a little reading alchemy

A spectacular transformation took place in these parts last week. Mr. T became a reader.

Oh, for months he’s been reading words and phrases that he spots around him. Gas station signs. Comic book titles. Billboards. But he didn’t want to read books. I’d check out new easy-to-read books at the library each time we visited. And sometimes he’d want me to read one to him, and then he’d try to read a few pages on his own. But that was it. 

Like his older sister was, he’s a great fan of audiobooks. He likes to take in his literature through his ears–either from his CD player or from my reading aloud to him.  And listening to books has helped him develop an acute sense of story, and a vocabulary loaded with words like schism and associates and phrases like speak of the devil.

If there’s one thing you learn by the time you get to your third kid, it’s don’t push. After ruining your first child, and coming close on your second, you finally develop the faith that your kids really will learn to use a toilet, and put their faces under water at swimming lessons, and spell words in a standardized fashion. They’ll figure it out eventually, and your interference only makes it take longer–and likely obliterates all the joy and pride they’d get from doing it in their own time.

So I didn’t say much. Just kept those easy-to-read books lying around, and kept reading to him.

But last week he wandered around the kitchen chatting to me about robots or martians or something as I made dinner, and the library books we’d just checked out sat on the kitchen table. I glanced through one called, Good Night, Good Knight. Easy words. Cartoony pictures. A knight. Hmmm.

“You know, buddy,” I said. “I’ll bet you could read this book. I think you know most of these words, and if there are some you don’t know, you can just skip them.”

So he picked up the book. Read every word on the first page. Went on to the second. I stir-fried broccoli and he read aloud quietly, occasionally spelling a word aloud for me to translate. He read the whole book.

It was hard not to jump up and down and scream, “You read that whole book! I knew you could do it, I knew you could do it!” But I’ve also learned a thing or two about stealing the kids’ glow so I just looked at the glitter in his eyes, swallowed my thrill and said calmly, “Wow buddy, you read that book all by yourself!”

He was already moving on to the second book. And the next day he picked up another. And another. I find him curled up on the couch like this:

he's reading!

I find him reading in his room, reading in the car. I find him reading Wii manuals in the office. (Another notch in my Waldorf Guilt belt.) We need to get back to the library, quick, to load up on new books.

(As exciting as it is to watch your child begin reading, it’s a little sad, too. Mr. T has found a way into the wondrous world of books that doesn’t require me as his tour guide. Here I go again–getting all melancholic as I watch my youngest grow up.)

I’m not sure what magic made this happen so suddenly. I suppose that Good Night, Good Knight had just the right mix of intriguing subject matter and a not-too-frustrating reading level. I suppose that before that book, Mr. T didn’t believe he could read, and suddenly he proved to himself otherwise. He’s actually gone on to read several books that are much more challenging–propelled, I suppose, by his confidence in himself.

It would be easy to claim credit as the alchemist in all this, to assume that his reading happened because I suggested the right book at the right time. But the truth is, it would have happened eventually. Still, it does feel good after so much biting my tongue and waiting, to see my abracadabra inspire a transformation.

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If you’re here via the link from Homeschool.Style.Bytes., welcome! Thanks so much for visiting! Please consider leaving a comment and introducing yourself. I love to meet new folks.

And if you missed the reference Helen gave me last week, here it is. I’ve recommended this blog before–it’s a glorious combination of words and photos from homeschoolers far and wide. And, happily, in this case the words are more than mere accessories to the images.

18 comments… add one
  • melissa s. Jun 29, 2009 @ 20:37

    Congrats, T!!! And congrats, Patricia, for being patient and wise. I’m still working on those two qualities waiting for my pre-reader to “transform!”

  • stefaneener Jun 30, 2009 @ 7:45

    It’s such a beautiful jump. Thanks for the pictures.

  • TheOrganicSister Jun 30, 2009 @ 21:16

    zeb has always been a great reader and speller but got a thorough dose of phobia when he was in school. he loves me to read to him and he loves to read things like captain underpants (lol) but he’ll only occasionally pick up other books. i’m okay though – he knows how and he loves books. learning to love to read to himself i know will come. and like you said, i’ll be a little sad when i’m no longer a part of it. 🙁 who knows? maybe reading together will just be a thing we do until i’m 90 and we’re both having trouble seeing the words on the page! a mama can wish!


    • patricia Jun 30, 2009 @ 22:07

      Ah, Captain Underpants. I completely admire them as books for boys to love–my older son adored them too–but I don’t relish reading them aloud. Until Mr. T is ready to read them on his own, my husband gets that job.

      Good for you for getting that Zeb will come around in his own time. You’re right–if he *loves* books, he’ll read them on his own eventually.

      Anyway, reading together is one of my favorite parts of parenting.

  • Lynnie Jul 1, 2009 @ 4:28

    What a great milestone! I love your description of the third child being the one you’ve finally learned not to push! Makes it seem worth it to have a third just for that easygoing feeling that might come with it!

    My oldest has been able to sound out words for well over a year but hasn’t started full-out reading and even says things like, “I don’t want anyone to know I can read because none of my other friends can.” It makes me feel so frustrated inside to hear that, more because of all the other things she might not want to express if she feels like others won’t appreciate it, not so much because of the reading itself which will surely come with time.

    • patricia Jul 1, 2009 @ 7:47

      Well, I didn’t completely ruin my first. Luckily he’s always been an incredibly independent-minded kid, so he’d only let my pushing progress so far…
      But I have gotten better at it with each kid.

      It’s tough when they’re at that stage of being able to do it, but not actually doing it. Leaving tempting books around is one of the few things you can do. Oh, and reading aloud something they love that isn’t too hard to read–and “running out of time” to completely finish it!

  • Helen Jul 1, 2009 @ 7:50

    Congrats to Mr. T! How empowered he must feel.

    p.s. thank you for the very sweet words about the blog 🙂

    • patricia Jul 2, 2009 @ 7:31

      And thanks for putting the blog together! It’s led so many new readers my way, which has been a thrill–plus I’ve enjoyed every new post. Keep it coming!

  • Kristin Jul 1, 2009 @ 8:57

    Yes, I too understand how it feels to have “finished” facilitating reading to your third. Oh—we’re not totally done yet, but when they don’t need your help anymore it’s a mixed blessing, isn’t it?

    My middle is not very interested in me reading to him anymore. That hurts. I so enjoy it and it’s a way for he and his sister and I to share an activity together, of which there seem to be fewer and fewer, given their age difference.

    And life goes on…

    • patricia Jul 2, 2009 @ 7:37

      Yep, you and I go through so many things at the same time. Lulu isn’t generally interested in having me read either–and it does feel like a loss! Often, though, I’ll start reading something to Mr. T, and she’ll just come by and “eavesdrop”.

      My new plan for sharing literature with her is to start listening to some classics together via audiobook. (Most of our audiobooks in the car are directed at Mr. T these days, since he’s the one kid usually stuck in the car delivering the other two around!) I think she’d love some Jane Austen: she can draw while we listen, I can knit. The older two kids and I did that with To Kill A Mockingbird a few years back, and it prompted a lot of fabulous discussion…

  • Heather Jul 1, 2009 @ 15:46

    What a sweet post! I can’t wait till my sweet boy will sit down and read. I found you via my friend Helen over at Homeschool.style.bytes. We co-lead our homeschool group, it’s always nice to find nice homeschool blogs out there.

    • patricia Jul 2, 2009 @ 7:38

      Hi Heather! Thanks so much for stopping by, and taking the time to leave a comment. Now I’m off to visit your blog…

  • Carrie Pomeroy Jul 12, 2009 @ 13:48

    Reading this made my shoulders drop about two inches! As my boy approaches 7, I have been feeling antsy about him not reading. He sounds very similar to Mr. T–loves to have books read to him, listening to books on tape, and picking out words he does know in the world around him. He makes up stories constantly with his Legos and has a great sense of plot. But he’s shown no interest in actually learning to read books. Hearing your story helps give me the confidence and patience to give things time.

    Thank you! And regards to your son for finding his way into an exciting new world.

    • patricia Jul 13, 2009 @ 22:57

      I do like to hear that I’m making fellow mothers’ shoulders drop!

      I think it’s been much easier to relax with Mr. T because he’s my third; I would have been more anxious if he were my first. I was lucky enough to have a first child who is a very visual learner, and who read early. The other two came to reading more slowly–but they did come to it eventually.

      Keep up that confidence and patience–B is doing lots of fantastic early reading activities. He’ll get there!

      • Carrie Pomeroy Jul 14, 2009 @ 21:24

        Today at the store he spontaneously sounded out the “large” on an egg carton and “coffee” on a Starbuck sign. It was so much fun to see him cracking the code of those words on his own, for his own enjoyment. Your post is helping me just enjoy watching the reading process slowly unfold instead of feeling I have to nudge it along or push it forward.

      • patricia Jul 14, 2009 @ 21:43

        Oh, Carrie, thanks for taking the time to write back and tell me that. The reading process is an unfolding–I’m so glad you’re appreciating it. When you take that perspective, you notice how smart your child really is, rather than fixating on some wrongheaded idea that he’s not smart enough.

  • Tara Reese Jul 14, 2009 @ 11:39

    Patricia, I feel like you wrote this post for me. As Finn approaches seven, with a huge love of books and zero interest in reading, I needed to be reminded to stop worrying. I feel like once he’s reading, my homeschooling confidence will be unstoppable. But now, with every other relative asking about it, oh, it stings. Your words of optimism are just so helpful. Thank you! (and let’s get together!)

    • patricia Jul 14, 2009 @ 12:01

      You know, someday when Finn is sitting around inhaling books, you’ll laugh at yourself for having worried. But it’s hard to be patient, especially with your first child, especially with questions from inquisitive relatives. The main thing to hold on to is Finn’s “huge love of books”. Try not to let your anxieties take that away from him. That love is what will eventually get him reading on his own.

      And when relatives ask, say something like, “Oh this kid loves books! He’s listened to books like ______ and _________! (Fill in some impressive read-alouds.) He likes listening more than reading on his own, but he’s getting there…” In other words, focus on his strengths as a literate person, rather than his perceived weaknesses. People forget that being a lover of books and having a rich vocabulary have as much to do with literacy as reading the words yourself.

      Are you back from your trip?

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