Janice Mattina – Words in Color & Pop Ups with 4 year olds


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My children were little when the Pop Ups appeared on NBC television on Saturday mornings, sandwiched in between cartoons.

Pop-Up Video, Caleb Gattegno 1970

Pop-Up Video, Caleb Gattegno 1970 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

It was Dr. Gattegno’s idea that many children could be taught to read rather effortlessly by watching these randomly selected minutes of animated letters. He had observed how interested children were in commercials, perhaps even more interested than in the programs they interrupted. He had noticed that children would watch a commercial until they mastered it and then lose interest in that commercial and watch and learn another, master it, lose interest and move on to the next one, and so on. That gave him the idea that the children could direct their own learning to read by watching commercial type reading lessons. He created 18 one minute animated reading offerings which were so clever that children saw their similarity to commercials and immediately focused their attention on them. An unknown number of children taught themselves to read in this manner.

Almost 30 years have passed since the creation of the Pop Ups. Probably few copies of these 18 minutes still exist. But our school is fortunate enough to still have them. We have used them to teach our 4 and 5 year old children since our school began in 1976. Oh, we use all of Dr. Gattegno’s Words in Color materials, the charts, the primers, the worksheets, and the Pop Ups. We have also created our own hands on materials for the young children. We have colored letters that are cut outs which the little children can use to write words and sentences since writing with pencils is challenging for 4-year-olds. We have written many little booklets for the children to read. We have created even more gap games and transformations.

I remember early on talking to Dr. Gattegno about additional reading materials. One question was couldn’t there be more booklets for them to read as they moved through the restricted signs and sounds of Words in Color? Also I wondered what about more written work for the children? Other programs have so much of this additional stuff.

His answer was that it was the work of each teacher to create whatever else she felt her children could use. He always had high expectations for us teachers. I appreciated that about him.

Last week I observed two four year olds working with the little colored letters. They had formed and were reading “ta, tu, ti, te, to” and then quickly “tap, tip, top.”

Sound-color chart

Caleb Gattegno – US English sound-color chart. 1977 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

The chart with the colored rectangles was on the wall and beside it was the first wall chart. Other children were gathered around the wall chart and were pointing to words they could read, “up, pup, pop, pat, pit,…” and so on. It was fun to watch such young children learning to read in a game like fashion that was void of competition or pressure to perform. I felt like here the children were safe, safe to learn with the skills they had mastered as babies learning to speak their native tongues. These skills Dr. Gattegno recognized as the powers of the mind. So here I was watching children making use of their powers of their minds – transformations, stressing and ignoring, their will, imagery, feed back, and relativity. They were already competent learners now permitted to use their competence in teaching themselves the next lessons, those of learning how to read.

© Janice Mattina 2003


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“Words in Color & Pop Ups with 4 year olds” by Janice Mattina is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.