By Christine ~ Guest Author
From as early as I can remember, I have wanted to read. When I went to kindergarten, the reading lessons of the day were taught with small, yellow paperback books: a series of books about a monkey and his animal friends. As in many other early reading books of its time, it had lines like: “Mit and Mat...Mit sees Mat...Mat has bat.” Later, we covered phonics in school with mimeographed worksheets. There was no storytime. Instead, we took turns down each row of desks reading aloud from our “Reading” textbook. But, around this time, I became very interested in our weekly class visits to the tiny school library. Each of us was allowed to check out a book and thus began my love for the library. I recall reading E.B. White’s “The Trumpet of the Swan”, and marvelling over the word “watercress”, imagining what it might taste like as I read the page in which Louis, the swan, orders a watercress sandwich. Through these visits, I soon found myself the recipient of a continuous stream of good books.
Since I’ve become an adult, my love of books continues. Browsing the library stacks remains one of my favorite ways to unwind when I have time alone. Now, as I raise my kids, I read in the kitchen. I read while brushing my teeth, while nursing my daughter, anytime and anywhere I can. Which has lead to some revelations… For instance, I’ve discovered that the “Joy of Cooking” is fascinating not just for its historical analyses of common American cuisine, but also for its in-depth instructions on proper produce selection and storage. (Shame on me for rough handling strawberries in the past in such a manner!)
Naturally, after my son was born, he and I read as much as we could together. Reading calmed him, it distracted him during long waits, and it became an important bedtime ritual. He could make the sign for book with his baby sign language long before he could utter the word “book”. He loved all books: plastic bathtub books, picture books, even listening to stories on tape. As an 11 month old, he could spend a half hour or more alone sitting next to his basket of books flipping the pages over and over, examining the pictures. My husband whispered to me as we watched him one afternoon, “I bet he wishes he could read.” And it was true. The look on his face was one of determination. A book even played a role in his success with potty training. He was accustomed to me reading to him while he used the potty to pee. The day came when I knew he needed a little nudge toward using it for more serious “business”. Therefore, I told him he could read while on the potty and he chose Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat”. A few minutes later, he proudly proclaimed his success. I hurried in to find him pointing to the potty, the book propped up open on the edge of the sink.
When my son was a toddler, we were fortunate to be blessed with a great little library where we lived and frequented it often. Their play area had lots of toys and puppets and was the highlight of each visit. Throughout all of this, I always believed somewhere deep inside that my son would begin reading easily. Perhaps it was my own experience reading or seeing something of my own love of books in him, but it turned out to be exactly true.
As a 3 year old, he became increasingly interested in asking about the words on signs as we drove and followed along in books as I pointed to the words. Somehow, he figured it all out. We never did phonics or instruction and he only read beginner books for a couple of months before he was well on his way to reading more complicated stories. The first book he read completely on his own was the “I Can Read” beginner book “Harry and the Dirty Dog”. I still remember when he shouted his excitement about being able to read by himself from the bathroom that day. (Yes, there does seem to be a quite a connection with reading and bathroom time for my son!) Today, at 6 years of age, he loves to read Scientific American magazine, chapter books, classic books, Harry Potter books, encyclopedias and pretty much anything on any topic that interests him.
I often wonder how I might feel if he wasn’t reading right now. Perhaps, I wouldn’t show my concern as much as I think I would. After all, he has the ordinary struggles with writing legibly that come with being a young child and I have helped him, when he asks for help. Still, I know he is aware of the need for legibility. We own a couple of handwriting practice books, but I never required them of him, just left them out on the kitchen table and from time to time they are written in and most often they are not. Yet, his writing improves as well. So, though it has taken more time for him to learn that skill, I am confident that he will perfect it to his own standard and that that standard will be entirely acceptable and readable.
If I’ve learned anything throughout these years, it’s that sometimes, I just need to be there to help when asked. But, more often, just give him the time to figure it out. It’s not an easy balance. I expect to and do struggle to find the balance on a daily basis, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this. Maybe, as parents, it helps to think of our own struggles growing up as young learners to better understand this need for space and time. Somehow, think back to those times when we felt proud to be discovering something on our own and maybe capture just a bit of that excitement and wonder that still remains.
Christine lives in Oak Park, IL with her husband Rey and is the proud mama of two unschooled children who never fail to teach her new things about life on a daily basis.