By Dr Melodie de Jager.
Age is not the best indicator of development, skills are.
Regardless of the age of the child, reading begins with the development of the physical body. A child’s body is the pivotal point when experiencing space, direction, shape, order and time, as well as rhythm. All these are essential skills for the development of perceptual-motor skills and language. If the brain and physical body are not ready, learning to read is more difficult no matter how well conceptualised and structured a reading programme may be.
With this in mind, the Mind Moves Reading READINESS Programme rests on the following three pillars:
Reading is the culmination of a range of skills that need to be learned: phonemic awareness, word recognition, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. However, these skills can only be successfully acquired AFTER the required physical development of the body.
Physical development refers to the sensory-motor system, which is also called the peripheral nervous system. Neuroscience has shown us that the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is dependent on the sensory-motor system for brain development. That means the senses and muscles must be under the control of the brain before higher order skills such as writing, reading and reasoning becomes possible.
Physical development is associated with the following gross motor skills: body awareness to create a body map in the brain, laterality, midline crossing, muscle tone, spatial orientation, rhythm and coordination, direction and sequence. Fine motor skills build on stable and secure gross motor skills and promote clear pronunciation, nimble fingers, toes and controlled eye movements. Emotional development, concentration and confidence are all-natural consequences of physical development.
Research at the Mind Moves Institute indicates that there is an increase in visual perceptual skills in young children, but a decrease in their auditory perceptual skills. Letters represent sound, so the ear and all the auditory perceptual skills need to be developed before the visual symbols for the sounds of language (letters) will make sense.
Because language for the young child is primarily hearing and producing sound, auditory development is critical. Auditory memory, sequencing, discrimination, analysis, synthesis, foreground/background perception and closure are all auditory perceptual skills that need to be developed before vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation can be age-appropriate.
The development of language, because language is a social tool, is an important precursor to learning to read. Talking, songs, rhymes and stories about topics within one’s environment are effective ways to develop a language. Interactive play is yet another.
Themes and a theme table filled with concrete objects relating to the environment of the child are important in pre-schools. The vocabulary necessary to describe and name objects (reading the environment) precedes the recognition of objects in pictures (reading picture) and precedes the recognition of the letters and numbers (reading symbols) by several years.
Everyone can learn to read if they have first mastered the physical body and language of learning through listening and talking, and are skilled in presenting their ideas in picture form on paper. The ability to present ideas in symbolic form follows more readily on from the various kinds of creative activities that enable the child to present their ideas in picture form. Creative activities are an early form of writing. They are the mirror of thoughts in symbolic form. This is a difficult and laborious process that takes about three years to master, and happens naturally between the ages of three and six years old. The transition from reading pictures to reading symbols occurs more spontaneously after years of structured creative art activities. Every time a young child ‘reads’ the picture they have drawn or painted, cut and glued, or constructed, they are transitioning from reading pictures to reading symbols.
In order to read visual symbols, a well-developed proficiency where the eye is neuro-physiologically ready, is only available to the child from around six or seven years of age. Earlier formal reading is neuro-physiologically undesirable. Incidental reading, such as the recognition of brands, occurs spontaneously without any pressure and is therefore desirable especially if it is combined with the magic of hearing a story daily. Just as you cannot ripen an avocado pear by pressing it, you cannot instil a desire to read by applying pressure. Pressure doesn’t speed up the learning process, but it may bruise the child and their budding love for learning and reading. An environment that is filled with books and with a caring adult as a storyteller and reader is priceless in preparing the child to become a successful reader.
Play is the most natural form of learning. Unfortunately, there is a general feeling that preparing a child to learn to read (or using a reading readiness programme) is a waste of time, especially if it involves play. This perception impedes the nature of the young child’s development as well as that of the child who struggles to learn to read.
The Mind Moves Institute’s approach to Reading READINESS:
Because pressure bruises rather than develops, we encourage the following approach with parents as caring adults and teachers as knowledgeable carers:
Reading is the ability to listen to sounds on paper or a screen. Conversely, writing is to talk on paper or a screen.
Research* by the Mind Moves Institute and the Prognosis Institute in Russia has brought us to the understanding that children struggle to read when they have not first learned how to translate the sounds in words, to symbols in relation to their own body. Proprioception and movement contribute to a sense of gravitational security using the child’s body as the starting point (current location). The vestibular system adds a sense of orientation in space (the map) as well as direction and a sense of sequence to develop:
The above skills are like stepping stones and an inseparable part of getting ready to learn to read.
*More about this in GRAVITY a missing link in child development, De Jager, Efimov & Efimova. 2020. https://www.mindmoves.co.za/product/gravity-a-missing-link-in-child-development/
As creative art precedes the reading of the young child’s picture, so does writing precede reading.
The principles that underpin the Mind Moves’ Reading Readiness Programme have been outlined above. Remember: This is not a reading programme. It is a programme that systematically, throughout 33 lessons, develops the necessary perceptual-motor skills for reading by focussing on vestibular and auditory development. This programme is compatible with any reading programme or reading series.
The programme is designed to prepare children to be ready to transition with confidence from Grade R to Grade 1, as well as for Grade 1 and older children whose basic skills have not been sufficiently consolidated.
The Mind Moves’ Reading READINESS Programme has been developed in a way that allows the teacher to take cognisance of the children’s level of development and to adjust the programme accordingly. The first part of each of the 33 lessons deals with language and skills development, then the lesson moves spontaneously from sound (auditory) to symbols (visual). If the prerequisite skills are not yet established and more help is required, the second part of the lesson will be ineffective. The second part of the lessons is about learning to write a specific letter in a specific word. This word would be part of the vocabulary developed during part one of the multi-sensory and movement based lesson.
Discussions around themes as well as rhymes and songs are used to provide an auditory context for each lesson. Group work is promoted, and the necessary vocabulary is developed so that the letter symbols are learnt through play and further developed through writing.
This Reading READINESS programme is presented as e-learning and consists of the following:
Each of the children’s practice pages (three per letter) are provided so that the teacher or the parent can decide what the child is ready for. The first page is available for Grade R, and the other two pages for Grade 1. Older children who are struggling to consolidate letters can also benefit from this programme. Encouraging children to place the red dots at the starting point of each letter themselves is an important step in learning the correct formation of the letters.
Each of the games and activities can be repeated because perceptual skills develop over time and therefore regular repetition is necessary to establish the skills.
Mind Moves’ Reading READINESS Programme has been written in consultation with CAPS.
Mind Moves’ Reading READINESS Programme leads the teacher, parent and learner to the stage just before formal reading instruction can take place. The teacher is then able to mediate a reading programme or reading series with children who are ready in body and mind.
Let us now get started to systematically develop the necessary pre-reading skills!