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On Getting It Right: Oh Look, Annabelle! See Max?

When my daughter was born, everyone told me she was adorable. When she started smiling, everyone said she was charming. When she started crawling (early for her age), everyone said she was so smart! I kept waiting.

She was a wonderful baby, and I was awfully proud of her when she fell off the couch, cried for just a few seconds, and then tried her best to get right back up on it. I was proud when she learned how to growl like a dragon. I finally really connected with her, though, when she learned to talk.

It was magical (and no surprise there, because words are magical). She went straight for the sentences, too, and she’s never shied away from big words. Just the other day I jokingly told her to answer some question with the phrase, “at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light” and she parroted the words right back.

She’s three now. Three and a half. And last week I came home from work and she came running to greet me at the door with her usual, “Daddy! Daddydaddydaddydaddy!” Then she threw a big hug around my knees, and then stepped back and said, “Look!”

She was holding a book. It was one of those old Dick and Jane early readers, that we’d gotten from Trish’s mom, and Annabelle dragged me into the living room, waited while I sat down, then crawled up in my lap to read it to me.

She had two words at that point — “oh” and “look” which were enough to get her four pages into the story. The next word surprised me, though. “Jane.”

It’s the third word she’s ever supposed to learn to read, right out the gate, and it’s got a silent vowel. If you ask me, that’s wildly unfair. My protective instinct reared up, but I fought it down and told her, “Well, it’s pronounced Jane.” And showed her the letters to pay attention to, and told her there were special rules that made the “e” stay quiet.

She didn’t mind. She looked really hard at the word, repeated, “Jane” a time or two, and then we got back to reading.

A little while later, in a different book, I taught her the word “Max,” and she was doing a really great job finding it within the text and remembering how to pronounce it…right up until we found a page with the word “makeover” on it, and she read that as “Max,” too.

And then I understood how the Dick and Jane books worked. From a time before phonetics, it was all about recognizing words. She was memorizing the shapes of words, and the beginning of “makeover” just looked too close to the beginning of “Max” for her. I pointed out the difference, and we moved right along.

It’s only been two weeks now, and she’s got eleven words in her treasury now, and adding more every day. It’s incredible. It’s magic.

Applying for a Grant

I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple weeks thinking about words, and the shape of words, and how we recognize the right ones when we see them. And that’s been a strange blend of two very different things on my mind: helping a three-year-old learn to read, and explaining advanced document templates here at Unstressed Syllables.

Last week’s study in Business Plans really brought the point home, though, because there’s a certain class of document that doesn’t get read a little piece at a time, and that only works if it’s in a clearly defined and easily recognizable shape. That applies to Business Plans, but even more so to grant applications.

Oh yeah. I’m sure it’s no surprise by now, but I’ve been researching those, too. Come back tomorrow for a look at what makes a good grant application.

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