Zak helped us set up video conferencing with Daddy, sent to the projector, so we could have our evening Bible time with him! It is, second to him being here, absolutely wonderful!
In the last few months, Sammy has jumped into the shallow end of the pool of literacy. He is reading and writing. Very fun! What makes it the most fun for us is that his reading instruction has been almost exclusively from the Bible!
Why does this matter? Do we think this is the only approved way to teach a child to read?
For many years, we have used a certain homeschool phonics program, for many of our children. They would get about half way through, and then it would click, and we'd discard it, and they'd go on with reading and writing. However, as we have made changes in our family through the years, we have noticed how God seems to have laid out an excellent reading instruction program in Deuteronomy 6:4-9...
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
We have tried to dedicate the first and last hours of each day to family devotions, and so even the pre-readers are present and absorbing Scriptures. While the oldest of us don't memorize as easily, the youngest ones are like sponges. They look like they are zoning, but later in the day, at the strangest of times, they will start reciting the verses we are working on!
Not with total understanding, no, that comes slower. But it does come, and it has to start somewhere, and it seems like it starts with God's Word! Just like that scripture says, we have to talk about it all the day long. It seems I am always hearing friends tell me how surprised they are that their young children can grasp so much Bible! It's not what we parents are told to expect.
Many phonics programs are designed with the assumption that children aren't being immersed in the Bible. For example, commercials tell us, "Give your child delicious Ovaltine, which is balanced with all the nutrition and vitamins they need, if you can't get them to eat a healthy diet." Reading programs just seem designed for children who aren't normally exposed to reading, let alone, the Bible. Rather, the assumption is that in order to appeal to a child (who will like what they are brought up to like!!!) you have to make everything Disney or whatever. This is called: "the child's level." And you hear things like, "...will introduce your child to the world of literature..." or something to that effect.
It's almost like if you have stairs in your home. When your baby is young, you obviously carry them up and down the stairs. As they crawl, you supervise them and keep them off the stairs. As they begin to walk, you stay with them, and eventually they get to the point where they can use the stairs safely on their own. But they have been observing and absorbing the whole while, real stairs.
You don't have to create a rubber, primary-colored replica of child-scale stairs, and give them 5 minute daily lessons on using the stairs, or demonstrate using rainbow colored animals.
Getting back to that question, which I kind of anticipated in my paranoid way, "Do you think teaching reading with the Bible is the only approved way to do it?" It seems like God has the verses in Deutronomy wired in such a way that if you try to follow them, your child will learn to read. Like the hokey example about rubber, primary-colored stairs, by following God's direction to dilligently teach our children the Bible by talking about it all the day long, you are already teaching reading. It's more than phonics.
In fact, in one book, I remember the author talking about how you teach the child all these phonics sounds, using the letter dice and the cue cards and the puppets on popsicle sticks, but they still may not get it until one day, click, they are decoding. Its so funny how, up until that time, you introduce the letter sounds in some scientificly prescribed order, but that's not enough, there has to be this spontaneous click, and then they get it.
Well, we are now wondering if that click isn't helped along by having packed away lots of scripture in their hearts and minds, and starting them on reading the Book they are most familiar with.
We kind of observed this with our middle girls, that they required much less phonics instruction. They were hearing God's Word daily, plus they were very handy with hymnals. That exposed them to all kinds of nutty English words which followed no regular rules. Since they MEMORIZED the songs, they could figure out the letter sounds. They followed verse by verse, and eventually started selecting songs they didn't know, and would sing along, out of tune, since they could READ the words!
As Sammy once said, "Is the P silent? Because its supposed to say 'salm'."
When I used to hear people say, "Historically, people taught their children to read with the Bible," I found that hard to comprehend. I was thinking "Hooked on Phonics." Maybe there was more to it than that. If a child is memorizing the Bible before they ever see a page, you can show them a passage they know, and they have a head start. In his reading, Sammy generally wants to figure out a word. Some times, a child says a word wrong, and you correct them, but they just skip over it and don't even repeat your correction. But Sammy knows the Bible means something, so he doesn't normally do that. Currently, we are finishing up memorizing John 3, so many of the words are fresh in his mind.
But what about the King James English? We happen to use the King James Bible. You know, it has been no big deal, because they can differentiate between our spoken English and what they are reading. They have enough exposure to modern English, that they are actually translating anything archaic to what it means...because of course, we explain it to them. (Archaic just means an old word, not a meaningless word.) Of course, there are days when we conduct all our conversation in our mock Old English, but they realize we don't normally talk that way.
Well, this is, of course, just our experience. But it is so wonderful to hear Sammy wanting to read John chapter 3 twice in a row, with Gideon listening and saying "The Bible is the best book of all. It's the only thing I like!" which may not always be true, but it sure is a neat aspiration! Its not a video curriculum or an incentive program that did that...it's just hearing and reading the Bible and believing it.
I guess this is such an exciting thing for me because it just demonstrates that God has a plan for families, and if we seek HIM first and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS (by transforming our minds in HIS WORD), then all these things (reading) will be added unto us.
Here are some of the things we have been doing with Sammy, and have done with most of the children.
He has his Bible in a case, and a composition book. In the book, we write something down to remember. Sometimes the goal is learning some kind of rule, like apostrophes (possessive vs plural), sometimes it is similar words (spelling or meaning), one time we did forming irregular plurals (which is when he told me, "You can only have ONE WIFE!"), sometimes its compass points, whatever. We compare or classify words, or find other words spelled similarly.
In the beginning, I did the writing. Now he copies off a small white board, or I dictate. Lately I have had him sound out words.
Some of these things you don't have to teach, because the child just figures it out. Since we are not using a "child's Bible", Sammy has to figure out that titles are not Bible verses, footnotes are not Bible verses, etc. He caught on right away.
He is also doing letter writing, which is largely copying a draft we write for him. He is already trying to write his own sentences. Letter writing has been the biggest tool we have used in teaching writing, because all aspects have to be working together.
So, we are getting ready to start him doing Bible copy in Genesis. He works hard on his handwriting, and is still learning all the letters (how to make them by the book -- we use italic basic). We've noticed that our children generally do very well with penmanship if their attitudes are right. We've never had messy penmanship without an attitude problem or a distraction problem.
From our earliest days of homeschooling, Dave and I felt that if it was really the Lord's plan for families, it wouldn't be dependent on man-made programs and such. It would be a tool for us to teach and train our children in the way they should go. We have had (and continue) to rethink a lot of our assumptions about what we are trying to accomplish and why and how. God continues to show us how little we know. One of the most thought-provoking message we have heard, and continue enjoy listening to, is "Homeschooling versus Discipleship" by Jonathan Lindvall.