Learning to read is a highly emotional journey for young children. The emotionality – and the impact of this – are often over-looked as we assume our child tells us everything they are feeling. My research project for my MA in Special and Inclusive Education involved exploring the inner world of children’s experiences of learning to read. Through talking to some of the 6 and 7 year-olds in my workshops, I uncovered a beautiful  and private world. Children as young as 6 (and I think much younger) read picture books in a way that develops their self and identity, in a way I did not imagine.
For example, children place themselves within the book and told me it made them want to go to see the places in the books: jungles, forests…. Reading The Monkey Puzzle Tree made one little girl feel she would travel and see jungles and made her wonder what it would feel like to swing through trees. I saw her horizons in 3-D as she was telling me this. Research has highlighted that children take traits from characters and build them into their own selves and identities, unconsciously as they read, or are read to. There is a magic at work when we read, it changes us.
This magic also sits along side quite structured and ability-based colour codes and groupings in schools: with the book bands. All the children I spoke with measured themselves (and others) against these colours. I was left with an overwhelming feeling: how can we keep this magic, distil this magic, and use it to develop all children’s imagination and sense of self? I began to think of small ways to acknowledge the emotionality of reading and negate some of the negativity struggling readers may feel at ‘being the lowest colour.’ All my workshops are based on the belief that children’s sense of self is inextricable from their feelings about themselves as readers and their experiences of reading.
Creating experiences in reading and spelling that are enjoyable and allow self concept to blossom is my main concern. Working in sensory materials to create a word, your own way, is a powerful and very simple first step.
The visual patterning on the word ‘furious’ here gives the child ownership over the word and creates a memorable link. Ultimately, working this way turned homework time into a time of discovery and laughter instead of head-on-the-table, I’m-not-picking-up-my-pencil. Take a photo of the creation and print out, stick it into a scrap book to make a home-made spelling list that they can add to and they have created.
Another very simple idea is the sad, ok, happy word boxes (below). This is a lovely way of making the progress of learning tricky words tangible – you move the words from the sad box to the happy box when you have learnt them. It’s amazing to see how quickly they move over, and the excitement of seeing real words filling up your happy box is very important for children.
The inner world of young readers is a precious and complex place…let’s fill it with love.