July 14, 2012

On Raising a Reader


When I was preparing to become a parent, I had great plans.  I had taken the Children’s Literature courses in grad school, the elementary education courses in my undergrad; I knew all the things you were supposed to do to encourage literacy in young children.  I’m a librarian: I like to-do lists; I like organization.  I had perfect plans.
Then our son arrived.  He came to us through foster care when he was three, and he hadn’t really been read to before.  It took several months to really settle in, but I held on to the idea that someday soon, we would have those pristine 20-minute reading sessions every day.  I fantasized about bed-time stories, about clean, full-color picture books.
My son has now been part of our family for 18 months and the adoption has been finalized.  And I’ve had to let go of my idealized parenting plans.  We do some things by the book, as it were: we have books visible at home, some in the living room, some in the kitchen, some in the bedrooms; we visit the library fairly regularly; and my sons sees me reading for information and for pleasure.  But those 20 minutes, well, let’s just say my standards have relaxed a bit. 
We aim instead for at least an hour a week, and I count a lot of things I wouldn’t have considered before.  For a squirrely now-4-year-old, some days are just not sitting-down kinds of days.  But when he does feel like reading, he’s happy to read for 35 minutes or more.  It took him a distressingly long time to learn that there is a difference between letters and numbers, but once he understood that letters mean something if you know the magic, he was motivated to learn the alphabet.  So I count all those times in the car, stopped at a light, when he reads off the individual letters on a store front and asks me what it says. 
He’s also stumbled upon the extras we see every day—all those things we need to read that aren’t letters or numbers.  This was illustrated perfectly for me a few weeks ago.  In the car, on the way home from picking up groceries, my son asked me to read a coupon he had acquired.  I asked him to read it off to me. Word for word, I heard, “Ess with a line, one, polka dot, zero, zero, oh, eff, eff, upside-down-eye.”  (If you don’t speak baby reader, that’s “$1.00 off!”)  I laughed so hard I nearly needed to pull over.
Somehow, with everything I felt I wasn’t doing right, my 4-year-old started reading.  It was like a miracle that this little, ADD, insane and insanity-producing conglomeration of dirt, noise, and pure energy suddenly started reading 3- and 4-letter words, totally skipping over sounding things out.  I don’t know how we did it. 
With all this, this year’s Summer Reading Program has been really special for our family.  My son has been more willing to move away from Curious George and explore other illustrators, even nonfiction.  This year will be an adventure.

by Sarah Morrison, 
Adult Services Librarian
published 7-14-12 in Moscow-Pullman Daily News

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