Ask Dr. Blank: Physical Skills That Lay the Foundation to Learn to Read and Write

Although they don’t receive anywhere near the attention they deserve, there are two sets of physical skills that lay the foundation to learn to read and write.

One involves the visual realm and it covers the left-to-right sequencing skills that are required for scanning words and sentences. This seems so obvious that we often take it for granted. But what is generally not realized is that reading is the only activity that ever demands this skill. For example, a mug is a mug regardless of whether the handle is facing to the left or the right. That’s not the case with letters (such as b-d) or words (such as net-ten, post-stop, item-time). Because this skill is never demanded in daily life, children are not prepared for it when they start dealing with the printed page. This is one of the readiness skills that should be taught. Fortunately, it is easy to teach, and as in the Reading Kingdom it can be taught in ways that are like games so the children enjoy the activity.

The other readiness skill involves the motor realm. Writing is an essential partner to reading-and writing requires that a child execute the fairly complex motor patterns needed to form clear, legible letters. While lots of effort goes into having young children learn to recognize letters, remarkably little effort goes into teaching them how to create those letters.

And the limited attention that is offered often creates difficulties for the children. For example, letters are commonly taught in alphabetical order with “a” first, “b” second and so on. But those letters also happen to be among the most difficult to construct-because they involve multiple, interconnecting strokes. By contrast, single stroke letters such as “o” and “l” are much easier. When the teaching is organized to start with the simplest and then to move on to the more complex letters, children easily master this realm. This is another of the readiness skills that should be taught.

Reading Kingdom has been designed to provide simple, easy-to-execute programs that teach both realms. The teaching takes about 15-20 minutes a day and generally it is completed within 4 to 6 weeks. It is a short-term investment that has enormous long-term payoff.

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