My son is six years old and learning to read. This sounds hum drum and common place, but it’s turned into a pretty transformative experience for us. Before kindergarten, kid was not very confidant. We were worried about how this transition to big school would go. A few months in, his teacher sent home some books. I’m talking VERY basic readers. Like there was a picture of a bunny with the word “bunny” under it. He read through them a bit too quickly and looked bored. Now, my boy is easily frustrated. He even has poor table manners. But his intellectual abilities? Smart as a tack. I knew this in my heart. More importantly, I needed him to believe in his own potential. We had to believe it true together. He was capable of more and perhaps needed a push.
So we read these picture books three times a day and logged our reading dutifully, but the readers getting sent home did not increase much in challenge. I was HORRIFIED. Is this all folks thought he was capable of? I talked to my friend in the School of Education at UAB and found some slightly harder books on Amazon.com.
They arrived all shiny and new. We attacked those books with gusto. By that, I mean we read and re-read these suckers over.and.over. It was painful. It was boring. There were tantrums. My son doesn’t take kindly to not recognizing a word ASAP. It offends his delicate sensibilities. Sometimes to show his displeasure he felt the need to yell, groan, sigh dramatically, roll his eyes, make rude farting sounds, even hide his face under a blanket to escape this cruel world in which words exist that he doesn’t already know. But he always (eventually) came back to the page . . . and watching him struggle through this rage and return to the task at hand was awe-inspiring. Sometimes he was tired at night so we had to get up and read when he was fresh in the morning. But we persisted.
I like to whine too (he gets it from his mama) and will note that listening to the same book for a week straight is about as fun as it sounds. I now have a black belt in deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, AND silent swearing. But did I enjoy smelling his hair as his chubby finger trudged from word to word across the never-ending pages? Sometimes. Were copious bribes administered? You bet. The child has eaten his body weight in skittles and m&ms. And Mom may have even gained FIVE pounds in this process. Apparently, literacy comes at the cost of diabetes in my house. I even bribed his brothers with candy just for keeping quiet during reading time. Have you ever fussed at your cat for meowing too loud? I now have. NO DISTRACTIONS.
Thus far, we have worked our way through a gazillion B, C, D, E, and F level readers. That’s on top of the books sent home from school. I’ve already pressed go on some G-level readers in my Amazon cart. You can go online and consult recommended reading lists from public schools in Maryland and other places and then pull the appropriate level books from the library for free. I found it helpful to carefully record his supplemental reading. This allows you and your child to track progress and build up confidence (“Look how many books you have read!”). To keep everyone in the loop, you can also send this information in weekly reading update e-mails to teachers. His fantastic teacher has responded by sending home progressively more challenging readers.
My son’s head is held a bit higher these days. He smiles more. He feels brighter about the future. You can tell. My husband noted that while learning to read, our son also learned that he can accomplish anything through hard work. This lesson will translate to other areas of his life. Anything is possible. He feels great about himself, and happy people are generous people. That means he’s nicer and gentler to his little brothers, kinder to his parents (drops the occasional “Yes ma’am”), and even gives the cats a few extra pets. He makes New Years Resolutions like “Work on becoming a better soccer player.” Because he can do all the things now.
In this process, I learned a lot about what parenting a school-aged child may involve. I can help set him up for success to a limited degree, but I now play a strictly support role in his life. I’m no longer his world. I used to do everything for him, and that time is over. I can help structure his time, provide resources and opportunities, but I cannot read the books for him. It is time to step back and watch what he can do. Big Man is willing to put the work in to reach a goal, and that makes him literally unstoppable, which is not a bad place to be at tender age of six. This burgeoning autonomy and self-reliance terrifies me, but I will keep backing off and letting him take the lead more. He’s ready.