Never mind the pictures, show them the words.

I always read to my three boys from when they were very small. And if we were in a waiting room, magazines helped pass time. Even sports or medical issues will have the odd car, or animal or house to point out- things small children recognize.

Mine grew up on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (in the original, not Disney please). It is written to be read aloud; note the Capital Letters pointing out where to emphasize something Important. We were happily following Pooh and Piglet in the snow one day when my small animal wanted to turn the page to see a picture. “Listen to the story and you can see what is happening in your mind,” I suggested. And he did!


Another day I noticed him pick up a paperback with no pictures that I had been reading. He studied it intensely for a bit, and it suddenly dawned on me that we never ‘showed’ our children the words, the punctuation, the spaces between words, capital letters and full stops. Only the pictures in between. We never pointed out a comma, or a question mark, or the start of a new paragraph.

Another time I showed a young grandson the novel I was reading and said “I’ll bet you know a lot of these words already” and he immediately picked out ‘the,’ ‘and,’ ‘to,’ and more and then sounded out the title. It started him reading real books just like that.

Albuquerque Reads has a program where volunteers help kindergarten children to read. For several years (and I should go back) I was a volunteer. We started the hour with a reminder of the format – 1st 10 minutes: read to them, read together, then they read alone; 2nd 10 minutes, help them to write about what we read; final 10 minutes, a word game. We had small books with very simple words. But also many punctuation marks that we were not instructed to teach.

I couldn’t help it; we looked at the title Who Likes Cold? and I’d say “See that little squiggle at the end?” We read a list: penguins, polar bears, Arctic foxes. “What is that little thing separating those animals?”

At Christmas the volunteers were invited into the classroom. I was wearing what I call my Academic earrings. Made by my sister, one is a question mark, the other an explanation mark. “How did you get on,” the teacher asked me and my two students? “We did punctuation,” I said, turning to the little girl. I pointed to my earring. “What is this?” She answered without hesitation,”A question mark.” Then I pointed to the other earring and asked the little boy, “And what is this?” With a deep breath he puffed out his chest and said emphatically “A Excalation Mark!”

Well, he might not have the word quite right yet, but by golly he knew what it meant.

Next time you read to a child, please show them the words as well as the pictures.


2 thoughts on “Never mind the pictures, show them the words.

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