Tag: learning to read


Since becoming involved in the world of children’s books as an author, the more I see what a wonderful world it is. No wonder everybody I know in this particular field is so passionate about what they do.

Two such people, Tania McCartney and Megan Blandford. They run a blog site called KIDS BOOK REVIEW. A month or so ago, they asked me to be a regular commentator on their site – I have the freedom to write articles about books, kids and learning, and literacy.

As an ex-early childhood teacher, an ex-adult literacy teacher and someone passionate about books for children and young adults, I jumped at the chance.

Here is my most recent article about the MIRACLE OF LEARNING TO READ. It will appear on the Kids Book Review site today. Please check out the other excellent things on this site when you get the chance….

There is nothing quite like reading a story to a group of children and their delighted giggles as they ‘get’ it. Or a child so immersed in a book she is caught inside an imaginary world, fighting dragons or bullies alongside a fictional character. Or the delight on a child’s face when he reads and understands his first book all by himself?

How did you learn to read? Did it happen without even you being aware? Or was it a daily struggle to decipher clumps of alphabet letters on the page whilst relying on picture clues?

This is the way it has been for young children ever since learning to read became a required skill.

Image from the Oswego Public Library, Oregon.

That it happens at all is a miracle when you understand how much this skill relies on the intricate balances involved – the wiring of the brain and its electrical connections, and the whole body’s physical growth and development, i.e. a child’s maturity.

Then add into the equation how that individual child learns best. It could be through visual and/or aural discrimination – i.e. noticing differences and similarities between letters; or it could be through a tactile sense of letter shapes only remembered through the fingertips.

Just to confuse the issue – factor in visual/aural memory. Is a child able to remember the shapes and sounds of letters? Does the child understand that a particular shape has a particular sound? Now confuse it all by combining that shape with another shape to change its sound.

Okay, now bring in one of the hardest things of all … a child’s own awareness of what they can and can’t do. Yes, good old self-esteem! If you can’t do something that someone else the same age (or even younger) can do, how would you feel if you were 5, 6 or 7?

See the problem here? What happens when an already work-overloaded teacher tries to teach 25+ children to read, all the same way at the same time? Twenty-five little bodies whose physical, intellectual, social-emotional skills are each developing at their own rate and in his/her own way. And this isn’t even factoring in that boys in these early years are at least six months developmentally behind girls. They physically cannot sit still for long! Yes, I’m making a statement here!

These are the reasons I think of ‘learning to read’ as a miracle. For the majority of children, it happens. For others, it takes a little longer before the ‘penny drops’. For some children it requires more individual and skilled help from a professional – someone who (hopefully) finds out first how that child learns best, and then guides the process, step-by-step.

As parents, we can encourage our children to enjoy the process of learning to read. The little take-home readers are fine for confidence building and repetition, and libraries are full of brilliant, enjoyable picture books for young children. Read stories to your kids! Practice your reading-aloud voice so you don’t ‘kill the words’. Let them see you reading for enjoyment too. Turn off the TV occasionally and have a ‘LOVING BOOKS TIME’ – where everyone shares what they’re reading.

These are some of the things we can do to encourage the miracle of learning to read.


The KIDS BOOK REVIEW site: this article will appear on this excellent site for teachers, parents and anyone interested in children’s books and children’s learning. 12th November 2010.

Want to know more about why many people are passionate about the world of Early Childhood? http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/

Grug – a little miracle worker.

If you were at school or were a teacher between 1979 and 1992 you would know GrugGrug

This hairy, brown and yellow striped character inhabited a series of books written by Australian author, Ted Prior. (Soon to be re-published by Simon & Schuster, Australia from June, 2009).

So, why a miracle worker?

Let me tell you first about Grug. Set in the Australian bush (and city), this small fictional character was formed when the top fell off a burrawang tree (altho it’s looks more of a Native Grasstree to me). Grug is like a strange haystack with large eyes and fat legs.

Doesn’t sound like something that’d appeal to kids, does he? But, oh boy, the kids in my Family Group class of 5 to 9-year-olds at Woodridge North State School in the 1980s adored him.

Was it his funny sense of humour? Or the colourful illustrations? Or those tricky situations Grug continually got himself into? It was all of these, and more.

Some of the 25 titles included:

  • Grug and the big red apple
  • Grug and the green paint
  • Grug learns to swim
  • Grug goes to school

It’s hardly worth telling you what these stories are about – the story lines are simple. But the different expressions on Grug’s face are sublime, and the words perfectly chosen.

I bought my own Grug books to use with the kids in Family Red at Woodridge North State School because we never seemed to have enough resources. There were 4 rooms of Years 1,2,3 in the Junior School and I was a novice teacher.  The books were very small so we made Big Books of our own to use with groups – oh yes, we were well and truly into the Whole Language approach to teaching reading. The kids drew and painted their own interpretations of the story and I printed the words.

Then students began to make up their own booklets with Grug as the hero. The older children in the group wrote the words for the younger ones – a true mentorship program. We explored phonics, comprehension, science, art, geography and language through the genius of  Ted Prior and the magic of Grug.

Rodney was seven, under-developed, and failing to learn to read. He told me trying to read was ‘sticky, like syrup’. I knew Rodney could think well, but he was overcome with the abstract world of the alphabet. He gave up.

So, one day I made a Grug puppet out of brown wool with large, plastic eyes that wobbled. I bribed Rodney – he could look after Grug if he had a go at reading Grug’s stories.  Every day, that child headed straight for the row of Grug books, and the larger Grug’s Word Book.

He drew pictures – something he was very good at – and slowly, surely, Rodney also tried to copy Ted Prior’s words and sentences. He began to read in halting sentences, becoming more fluent. He probably knew the stories off by heart, but that didn’t matter.

Within a couple of months, Rodney ‘got it’. It was like the light had switched on over those abstract letters and he knew he could read.

I put this little miracle down to this small, brown, stripey book creature, Grug.

Here’s a Youtube animation made in 2005 of the first story, Grug.