Stringing up a story in Dolch

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Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri
Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

‘She could see the pretty girl play in the garden with her doll’. What makes this simple sentence special is that you and I are not the only ones who can understand it; children across the globe suffering from learning disabilities can also read and discern its meaning. The sentence is made up entirely of words from the Dolch list. Conceived by Edward Dolch in 1938, the Dolch list consists of 220 words that can be recognized and easily understood by children with learning disabilities.

Just over four weeks old, ‘The Dolch Project’ began with a request to 29-year-old Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, a copywriter with Grey Worldwide, to devise an activity that could be enjoyed by children with learning disabilities. So he set forth a writing challenge of sorts to authors, inviting them to pen stories using words from the Dolch List. “I like stories. Everybody likes stories really. We grow up with them and they shape our lives. Children with learning disabilities, however, don’t quite have the luxury of many books, simply because hardly any have been written keeping them in mind,” says Dasgupta.

The lack of reading material that specifically caters to kids with learning disabilities is pitiful. Celebrated children’s writer Dr Seuss wrote his much loved book ‘The Cat in the Hat’ using words from the Dolch List. “If Dr Seuss could do it, so can we,” says Dasgupta, who intends to publish a volume of stories dedicated to children in the 6-14 age group with learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities learn words visually and phonetically. They get confused when new words are thrown at them, as is the case with a majority of books. This results in a loss of interest in reading. This is precisely what the ‘The Dolch Project’ aims to address – ensure that these kids don’t grow up without having an opportunity to experience the joy of reading. Although minute in comparison to the huge library of words that we usually have at our disposal, stories using words from the Dolch List should be no hindrance to introducing kids to the delightful world of stories and imagination.

Meanwhile, stories have started pouring in from different corners of the country. “Frankly, we’re quite overwhelmed at the response,” says Dasgupta. When project was started, it was a simple idea of getting writers together to compile a book using a limited library of words. “We knew it would be no easy feat, but we also knew it wasn’t impossible.” The project is also an opportunity for closet writers and story lovers who have always been eager to dabble in writing. “The project is only one example of how a library of 220 words can bring about a big difference. I want people to awaken to the realization that there is so much one can do with words, in addition to the fact they would be adding something indispensable to a child’s life,” says Dasgupta.

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