Many parents of young children get a note from their child’s teacher at the end of the school year: “Be sure to practice sight words with your child over the summer!” Many of those same parents are left wondering — What are sight words? How do we practice them? And what’s the point of learning sight words anyway?
I want to address the third question with an analogy that has worked well for me:
Imagine that you are driving your car to a place you’ve never been before. Where are you focusing your attention, your mental energy? You’re reading street signs, remembering the directions or listening to your GPS, watching out for traffic lights as well as other cars and pedestrians. It’s a lot to think about!
But what if, on top of all that, you had to stop and think every few seconds, whenever you changed speed — “Which pedal is the brake, and which one is the gas?”
That’s what reading is like when you don’t know your sight words. When you’re reading a paragraph, an article, or a book, you need to pay attention to several things — the meaning of each sentence, the bigger content and structure of the whole piece, and the meaning of less familiar words.
If you have to slow down and spend energy recognizing the words the and and every time you see them, there’s no way you have enough brainpower left to understand what the paragraph was about. Similarly, we don’t give driver’s licenses to people who can’t remember the difference between the gas and brake pedals — because they can’t be trusted to pay enough attention to the road!
With our Sight Words Teaching Techniques, we use simple repetition to help children memorize these high-frequency words that they should know automatically. The lessons are designed to be quick and painless, giving a child many exposures to a word in a short period of time.
Our Sight Words Games offer a variety of fun ways to get lots of practice with those words. A child’s knowledge of a word can’t become automatic until he has seen it enough times to lock it into his long-term memory.
A confident driver has had enough driving experience that she can switch between the gas and brake without having to think about it. In the same way, a confident reader will read quickly and smoothly, because she has memorized the most common words and doesn’t have to stop and think about them.