In conversation with Mrs.Poonam Sethi

She is a teacher with several years of experience teaching very young children. In this interview she shares her experience in teaching different kinds of children, the need for stories in a child’s life, tips on teaching children to read and much more.

Would you like to tell our readers a little more about your experience as a teacher?

My journey as a kindergarten teacher, with one of the leading schools in Bangalore has been a long one(38 years). Yes in terms of numbers it seems long but it feels like I joined my school just yesterday. I have enjoyed every moment of my teaching career. Children have been my teachers giving me healthy challenges, by being unique, each one of them offers a new challenge.

Building a relationship with them has always been my priority. Seeing smiles on the children’s faces as they come to class and a hug or a happy wave to say bye is what really matters.

Teaching has to come from the heart and one has to feel and really love what you are doing, only then you will be able to win the hearts of these darlings(4–5 years old).This in turn, gives them a secure environment and they start loving school.

I have also been working with children who have learning difficulties at an After School Remedial program at a center in Jayanagar. Children who come for this program attend mainstream schools and come to this center for remedials in the evenings. Every child who comes here needs a comfort zone and emotional support. “I CAN” are the magic words here that keep their self esteem high.

“I CAN” are the magic words here that keep their self esteem high.

Recently a colleague and I have started theme based story, poetry and art classes in a very interactive environment. Story telling is my passion and we are enjoying these classes.

As a teacher of children so young, you would be telling them a variety of stories. In your opinion why are stories important for children?

We start our day with a story in my class. This is my time to develop an emotional bond with my children, we experience the emotions in the story together. We laugh together, we feel sad together, we feel scared together and so on. These emotional experiences bind us together. Stories encourage emotions and feelings which is an important aspect of overall personality development. Oral language is the foundation for learning to read and write and Children all over the world love listening to stories. Children acquire language in the sequence of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

We experience the emotions in the story together. We laugh together, we feel sad together, we feel scared together and so on. These emotional experiences bind us together.

Stories introduce new vocabulary and enhance listening skills. These foundation years are most important for absorbing new words learnt through stories and oral language, help retain the words for use later. Enhancing listening skills and comprehension helps children to understand and follow instructions in class. Story telling being an interactive activity helps children develop speaking skills and conceptual knowledge. This in turn supports literacy skills in children,They start visualizing, imagining, thinking and asking questions.

These foundation years are most important for absorbing new words learnt through stories and oral language, help retain the words for use later. Enhancing listening skills and comprehension helps children to understand and follow instructions in class.

Do you teach children the basics of reading? If yes, what would be your advice for parents?

Reading is the basic skill for all academic areas. Using phonics to teach a child to read is the first step in making a child an independent reader. Parents have to understand how to teach reading to their children. Start with prerequisites for reading, their ability to hear and initially recognize the sounds in the environment eg: ticking of the clock, chirping of birds etc. Next step is to identify beginning and ending sound in spoken words. Children will soon start understanding that words contain a sequence of different sounds -Initial, Middle and Final.

Second step is blending consonant, vowel and consonant sounds together. Blending is the process of saying individual sounds and then running them together. e.g. \ b \ a \ t \

Blending improves with practice and so does Reading.

Start with prerequisites for reading, their ability to hear and initially recognize the sounds in the environment eg: ticking of the clock, chirping of birds etc. Next step is to identify beginning and ending sound in spoken words. Children will soon start understanding that words contain a sequence of different sounds -Initial, Middle and Final.

In your experience how do different children respond to learning reading skills? I suppose that the five year olds especially would be learning to read 2 letter and 3 letter words. Some may take time while others may pick up fast. What factors do you think contribute to this difference?

Why some children find it easier to read is because they are phonemically aware, understand the alphabetical principle and apply this skill fluently.They may also have strong vocabulary and grammar. The capacity of each child to identify and work with speech sound may vary. Oral language skills and receptive and expressive language also plays a strong part in their ability to read fluently.

Children may learn the sound each letter says but find it difficult to blend them together and form a word. Blending requires a child to hold the sound in his mind as the word is created. This requires good memory skill.

Would you agree that learning to read for the first time is difficult and the child feels a lot of pressure? If yes, how should a parent help the child deal with that pressure? How can parents encourage reading for pleasure at home?

Learning to read for the first time is the most enjoyable experience and should not cause any pressure if done methodically. Help the children love the language. Talk a lot to them as oral language is the foundation for learning any language. A child must first hear it then speak it and finally read it.

Learning to read for the first time is the most enjoyable experience and should not cause any pressure if done methodically.

Building children’s vocabulary:

Parents please read lots of stories to your children, recite poems with them, sing songs. Talk to your children throughout, when you are at home, when walking, while driving and so on. Talk about the weather, talk about their school, talk about your cooking, talk about the flowers in the garden,talk about anything and everything.

Phonemic awareness:

Teach beginning and ending sounds of things around them – bag, pencil, eraser, crayons, toys.

Make them aware of the names and sounds of the letters:

Stress on vowel sounds as they can be confusing initially. Make this a daily activity, for five to seven minutes. Play games, use flash cards, do matching activities, you cannot blend the sounds without knowing the sounds. Keep them motivated and keep their interest in reading alive. Parents if you don’t know how to teach them, take the help of the teachers, watch videos on You Tube.

Daily reading practice will make the children better readers:

If they make mistakes don’t correct them just say the correct word, that’s enough. Use lots of flash cards. Do a lot of labeling of thing at home. Let the children look at those words everyday and identify the word as a whole eg: cupboard, door, window, toys, refrigerator, television etc.

If they make mistakes don’t correct them just say the correct word, that’s enough.

Keep your children motivated and enjoy their Reading Journey with them.

For more such discussions on encouraging children to read for pleasure, please join THE READING JOURNEY GROUP on Facebook.

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