Home Education Magazine
November-December 2000 - Articles
By Jove, I Think He's Got It! - Robin Ohlgren-Evans
Taylor turns twelve this year and I can finally say without any reservations, without a moment's hesitation, without any words of explanation he is reading. He is reading!
I want to shout it to the world. I want to sky-write it from coast to coast. I want to decorate our yard with Mylar balloons and a colorful wooden cut-out, the kind that people use to announce the births of their babies:
Tall and skinny for his age
Reading, Year 2000
He reads Harry Potter. He reads the Official Pokemon Rule Book (three times so far, cover to cover) a tiny manual full of complex strategies written in microscopic fonts. He reads about Jedi masters and snowboarders and Narnia. And (This is the one I love best!), he says to me, "Mom I love the part in my book right now because... yadda, yadda, yadda..." Yes! My son normal!
No. My son is extraordinary.
Outwardly, on the homefront, we're pretty casual about this latest achievement. After all, mastering the written word in a house where books, magazines and papers litter all horizontal surfaces, as well as a good portion of the vertical, is not exactly genetic science. Is it? Plenty of kids including, irritatingly, Taylor's little sister, have learned to read easily at four and five.
But inside, my heart is smiling it's a rib-splitting grin that aches by the end of the day. Consider this journal entry of mine a few summers ago: Here we go again a summer of family gatherings adventurous road trips complete with hearty picnics, memorable side trips, unique photo ops, joyous reunions, and T. doesn't read yet. He's nine, he's smart, he's literate, but he doesn't read. Who will spoil our visit with those unnerving comments?
Oh, those pesky naysayers who doubted him and doubted us with our he-will-read-when-he's-ready approach to literacy, casting still more uncertainty in the already random art of mothering.
For me, there's a certain sadness in this passing phase of our lives: Taylor has had so many artful and unique ways of decoding information, and I hope they cling to his new, reading self. I've had to stop and wonder about the near extinction of oral history in our culture, and my own inability to maneuver a grocery store aisle without a detailed shopping list. Have we come too far with this early reading campaign?
Taylor, however, was an avid bookie from the start. As a toddler, he had daily access to hundreds of titles a calm child, with immense concentration, he devoured books alone and in my lap. He got his own library card at 5, when the limit of 25 books per card proved insufficient one too many times. His favorite books at 6 and 7 were Tintin and Asterix and a battered bound collection of Batman from the 30's to the 70's, which especially intrigued his sensibilities with words like ZOKK!, KLONNK!, SQUUUSHH! and THWAKK! obvious choices for a lover of action-drama , who practically lived in a bat cape.
He totally embraced this notion of recording information, insisting that we document a particularly phenomenal fort design; reading music (first for the recorder, then classical guitar) at the age of 6; reciting emails to his dad. But he rebelled at any attempt to sort and classify the letters on the page himself.
At around age 8, Taylor started paying more deliberate attention to words. In the van doing errands, he announced with authority, "When I say 'S-T-O-P,' that means there's a stop sign on our side that you need to stop for." I didn't discourage my new back seat driver.
I began getting secret messages teensy bits of intricately folded paper set on my pillow, or tucked into my spinning wheel, that read, "No. Yes. Hot Wheels." Or, "Beatrix. Waldo. Macintosh. ARGHHHHH!!!" Love letters from a superhero.
I didn't doubt that he was getting it I did wonder if I would outlive the process.
When it became abundantly clear that the tempo of Taylor's scholarly approach would be a torpid adagio, my primary goal was to retain his natural love of stories and language. He continued to find picture books to appeal to his imagination, and he listened to miles of stories-on-tape. I still read aloud at bedtime and we attended plays, puppet shows, and the ballet. He began to cartoon his own stories and little by little, he began to read.
Then one summer day we discovered a book from Mary Pope's Magic Tree House series. I read one chapter aloud, but didn't have time to read any more. He disappeared into the tree fort and returned 30 minutes later he had painstakingly, but triumphantly, read 2 pages on his own. That first book took nearly 6 weeks to finish. Within the next three months, he had read 11 more books in the series. The rest, as they say, is his-story.
Fortunately, not being able to spell doesn't seem to carry the same burden of inadequacy in this society people readily accept the fact that some people "just aren't great spellers." Which is a good thing, because we are back in the nest in the spelling department. But give him time... you'll see.
(c) 2000, Robin Ohlgren-Evans
November-December 2000 - Articles
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