book, to guide them to each paragraph or sentence where the word is located, if they are easily visually overwhelmed. However, don't do this unless they need it, so as to encourage their processing of multiple words on a page. Next, have them build the word with buildable letters (Step 6), offering them the letters of the word plus several others, but not the entire alphabet or entire set of letters. The benefit of building the word, without overwhelming, is to encourage them to locate the pieces of the whole and to use the picture in their mind to put those pieces in the correct order. Ask your child, while they are building the word, to think of a sentence in which the word could be used (Step 7), in order to keep words as a relevant part of language, worth the effort of navigating through. The last step before reading is to allow your child to take possession of the word that they have just labored over by writing it in their Word Notebook. This Notebook could be an actual composition notebook, or it could simply be a file folder that is filled up and then exchanged for a new one, depending on your preference and your child's tendency to be visually overwhelmed. The final step of the reading lesson is to read, providing the reward for the effort, and this is done with joy. Open the book to the selected passage and point to words one by one, reading words that aren't sight words and stopping for words that are so that your child can do the sight reading. As you progress through these lessons, and the book, it's okay to let your child read both sight and sound words on these Sight Lesson days, but your focus and point of challenge should be on the sight words, and the sound words shouldn't provide enough frustration to take away from the joy of reading sight words. 

Sound Lessons Step by Step: 
1.Introduce word from reading passage. 
2. Identify each letter. 
3.Air write word. 
4.Locate word. 
5.Locate similar words. 
6.Build word and similar words.
7.Make list of similar words. 
8.Use in a sentence.
9. Write word and similar words in Word Notebook. 
10. Read passage. 

Sound Lessons Described: 
Choose a phonetic word that is within the reading passage for that day. It is okay to use the same passage for sight and sound lessons, focusing on each one during their respective lessons, or to choose one passage for sight lessons and then to move on to the next for sound lessons. You could, again, be working with sentences, paragraphs, or pages. Use word cards to put the current sound word, along with 3-4 other words in the same word family (so if your word is found, you would also include round, bound, and hound) and words that are not related to the current word. You want to have 10-12 cards that include 3-4 of the current word, 3-4 that are in the same word family, and 3-4 unrelated words. 

Open the lesson by introducing the chosen word (Step 1), identifying each letter, (Step 2), air writing word (Step 3), and locating the word on cards and in book (Step 4) in the same fashion as a sight lesson. Then, ask your child if they notice any words on their word cards that they think is built with some of the same letters in a row, and that might sound like the current word.(Step 5) Line those word cards up vertically and have your child build the word in the same fashion as a sight word (Step 6), making sure to include in the offered buildable letters those which could form similar words as well (If you are working with found, and have sound, bound, and hound on word cards, then you want to make sure the pile of buildable letters in front of them include s, b, and h.) After they have built the current word, ask them what they would change in the word to form one of the other words they found that sound like their current word. ("Great job! You built the word found. What would you change in the word found in order to make the word sound, or the word hound, or the word bound?") Allow them to build as many of the similar words as they can, and then have them write this list of words, and any others that they can think of in the same family, on the white board below the current word. (Step 7). While they are completing this, you can ask them what sentence(s) they could use this word in (Step 8). Before reading, have them take possession of this word family that they have labored over by writing the word family in their Word Notebook (Step 9), and then let them reap the reward for this labor by reading the day's passage. For this lesson, you focus on phonetic words, and help them with any sight words already learned but still needing assistance with, and then you keep working with those sight words in sight lessons until mastered. It is okay to allow them to attempt all types of words, but sight reading should not present enough frustration to take the joy out of phonetic (sound) reading on a Sound Lesson day. 

Early Dictation Lesson Step by Step: 
1. View 3 words. 
2. Using first word, identify each letter
3. Visualize word. 
4. Air write word. 
5. Erase one letter and have child copy word. 
6. Turn paper over, erase entire word, and have child write word.
7. Repeat with other two words. 

For these lessons, you will be working with three words consisting of a word that has nearly or recently mastered, a word that you've been working on that hasn't been mastered, and a new word. When a word is fully mastered, it can be taken off of the list, and a new word added, in order to always be working with three words that challenge the child to varying degrees at one time. These lessons should correspond to sight lessons. 

Early Dictation Lesson Described:
Open the lesson by asking your child if they remember the words written on the board, or remind them what each of the three words are.(Start 1) Start with the word of least difficulty and most progress being mastered, and identify each letter (Step 2), have your child visualize it (Step 3), and air write it (Step 4) in the same fashion as used in a sight lesson. Ask your child if they have a clear picture of the word in their mind, and give them another chance to ensure that they do. Then erase one letter of the word and ask your child to write the word on a page of unlined paper in front of them. (Step 5) Have your child turn their paper over, erase the entire word and ask them to look at the picture in their mind and write the word from that picture. (Step 6). Turn the paper back over and repeat the entire process for each of the other two words. If your child can't write the entire word during step (6), give them a fresh piece of paper and start again, utilizing the entire process to help them form and cement the visual picture of the word. If they still can not write the entire word, move on without frustration and repeat that word in your next Early Dictation Lesson. 

     These three lessons, when used together, facilitate the aspects of learning to read that Mason found to be important, and effective, for learning to read. More importantly, these lessons tap into the heart and minds of children in ways that will enrich their feast not only in the course of language arts, but in all other courses. These lessons equip a mother with the courage to challenge her child and to never underestimate the born person that she is working with, but also the grace to work through a book, and the process, at the speed that suits that individual, divinely designed person. There is structure, and a plan, but there is also freedom and grace. 

     As usual, Charlotte Mason knew what was needed and was brave enough to provide it and implore others to do the same. Some of what she found to be true about learning to read is direct, and some is more implied or vague. The instruction and the wisdom is pieced together throughout her career, and her writings, and I have sought to locate, piece together, and utilize every morsel of that instruction and wisdom. I have done so for my own unique born person, and his journey to reading, but also to share with other moms of uniquely feasting and uniquely reading children. I hope that I have honored this quest, and that I have equipped you to teach your children to read in the delightful way, and to partake of more courses in the feast. 

May All Your Days be Spent Delightfully Feasting...and Reading. 

My Favorite Readers:

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