By Clara Hart, 2021-2022 Literacy First Tutor
I work with a very creative and lively kindergartener named Mateo. For the first few weeks of the school year, Mateo had some trouble sitting down and focusing for his lessons. He seemed to think that our time together was supposed to be all fun, and would become frustrated when I tried to redirect him to the lesson. Over time, Mateo has made incredible progress – he has adjusted to daily life in school, we’ve built trust and respect as tutor and student, and Mateo invented a very unique tool to help him succeed in his lessons. Every day, he brings along two friends, his hand puppets named Rainbow and Candy.
Mateo first introduced me to Rainbow and Candy during a lesson a couple months ago, and they have faithfully attended lessons ever since. They like to help with Mateo’s letter sounds and will chime in during different parts of the lesson. Sometimes Mateo will not have the energy to do a certain part of a lesson, so Rainbow or Candy take over. It usually works out to a three-way rotation. Mateo will also consult Rainbow and Candy on matters such as which crayon or sticker to choose. Sometimes Mateo will answer a question, and then wonder, “Who said that?” Rainbow or Candy will usually take credit.
Mateo has his letter sounds down pretty well, but has not quite grasped the idea of putting them together to form words. Recently, I have started to push a little harder to try to get him to sound out words himself. He loves playing the game ‘Guess the Word,’ in which one person says the sounds of words on the page, and the other person guesses which word they are looking at. Mateo has started having some success guessing words I sound out for him, which I find really exciting. Rainbow and Candy are especially helpful during this exercise. Through Rainbow and Candy, I can get Mateo to both sound out words and try to figure out what they say all by himself. I’ve noticed that when he successfully names a word, Mateo himself usually takes the credit, instead of crediting Rainbow or Candy. I see this as a sign that Mateo takes pride in his ability to read new words, which makes me really happy.
Rainbow and Candy are helpful in lessons for many reasons. For one, they make the lesson feel more like a game or a performance, which keeps Mateo thoroughly entertained. I think they also take some pressure off of Mateo for being the sole student responsible for completing activities. Sometimes Mateo won’t know how to read a certain word or sound, and he feels more comfortable passing the task off to his hand puppets to try. In this way, he allows himself a second chance to try without being hard on himself. I think it’s amazing that Mateo was able to come up with this device to make lessons more exciting and productive.