A Back to School Plan for Excellence

Back to school is more than a return to physical classrooms, though the return is good and true.

The return is a chance to resume learning and a second chance for every child with a learning challenge, because now is the time to put phonics in motion.

Now is the time to combine reading and rhythm, so to speak, thus inspiring children to read or improve their reading skills while moving their bodies.

As a parent, I know how remote—how distant and impersonal—remote learning is; how there is no substitute for in-person, one-on-one learning, be it in a schoolhouse or a house in which parents homeschool their children.

I also know that children who do not learn to read and write by the third grade are four times more likely not to graduate from high school. Every parent should know this fact, just as every teacher should address this fact, until no child is left behind.

No one is too old to overcome this fact either, as Dr. Terry Kindervater explains in A Stroke of Ill-Fate: From Literacy Expert to Struggling Student, which, as the words in the title say, chronicle the author’s post-stroke recovery.

That Dr. Kindervater is not only the founder of Phonics in Motion (PIM), but also her own savior, that she can read—again—is a testament to her resilience and a testimonial for her program.

The program educates students by truly engaging kids as they are taught with the reading-science aligned multisensory teaching method.

The fun is in learning how to read, so as to have the ability to comprehend what words mean; the confidence to continue reading; and the curiosity to be a lifelong reader. These skills are attainable, in any environment—or in the beauty of the actual environment, at the beach or in the outdoors—where parents and children can read at their own pace.

And yet children suffer for want of instruction.

They also suffer for want of introduction to the joy of language, because when words look and sound strange, or fear and anxiety overwhelm how children feel, learning suffers. The experience must evoke excitement, not dread, in which children have a can-do attitude.

Thankfully, parents and children can learn and laugh as one: reading poetry or prose, or prosody, while expressing themselves through art, music, movement, and all manner of  activities.

In other words, language starts with expanding a child’s fluency, spelling, handwriting, and comprehension of words.

The skills come with practice, in a setting where a child has the freedom to practice without fear of failure. The good news is that learning does not require a classroom. Parents can inspire children at home or on the go, while working or traveling, so long as positivity prevails and positive reinforcement predominates.

Children need adults to encourage them and advocates to guide them; children need parents to help them, regardless of how many times a child tries or how many trials a child faces, until the formidable is no longer foreign and the obtuse is obvious.

Children need to know that language is fun. Learning is fun, as it should be, when children do not have to deal with stress. For example, I engage my two-year-old daughter with Phonics in Motion’s specific motions for each sound in the English language.

I use these movements throughout the day, when we are in the kitchen or car, doing the motion for /s/ when I tell her she is silly, or when I stop the car and we see a stop sign.

In turn, my daughter feels less like a student and more like an investigator of language. She searches for sounds, and communicates with speech and movement, while learning and having fun. She has a foundation—a foundation based on fun—that is ideal for learning phonics. Fun, too, is in how a child puts pen to paper, or makes words out of paper, using motion to create muscle memory.

By writing or painting or constructing letters, a child learns how each letter not only looks or sounds, but how each letter feels; a child develops a feel for reading. The feeling is both audible and visible. Hearing the words, knowing that the words sound right, is important to a child’s emotional growth. Seeing how many words are right, that the list of words continues to grow, is how a child’s curiosity grows. Listening to how a child reads makes it easier to hear how a child sounds when he or she speaks to someone.

The sound of a confident speaker comes from a child who reads with confidence. The sound comes from parents too, be they parents who speak to entertain or educate through their own means of entertainment.

These skills take time, which is why now is the time to make the most of a new school year.

From these skills children can read and write with greater authority.

By exercising these skills, children can say and spell—and summon—words like incantations on behalf of a better tomorrow.

These skills are exclusive to no one, because all people—parents and children, teachers and students—have a right to support and develop these skills.

These skills are the basis for discovering and embracing the wonders of language.

The wonders are real, rewarding parents and children by renewing their interest in reading.