Word-making The first exercises in the making of words will be just as pleasant to the child (as learning the alphabet was). Exercises treated as a game, which yet teach the powers of the letters, will be better to begin with than actual sentences. Take up two of his letters and make the syllable 'at': tell him it is the word we use when we say 'at home,' 'at school.' Then put b to 'at' - bat; c to 'at' - cat; fat, hat, mat, sat, rat, and so on. First, let the child say what the word becomes with each initial consonant to 'at,' in order to make hat, pat, cat. Let the syllables all be actual words which he knows. Set the words in a row,and let him read them off. Do this with the short vowel sounds in combination with each of the consonants, and the child will learn to read off dozens of words of three letters, and will master the short-vowel sounds with initial and final consonants without effort. Before long he will do the lesson for himself. 'How many words can you make with "en" and another letter, with "od" and another letter?' etc. Do not hurry him.
Word-making with Long Vowels, etc. When this sort of exercise becomes so easy that it is no longer interesting, let the long sounds of the vowels be learnt in the same way: use the same syllables as before with a final e; thus 'at' becomes 'ate,'and we get late, pate, rate, etc. The child may be told that a in 'rate' is long a; a in 'rat' is short a. He will make the new sets of words with much facility, helped by the experience he gained in the former lessons.
Then the same sort of thing with final 'ng' - 'ing,' 'ang,' 'ong,' 'ung'; as in ring, fang, long, sung: initial 'th,' as then, that: final 'th,' as with, pith, hath, lath, and so on, through endless combinations which will suggest themselves. This is not reading, but it is preparing the ground for reading; words will be no longer unfamiliar, perplexing objects, when the child meets with them in a line of print. Require him to pronounce
the words he makes with such finish and distinctness that he can himself hear and count the sounds in given way.
Early Spelling Accustom him from the first to shut his eyes and spell the word he has made. This is important. Reading is not spelling, nor is it necessary to spell in order to read well; but the good speller is the child whose eye is quick enough to take in the letters which compose it, in the act of reading off a word, and this is a habit to be acquired from the first: accustom him to see the letters in the word, and he will do without effort.
If words were always made on a given pattern in English, if the same letter always represented the same sounds, learning to read would be an easymatter; for the child would soon acquire the few elements of which all words would, in that
case, be composed. But many of our English words are, each, a law unto itself: there is nothing for it, but the child must learn to know them at sight; he must recognise 'which,' precisely as he recognises 'B,' because he has seen it before, been made to look at it with interest, so that the pattern of the word is stamped upon his retentive brain. This process should go on side by side with the other––the learning of the powers of the letters; for the more variety you can throw into his reading lessons, the more will the child enjoy them. Lessons in word-making help him to take intelligent interest in words; but his progress in the art of reading depends chiefly on the
'reading at sight' lessons.
Charlotte Mason in Home Education p 202-203
Miss Mason teaches that after the alphabet and before reading comes word building. Learning to read is very exciting for most children - if they are taught when they are ready and not when mum thinks they should be.
To implement the first word building lessons, we used the excellent Alphabetics game made by the Fitzroy readers team. This seemed to make the process into a game, which is exactly what Miss Mason recommended.
Alphabetics is a fun, Scrabble-like word forming game of cards. Each card has either a single consonant or vowel or a digraphs (e.g. sh, ch and tion). There are lots of each letter, and we would play a game where Jemimah held the 'at' cards, for example and received points for each correct word she could make. This initial lesson is quite easy, and before long she could read bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, sat, and vat with ease.
I laid out the cards to read "the fat cat sat on the mat", telling her 'the' as a sight word before we began. She could read!!
In the next lesson we made these little words into a book: The cat. The fat cat. The mat. The cat on the mat. The cat sat on the mat. The cat sat on the vat. The cat sat on the hat. The hat sat on the cat. (very funny for some reason!). Importantly, the sentences always made sense. Jemimah illustrated the book and then read it to Daddy on his return from work. Jemimah had read her first book and she read it to everyone!
In lesson three we used the cards to learn 'en' words - Ben, den, hen, Jen, Ken, Len, men, pen, and ten. We learned 'this' and 'with' as sight words and reviewed 'the' again. Our book this time read: This is Ben.; This is Jen. Ben is in the den. Jen is in the den with Ben. Ben has a pen. Ben has a pen in the den. Ben has a pen in the den with Jen and the men. (or something like that!)
Lesson five, again using the Alphabetics cards, taught that:
A final 'e' makes the 'a' say its name.
We made all the 'at' words again and turned at to ate, hat to hate, rat to rate, sat to sate, and pat to pate.
A final lesson of this rule using other letter combinations and we stopped 'learning to read' and started 'to read'. No more reading lessons and we moved on to John and Betty. Why John and Betty? Because I am a child of the '60's, that's why, and I had this reader on my bookshelves. More importantly, the walls of Jemimah's bedroom are lined with framed flashcards of this book and she was familiar with the characters.
This was really the only reader we used. Jemimah (and her mum) found them inane, and we were both keen to move on to living books as soon as possible. For these we used these readily available I Can Read books:
A Kiss for Little Bear
Little Bear's Friend
Harry and the Lady Next Door
Stuart at the Fun House
Stuart at the Library
The Fire Cat
and Jemimah's absolute favourite - a book of jokes:
What Do You Hear When Cows Sing?
The Amelia Bedelia series came next - highly popular in our home, as was the Frog and Toad series.
In a Dark Room and other scary stories
Kung Fu Panda: Meet the Masters
Kung Fu Panda: Po's Crash Course
Once she had read these 20 books, Jemimah could read most simple books. She's now reading Audrey Goes to Town, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and My Naughty Little Sister. She's doing really well - and it was almost painless!