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Emma Hartnell-Baker: Teaching Toddlers to Speak Read and Spell as if They Have Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD, Speech Delay, or Verbal Dyspraxia.
Workshops for Parents of Children Aged 2 - 11

Growing Word Wings - Workshops for Parents - Using Phonemies
The Toddler Project - We Don't Wait

After over a decade of supporting thousands of teachers, tasked with instructing children in reading and spelling in schools or providing intervention, it has become clear that parents (and teachers) require a minimum of three 60-minute training sessions to experience their 'aha!' moments. After which, they are well-equipped to proceed effectively.

 

The "1,2,3 and Away!" parent workshops commence on Sunday, 7 April, on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of each month. From May, these workshops will also be live-streamed to accommodate those unable to attend in person. These sessions are designed for parents of children aged 2 to 11 who have, or may in the future have, conditions such as speech delay, verbal dyspraxia, ADHD, autism, and/or dyslexia, aiming to provide vital support and insights.

Our proactive approach does not wait for children to demonstrate difficulties in school. Recognising that children assimilate information more effectively when it is presented in a manner conducive to their individual learning styles, we challenge the traditional educational models. These models often promote a uniform learning strategy that persists even when it fails, proving ineffective for at least one in four children—a fact that the Department for Education (DfE) must acknowledge.

We offer parents an alternative: don't wait for your child to face failure in a system designed predominantly for neurotypical children. Traditional classroom settings, often featuring one teacher managing over twenty students with a standardised curriculum, do not cater to the diverse learning needs of all children.

Parents find that when their children are empowered and engaged in learning through methods that resonate with them—being highly mathematical, multisensory, and visual—they choose to learn to read. This approach fosters a desire to read for pleasure and a readiness for school, circumventing common challenges and fostering avid readers from the start.

The introduction of 'phonemies' creates new neurological pathways for children with dyslexia, enhancing phonemic awareness and bridging the gap between spoken and written English. For non-verbal children, the 'speech sound monsters' (Phonemies) provide a way to communicate by producing sounds they may not be able to articulate. Autistic children can engage in word building independently, finding joy in the mathematics of patterns and problem-solving. ADHD learners appreciate the shift from traditional teaching methods to more autonomous learning, facilitated by technology, allowing them to explore words that are relevant to them without the limitations of traditional phonics programmes.
 

How will  UK children be taught in school?
 

In June 2005, the government announced a review of early reading teaching methods, led by former inspector and education consultant, Jim Rose. The Rose Report (2006) subsequently mandated systematic, synthetic phonics as the primary teaching method, in order to teach the skills he cited as crucial, if children are to learn to read:  
 • hear, identify, segment and blend phonemes in words • sound and name the letters of the alphabet
• link sound and letter patterns, exploring rhyme, alliteration and other sound patterns • identify syllables in words
• recognise that the same sounds may have different spellings and that the same spellings may relate to different sounds
and in writing, should be taught to:
• write each letter of the alphabet • use their knowledge of sound-symbol relationships and phonological patterns (for example, consonant clusters and vowel phonemes) as well as to: • write familiar words and attempt unfamiliar ones.

(Page 10)
Ironically those teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics will recognise that much of this actually isn't taught. 

 

Jim Rose, citing statistics in his January 2006 testimony, highlighted that 16% of eleven-year-olds were failing to meet national standards, questioning the effectiveness of the synthetic phonics mandate nearly two decades later as we observe that now 25% of children leave primary school unable to read. 
 

Regardless of the confusion around what 'synthetic' phonics is - and perhaps why the other national inquiries (Australian Inquiry, The National Reading Panel...simply specified 'systematic phonics' is useful for all ) the move towards synthetic phonics resulted in the phasing out of cherished reading schemes like "1,2,3 and Away," despite their proven success in fostering a love for reading. The National Literacy Trust has reported that reading for pleasure among children is at its lowest in 18 years, a trend that cannot solely be attributed to the phonics-first approach but is certainly exacerbated by it.

Rather than discarding fairly effective methods (84% is not a bad success rate) my approach has been to focus on the 16% of children who learn differently—those who may be autistic, dyslexic, or face speech and language challenges. I aimed for them to still experience the pleasure that so many remember about their childhoods - getting lost in the stories, emotionally invested in the books, but with attention to the parts they weren't connecting with. Yes, the spoken and written 'code'. So, I looked at the 16% and asked, 'what MORE do they need?' I didn't want to change what WAS WORKING for the others.

And what happened when commercial synthetic phonics programmes became the 'go-to' for  KS1 teachers, and more recently actually validated (and marketed) I think ALL children have suffered. Sure, many learn to read - as they always did - but the children of concern aren't, and now there are more of them, and fewer children get the reading bug. From a 'scientific' perspective, that makes no sense. But this often isn't really about sense; it's about beliefs. If you really, really want a policy to 'work' - you keep at it, even after almost 20 years of data just won't do what you want it to. And you even convince other education departments to embrace your well-intentioned but obviously ineffective ideas.

 

The children who don't need so much scaffolding - with the spoken and written code connections - can just get on with learning to read using the 150+ books. But those who do need more? - or for the books to be presented with more info, and in a way that is more engaging - e.g., through tech? We've got you!


Back in 2005, the Australian government took a more helpful stance: "While the evidence indicates that some teaching strategies are more effective than others, no one approach of itself can address the complex nature of reading difficulties. An integrated approach requires that teachers have a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them" (Australian Department of Education, Science and Training, 2005, p. 14). There are fewer children in Australia who leave school unable to read than in the UK. I always hoped that the same type of people who pushed the hand of Jim Rose and the DfE in 2005 aren't supported in Australia. But with many distorting what was a 'flawed idea', I fear for Aussie kids more now than I did when I emigrated there in 2008.

These words from Dominic Wyse and Morag Styles in 2007 (UKLA), "The conclusion of the Rose Report, that teachers and trainee teachers should be required to teach reading through synthetic phonics, ‘first and fast’ is, in our view, wrong. In the light of this, there is a pressing need for the government’s requirements and guidelines for early reading to be subject to further critical scrutiny in the hope that a more balanced approach to reading may once more prevail," echo the critical need for reevaluation of current educational strategies to ensure a more effective and inclusive approach to teaching reading.

Balanced means giving each child what THEY need—not giving all the same and then the children who struggle even more of it, and then seeking a dyslexia diagnosis.

Is all of this confusing? Too politicised? Too complicated? Might not even apply to you? We agree.
How do you get ahead of things, and protect your child? How do you get started? The workshops. By workshop 3, you will know how to use the series to give your child what they need, when they need it. And they will LOVE it. It doesn't matter how they learn—we'll have them covered. 
We focus on children as individuals, and support the people who are most invested in your child's happiness - YOU.

The Toddler Project - We Don't Wait! Start with 1,2,3 andAway!

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The Toddler Project - We Don't Wait!
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