A recent example of our misadventures with preschool phonics: Silly Hall (City Hall). Is this a malapropism or shrewd political commentary?
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Hilarious Misadventures with Preschool Phonics

A recent example of our misadventures with preschool phonics: Silly Hall (City Hall). Is this a malapropism or shrewd political commentary?

By E. R. Catalano of Zoe vs. The Universe

My daughter’s preschool class has started to learn phonics. If you went to school in the seventies or eighties like I did, you may remember learning to read with either phonics or the whole language approach. My school had phonics, aka the “sounding out” method.

“Hooked on Phonics” was after my time, though I do recall the commercials: “Hooked on Phonics worked for me!” Even though I’m a grammar snob, I have to admit I no longer know a phoneme fricative from a diphthong. (These days, I’d probably opt for diph-full-seat-coverage.) Also, just as an aside, I find the word schwa to be distasteful. It’s the Samuel “Screech” Powers of vowel sounds; everyone’s a bit embarrassed to be seen with it.

Thankfully my daughter is not at this level yet, so the schwa remains a whisper in a future dream where letters are upside down and backwards, similar to her learning method.

“What does tree start with?” she asked me one night as I picked her up from school. It’s probably clear to you what she meant since we’re already talking about phonics. But at first I didn’t know she was asking what letter “tree” started with.

I caught on soon enough, and every day as we headed home she asked about different words. “What does shoe start with?” she asked. “S,” I’d reply. “What does flower start with?” “F.” Passersby were charmed. Until she said, “What does killing start with?” Part of me wanted to say, “Well, dear, anything from a religious dispute to poor grammar usage.” But instead, I told her, “K, the letter k.”

“Killing” is definitely my fault. I’ve realized over the past month or so that I express a wish to kill often and very casually. When she refuses to go to bed, or when she’s pulling on my arm, bouncing up and down, I’ll sometimes say, “You’re killing me.” I need to stop that because hearing “kill” in a young child’s voice is more than a little unnerving. During her bath the other night she was playing with her wheeled turtle toy, singing a nonsense song, and suddenly she looked up at me and said, “Turtle wants to kill you.”

If everyone survives the bath, it’s time to read. Three books is our nightly tradition. My daughter has started following along with her finger as if she’s really reading, though she says the wrong words. For instance, she has a Curious George book called Curious George and the Birthday Surprise and as she moves her finger across the title she’ll say, “Curious George is Birthday.” (For a person as possessive as she is, even of items that don’t strictly belong to her, she’s shockingly ignorant of the possessive form.)

She’s also under the impression that all books are written by Dr. Seuss, so after she “reads” the title of a book she moves her finger across the author’s name and says, “By Dot Er Seuss.” Close. I think this is more a misunderstanding than a mispronunciation. She’s often stated quite articulately, “I don’t want to go to the doctor.” I think to her, the writer who penned The Foot Book couldn’t possibly have any connection to the vile individual who tries to look in her ears.

I have no doubt that she will eventually learn to read. She definitely loves books, insisting on sleeping with her favorites. We hear her long after bedtime “reading” aloud. She works from memory, and whatever she forgets she makes up for with dramatic incidents. Someone’s always needing urgent rescue or ordering others to go away, urgently. I think she has a future as a writer for a telenovela.

After she learns to read I imagine that will bring an end to most mispronunciations, and I will miss some of them. Here are my favorites:

Yes, he do’s/doos. (Yes, he does.)

Clofe (washcloth)

Condisherer and mistererer (conditioner and moisturizer)

Tomato (potato)

Potato (tomato): I actually picked up a tomato to show her and over-enunciated the “t,” and she just looked at me and said, “That’s not mashed potatoes.” How does one refute such a statement?

Silly Hall (City Hall): Is this a malapropism or shrewd political commentary?

And finally, my all-time favorite:

Your magic see (Your Majesty)

Pronunciation aside, she already has a great imagination, and I think we owe that to reading. Last night she started a new story adventure, one that she came up with all on her own, starring Superhero Little Mommy and Superhero Little Girl.

When she said that I had to bite my hand in self-protection. Otherwise the cuteness may have terminated me with extreme prejudice.

This post was originally published on Zoe vs. The Universe.


About the Author

E. R. Catalano is mom to an evil mastermind living in Brooklyn, NY. She works at St. Martin’s Press, has a (mostly unused) M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and has written short stories and an unpublished novel. Besides the blog, her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, MockMom.com, The Mid (upcoming) and HaHas for HooHahs. She’s also a contributor to The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets. Amateur at life; professional at the laugh-cry. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.