Vol. 8, No. 12
March 23-29, 2000
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Frontlines of Literacy
by Lori L. Sikorski

A Sight for Young Eyes

The other day while searching under the kitchen hutch for a lost marble, Emily pulled out a forgotten index card. A smile came over both of our faces. "Hutch" was written across it in faded marker.

“Do you remember this?” she asked. Indeed I did. For almost two months, our entire house was plastered with these index cards.

It all began when Emily, our youngest, was three years old. Feeling left out each afternoon as her older brother and sister did homework, Emily would pull out paper and crayon and do her own homework. She would doodle something and then ask me, “How do you spell dog? How do you spell chair?” Her tongue resting on her bottom lip, she would nod her head as each letter was spoken. After several spellings of the word chair, I put down my potato peeler and wrote the letters for her on a piece of paper.

As the table was cleared of schoolbooks and replaced with dinner dishes, I noticed that Emily had proudly taped that paper to her own seat at the table. When Daddy came home she walked over to him and while looking at the word, correctly spelled chair. “I can read,” she announced.

Later that evening, a thought occurred to me. Many kindergarten classes use this notion. Blackboards are labeled, as are restrooms and colors. Pulling out a package of blank index cards, markers and tape, I began in the living room, printing the words wall, couch, picture, book, window, curtain and so on. Next I moved onto the kitchen, then the family room, bathrooms and Emily’s bedroom.

Before the night was over, it looked as if children’s author Richard Scary had paid us a visit.

In the morning, all three children were startled at so many words. But the smile on Emily’s small face let me know that I was on the right track.

As the day went on, she would stand next to something I had not labeled and say, “Mommy how do you spell this?” Together we would print out the word and she would tape it on the object. By day’s end, even the dog bed had a name tag.

We lived like this for many weeks. Her father would quiz her on the spelling of dishwasher and cupboard, looking amazed as she stared right at the word and spelled it. “Wow!” He would say, “How do you do that?” She would giggle and feel confident in her newfound learning.

Within a month, Emily began reading in books words that she once had stumbled over. She knew that by replacing the r in rug with a b, the word would become bug in her story. (Good thing, because I never got the chance to label a bug in our home.)

Her brother and sister also got in on the fun. Hollie, who was nine at the time, would mix the cards up and Emily would have to fix them so they were back on their original article. Joey, at age six, would put cards on things that I had missed, things such as toilet paper and dog bones. He even went so far as to put a card in the flower bed that read dirt.

Slowly, the cards became worn and faded and were eventually removed. Emily kept many of them in an index box that she would pull out at times, especially in kindergarten when new words were introduced daily to her.

Now, in second grade, Emily has no problems with reading or spelling. The majority of her spelling tests are all marked 100 percent. I often wonder if using the sight words helped her along. A reading teacher to whom I mentioned my supposition said I was right. “The earlier they connect the letters that make the words, the earlier they process this knowledge.”

I remembered that comment as Emily and I looked at the found card. I used to think that reading came easy to her because she was the youngest and tried so hard to imitate the older two. Or maybe she grasped the concept because I was able to spend more time reading with her while Hollie and Joey were at school.

Or, maybe, just maybe, I really was on the right track with our house of cards. I asked Emily if she enjoyed that time in her young life. Her smile was bigger than it was that morning several years back when she looked around wide-eyed at all the word cards taped about the house.

She turned the card around, wrote something on the other side and laid it on the kitchen counter. Gathering her marbles, she returned to her bedroom. I picked up the card and my heart fluttered. In pencil I had gotten my answer. "Thank you" she had written.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in our monthly series on learning to read in Chesapeake Country.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly