When I was a little kid, my mother read child’s books to me. I loved the stories, and I begged her to read them to me over and over. But on my first day of school, I told my mother I wasn’t ready, because I didn’t know all my ABC’s. As she helped me put on my jacket, she said, “Don’t worry. They’ll teach you.”

And they did. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Stone, was impressed with my intense desire to learn to read. I wanted to be the best reader in her class. After months of learning to read, she told me I was.

Nearly 70 years later, I’m aware that she used a teaching method we now call phonics. It teaches kids to put together the sounds of letters to make words. Then the kids are told what the words mean. This model, called “the simple view of reading,” is based on decades of research in how the brain decodes words and gives them meaning. Over the years, though, teachers abandoned this approach for other innovative techniques, with dismal results. In a recent New York Times article, “There’s a Right Way to Teach Reading, and Mississippi Knows It,” that state is highlighted for spending millions to train all their teachers to use the “simple view.” As a result, fourth-graders in Mississippi exceeded the national average in a recent reading comprehension test.

If you have young children, are they being taught to read using phonics? It’s a crucial question. In another article, I explain the life advantage given to children who are avid readers. If your kid’s teachers aren’t using phonics, alarm bells should go off. You can’t change the way they teach, but you can find a tutor or teach your child yourself. It’s not rocket science. Check out these free videos posted online by the Mississippi Higher Education Literacy Council.

An ample vocabulary is not the only way to build thinking skills. Learn more about this in my book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Grow the bond with your child through better listening. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.