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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Another Reading Lesson

by A. C. Beale
Volume 1, 1890/91, pgs. 459-466


There are two ways of regarding the teaching of reading. One is to look on it merely as furnishing the pupil with a necessary instrument of further education; the other to use it also as an educational instrument in itself. A previous paper seemed to me to treat the subject almost, if not wholly, from the first point of view, I would ask leave now to set forth the second.

I am far from wishing to detract from the importance of the first view (although I believe most people greatly exaggerate the use of reading to very young children), yet, as a disciple of Froebel, I consider that every subject should be taught in such a way as to develop intelligence and faculty, not, as is too often the case, especially with reading, to stupefy. Let me, however, assure my readers that experience has proved that, by this method, not only is the object aimed at, viz., the development of intelligence, attained, but that pupils are also more interested, pronounce more distinctly, and learn also much more rapidly. I should also add that pupils who have been considered hopeless cases have not only learnt to read themselves, but have become enthusiastic teachers of younger members of the family. When I say too pupils could read, that means that they could not only read words they had seen and learnt, but that, with a few exceptions, they could make out new ones with ease and pleasure. I have thus been led to believe that if natural, and therefore reasonable, methods were adopted in homes and in all schools, the irksomeness of learning to the pupils would be greatly lessened.

I was led to consider carefully the subject of the teaching of reading, because for various reasons, it appeared to be necessary to begin it earlier than I at that time thought desirable in the kindergarten and transition classes in my school. It was then the idea occurred to me that it might be done in accordance with, or rather as a development of, Froebel's principles of teaching, which rest on nature and science. I, therefore, determined to try if the teaching of reading could not be simplified by basing it on the science of language.

It may be objected that reading is not a kindergarten subject, and should not be taught to young children. I do not propose to discuss that question at all, but merely to urge that at whatever age it is taken up it should be taught intelligently.

Before dealing with letters at all, I have found it useful to awaken interest and call the attention of pupils to the connection between bodily signs and voice sounds, as beckoning, meaning "come," holding up the forefinger, "Silence," &c., and the making of pictures or marks on stone, or slate, or paper, to record events or numbers. They are thus led to conclude that the former are used to communicate with persons who are present with each other, the latter with those absent. The method is synthetic, as with Froebel's occupations. The pupil first learns to distinguish differences, as with colours and forms, and then makes combinations as in plaiting and building. The letters of the alphabet are divided into two tables. The first table consists of the voices (i.e., vowels) A, E, I or Y, O, U. The long sounds of these letters are first taught, the pupil touching at the same time the thumb and fingers of the left hand with the forefinger of the right. This is the same method as is the dumb alphabet, with the exception of the letter Y. As I and Y have the same sound it seemed better to make alteration, and they are told Y is only I split open at the top. This practice is distinctly valuable, because by associating each sound with a different object it is more easily distinguished. The children are told these letters are the most important, as they can stand alone, and can be sounded alone, that they have a clear, full, distinct voice of their own. Next the short sounds are given, and it is carefully impressed that it is merely the long full sound cut off, as when a cry is stopped by placing the hand before the mouth. Great care must be taken to distinguish the short sounds of E and I. For the long sounds the thumb and fingers should be slowly pressed, for the short they should be lightly tapped.

When this table has been thoroughly learnt, and the forms of the letters are perfectly known, the sound table can be taken, viz., the dumb letters or consonants. It is explained that these poor letters are in a bad case, and cannot get on alone without the help of the voices. They make queer sorts of noises, something like animals, as if trying to talk, but unable to manage it.  As each group of letters is learnt the pupils are taught at the same time to make the letter on their fingers, according to the dumb alphabet. As in this alphabet, as regards the consonants, the shape of the letter is generally an imitation of the printed form, this helps to impress the form more quickly on the mind. It is also useful in satisfying the desire for movement by giving useful occupation to the hand. Another advantage is that it is an aid to the teacher, as not only the ear but the eye also is enabled to detect any mistake.

The first group on the second table is that of the lip-letters, B and P, V and F. Throughout the groups the flat sounds are placed on one sound, the corresponding sharps opposite them. It should be noted here that the names of these letters are not taught, but only the sounds. To give the names at this stage proves a decided hindrance. Young pupils take quite as much interest and pleasure in observing the action of their own organs in making these sounds, as in noting the shapes of leaves or flowers, or other natural phenomena. They see the puffed out cheeks are imitated in the shape of the capital B, and the pouting mouth in the P. Also by taking group after group they feel they are making definite progress. The ear is trained marking the distinction between the sharp and flat sounds, and pronunciation improves in distinctness thereby.

Such a method, too, prepares the way for the learning of foreign languages, since if early accustomed to note the action of the organs of speech, there is not the same self-consciousness which disturbs older pupils when attention is for the first time called to these organs, in order to enable them to pronounce more difficult sounds.

Before a second group is taken, these four letters should be combined with all the voices. First, the voices are placed last, as Ba, and then all the sounds are long since there is nothing to stop the sound, just as a note or a hand-bell, or glass if struck will go on sounding. If, however, the order of the letters is reversed as Ab, the sound is cut short by the dumb letter, just as by putting a finger on the hand-bell after it has been struck.

With these two groups of letters only, many syllables and words can be made and read. The voice can be placed in the middle as Bab, and when they know Y is always short (except when there is no other voice, as in By) many other words can be made. The children will be eager to put them in every possible position; and to read them from the Reading book will be a further step in advance. In this way all the groups are taken. After that the double consonants and the regular words of the language, according to the principles gradually learnt in the Primer.* (*"The Frobel Primer, or Reading on Natural Principles," by A. C. Beale.) Sonnenschein's Reading Course is also taken before the more difficult lessons at the end. The lessons should be read, copied, and then dictated, for by this means spelling is easily learnt-all irregularities being grouped together.