It would be difficult to imagine a more comprehensive book on this topic. This is not a curriculum—rather, it's a guide to help parents shape their children's natural desire and ability to absorb information by providing the right books, playing the right games, offering the right encouragement, etc.
Mommy, Teach Me to Read! is a follow-up to Barbara Curtis's more broad Mommy, Teach Me! book about preschool education at home. A homeschool mother of twelve and a certified Montessori teacher, Curtis identifies two main factors that have led parents to doubt their ability to teach their own kids to read: public education, and specialization.
She provides data showing that the "experts" don't, in fact, know what they're doing, and that parents are in reality the ones best suited to educating their own children. This isn't because every parent is a genius, but because teaching children to read is more about the right environment and nurture than following programs or the dictates of research.
Language development begins in the womb, when the infant hears his or her parents speaking. Babies are born with the ability to recognize human voices, and innately identify with their mothers and fathers on a tonal basis. There's a prevalent sense these days that kids should wait till kindergarten to really begin learning, but Curtis believes in getting them started at birth.
Or at least taking advantage of natural tendencies as soon as possible. This isn't really about imposing lessons and such on babies, but focuses rather on shaping their ability and desire to learn, which is strongest from infancy to five years old. Curtis offers dozens of suggestions for doing this from conducting structured conversations, to reading aloud, to playing games, to using manipulatives.
This doesn't mean she believes kids will learn by osmosis, or organically. They will need direct instruction, and she provides help for that, too, but more than half the battle is simply getting youngsters interested and involved in language by integrating it in formative ways into everyday life and activity.
The author pays attention to aspects of reading instruction most authors gloss or ignore: the deep connection between the written and spoken word, the spiritual element of language, particular special needs concerns, etc. In an appendix (there are several, all of them highly practical), she even offers advice for helping students overcome a stutter.
Curtis runs a website at www.MommyTeachMe.net, and whenever there's related or expanded information on the website, a small apple icon appears in the text of Mommy, Teach Me to Read!. There are extensive book lists in the book, for example, but even bigger ones available online.
There are surprising turns. Parents are encouraged to integrate history and singing instruction early on, since both of these are language-intensive disciplines. Kids love to sing, and should be encouraged to do so for the fun of it, and for its inherent educational value. Offer comfort, Curtis urges; go here for books; use these workbooks.
If you want a structured curriculum for teaching writing, look elsewhere. If, however, you like the idea of using ordinary situations (as well as some concentrated instruction) to teach your young ones to read, this is an excellent resource. Curtis is a warm guide, leaving nothing to guesswork, and clearly more concerned that kids learn well than that political standards are observed.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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