Sight words are such a buzzword in our household right now. And if you’ve had a kindergartener before, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Each day my daughter comes home with new worksheets, readers, and other various activities that have to do with sight words. Her teacher also sends her home with a new set of sight words to play with and master from home each week. We’ve had a lot of fun learning these words through the games and activities we’ve come up with together.
The way I tend to learn best is repetition, repetition, repetition. If I read the words over and over, say it, spell it, rush through them on flashcards again and again, and then I will never forget the words. My mind has to see the word, deconstruct the word, put the word together again, and then it’s set in there forever.
Because this is how my mind works best, this was the basis for a lot of the activities I chose to do with my daughter. The more exposure, the better! We were doing so much repetition of the words that I was surprised and frustrated when I started realizing that what we were doing wasn’t sticking. When quizzed on the words, she wasn’t able to recall what the words were.
To be honest, it made me feel like a failure. I have all of this background in teaching and I can’t even figure out how to teach my own child some sight words.
One night, my husband lovingly stepped in. He took out the sight word flashcards and they started making sentences together using only sight words. They would make a sentence, read it, and then create a new sentence, repeating the process over and over. Eventually, they pulled out the sticky notes and added CVC words like cat and dad. They spent about ten minutes doing this activity and while they were having fun and bonding, I was doubting his ability to get anything to stick beyond their current work. But nevertheless, I let them have their time.
The next evening we pulled out our sight word Jenga game, and immediately I was shocked. She knew the words! All of them! We had done so many different activities and nothing was working, but suddenly in one day, it all clicked for her.
I approached my husband about it afterward and he told me he was playing a word game with her in a way that he would learn the new words best. By application. By seeing them as a part of a sentence and reading them together with other words.
In my mind, this made no sense. How can she even read the words if she hasn’t spent the time memorizing them beforehand?
But in both of their minds, the path using real-life applications worked. I was trying to lead her down my own road of rote memorization for learning, while she desperately needed real-life application.
The concept that everyone learns in different ways is something I know and was taught how to work with during my undergrad. But when it came to my own child, I just assumed her mind worked the same way mine did. I was giving her varying activities to do, but the process for all of them was the same. Repeat the words over and over and over until eventually, you memorize them.
After my revelation, I started catering to her learning style better.
We continually made up sentences with sight words. We read books filled with sight words. We even wrote our own book using sight words! Anytime we were looking at words and sentences on cereal boxes, in grocery stores, etc., we pointed out the sight words and read them together.
More application. Less rote memorization.
It was a great, simple reminder that all minds have different systems and routes for learning. Yes, even our own offspring sometimes.
And if we can take some time to figure out each individual mind and the route they personally need to take when they are struggling to grasp a concept, it can make all the difference in the world to them. It may even turn them into a little, tiny reader.
Photo by James Wheeler