88 – A Defense of Dick and Jane

Dick and Jane used to be the kids who taught American kids to read. Now the readers chronicling their adventures are largely considered old fashioned because of the rise of phonics in the 1970’s as well as the emergence of an entire industry based around selling literacy curriculum.

Dick and Jane books are old fashioned. But sometimes old things stick around because they are tried and true. Although Dick and Jane readers make use of sight words, they are also fun. They also instantly build confidence, something that phonics-based readers are not great at. While phonics absolutely should remain a big part of early reading curriculum, sight word books like the Dick and Jane readers can go a long way toward teaching little ones that reading is fun and that anyone can do it. That kind of confidence and enthusiasm will help instill a lifelong passion for reading in any young child, especially those who have previously given up on reading.

75 – Go, Dog, Go!

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman is a lot of fun for two groups of kids – very little children who haven’t begun to read, and slightly older children who are just beginning to unlock the secrets of words. This book uses ingenious illustrations to support young children as they begin to connect confusing little squiggles with the meanings of words.


Activity: Sight Words

Learning a few sight words can really help new readers build some confidence and get going with reading, which will make it less intimidating to begin proper work with phonics. Sight words are words that are short and common enough for children to memorize, allowing them to be recognized at sight without having to be sounded out. While of course this method isn’t practical for learning an entire language, it is very helpful to get children excited about reading. It also helps kids feel very positive about their first efforts, and kids who feel happy about reading will put in lots of effort to do more reading and unlock stronger skills.

Keep an eye out for the following sight words as you read Go, Dog, Go! with your kids. Memorizing these common, short words will help children recognize words they are already comfortable with as they begin to sound out newer and more complicated words.


4 – Choosing Good Baby Books

You don’t need a degree in child development to learn the traits of a good baby book. In this episode, learn a bit about how babies’ brains are different from ours. Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon were both first published in the 1940’s, yet they remain beloved baby books today because they are able to meaningfully communicate with little ones. Find out the traits of a book that will be fun to read with your little one over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over again.

Activity: Observe How a Baby Reads Books

Usually, the activities suggested here are for children. But this time, the activity is for adults (or possibly children who can take it seriously.)

Get a few books together for an infant or toddler. The books should follow the criteria discussed in the episode: having no complex characters and a very simple plot, if any at all. Illustrations should be simple and have clean lines with high contrast colors.

Allow the baby to direct the reading completely. Offer a book and begin reading. If the child loses interest in the book, offer a different one. If the child wishes to go back to a previous page or skip ahead to another page, follow along without interfering. Pay attention to which book the child spends the most time with. Are there particular pages that draw the most attention, or actions encouraged by the book that spark the most enthusiasm? Which book gets the most repeat readings? Which words or actions from the book, if does the child repeat after hearing you say them?

This activity can be done formally by collecting data on the number of times a baby looks at a given page or repeats a certain activity and then reporting on results, or informally through observation and discussion.