Kids in Colombia learn to read differently than we did at home. Spanish has the advantage of genuine phonetic spelling which means if you learn vowel/letter combinations, you have all the building blocks for reading you’ll ever need.
There’s an inherited system which dictates which building blocks come first. A Colombian teacher immediately asked our colleague Anne what vowel she was up to when she said she was taking preschool. That’s because vowels are the focus of preschool, and consonants get added progressively into first grade. Generally ‘m’ is the first letter taught. We’ve found that kids who struggle to read tend to be most comfortable with words with ma, me, mi, mo and mu.
There’s a single book that’s got the market for this building block approach cornered. It’s called Nacho. It builds little, largely nonsensical, sentences using an increasingly complex combination of syllables.
But what about stories?
We were hoping to mix things up a bit with simple picture books the kids could get to grips with. We had dreams of buying books for kids to take home and step through with their parents, better connecting parents with the value of their kids education, and providing an opportunity for quality time. No such books exist. We scoured school supply shops and pestered bemused shop assistants but nothing came close. We were just offered Nacho. We would have scoured bookshops too but actually none exist in Santa Marta. Seriously, none. There seems to be no culture of reading for pleasure here.
Pretty much all the kids books we have at school have been brought by volunteers. The Wellington Children’s Bookshop has been the unlikely source of the half dozen we’ve contributed to the stock. The kids love love love being read to. They love stories. This week we’re having our second graders read to preschool. And we always manage to pepper the week with stories read to all. Stories with actions are additionally excellent: