Sylvia Davison’s daughter still laughs about it.
“Mom telephoned one morning and said she’d had a dream,” Holly Davison recalled. “She said ‘I dreamt I had a baby. I cannot be pregnant, but there I was, pregnant.’ ”
Sylvia was in her mid-70s then, neck-deep in developing an education program that would change both their lives — a program based on phonics, the system of teaching students to read by emphasizing the sounds letters make.
Holly had little trouble interpreting the dream: “I said, ‘Mom, “GoPhonics” is your baby.’ ”
That ‘baby’ is a teenager now, and Sylvia is 90.
The former Renton elementary school teacher is still going strong, tutoring 20 students with reading problems one-on-one in her Puyallup home.
GoPhonics, which Sylvia created and Holly illustrated and sold, has been purchased in all 50 states and by clients as far away as China, Italy, Ireland and Germany.
“I think most of the overseas sales come from American families living there and homeschooling their children,” Sylvia said.” The goal has always been to help as many children learn to read as possible — especially children who are struggling.”
There has never been a shortage of them.
Davison became an elementary school teacher in Bellevue when she was 42 and the mother of four. She loved working with children but initially thought she was failing them.
“When I started, I always had children who were not getting it, and I’d wonder ‘Why am I not teaching them? What am I missing?’ ” she said.
“Three of us took a class on phonics, and I loved what I saw — but Bellevue didn’t use the phonics system.
“The Renton School District did use phonics, so I went there.”
For 25 years, Davison taught children to read. When she retired at 67, she had plenty to keep her busy — tending a vegetable garden, canning her homemade spaghetti sauce, mowing the lawn. Her husband, Charles, died when she was in her early 70s.
She missed working with children and volunteered to help at Sunrise Elementary in the Puyallup School District. Teachers there told her she should be tutoring.
“When she decided to tutor, she began looking for a phonics system to use and couldn’t find one she liked,” said Holly, then a graphic artist. “She’d find them, look at them and complain they didn’t do this or that.
“I finally told her, ‘Then make your own.’ ”
Davison got to work.
“I made games — I love games,” she said. “For every sound I teach, there’s a game to play. I’ll put 30 words in a game, all with same sound, that they’ll read in other stories later.
“We had a little boy come in recently who sat down on his first day and went through the ‘at’ sound – cat, hat, sat. On the way home, he was in his carseat looking at the copy of the book I’d given him and he told his mother, ‘Mom! I’m reading!’ ”
Chalk that up as another success story.
GoPhonics, through its online website GoPhonics.com, has reached more than $1.5 million in sales. The Anchorage, Alaska School District made the first major purchase. The Indianapolis School District is about to make another.
“We’re constantly updating the program with new games, new illustrations, new stories,” Holly said. “Indianapolis has a $100,000 grant it’s using with the program, and 173 teachers will get the material.
“Mom wants to work with each of them, teach the teachers.”
Last summer, Sylvia was tutoring 30 children a week and found it too much, so she cut back to 20.
“I’m going to wear out, I can’t last forever,” said the grandmother of three, who all live in Puyallup. “I would like less of the one-on-one tutoring and more going to school and working with instructors, showing them how to use the program.
“I can see retiring at 92. I don’t know that I will, but I could see it.”
Holly isn’t buying it.
“Just recently, mom had another one of her pregnancy dreams. She said, ‘I’m in my 90s, I’m pregnant again, what’s this about?’ ” Holly said.
“I told her, ‘Mom, it’s this new project – teaching the teachers. That’s your new baby.’ ”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638