Archives for posts with tag: school

Where to begin? Is there any way to describe the importance of reading in the life of a child? Can one start it too young?

I will confess that my mother thought perhaps she started it too young with me.  At least she thought she  caved to my desire to learn to read when I was too young.  Like every younger brother or sister, I wanted to do what my older brother was doing.  So naturally when he started to school and was learning to read, I wanted to learn to read, too. But I was only three, and my mother worried that if I learned too early, I would be bored when I reached grade school.  She had just cause to be concerned, too: in those days, first grade consisted of a rigidly constructed curriculum, and if it was repetition for a child, tant pis, as the French would say: tough luck.  Teachers had no idea how to adjust for individual needs, which surely has been the difficulty of teaching a classroom of diverse children throughout history.  But in the early 1960s, it was unheard of to alter curriculum for individual needs. So my mother tried everything she could think of to put me off.  She assigned my father the job of teaching me to read music and to play the piano, and I went along for a short time, but it wasn’t what I wanted.  They tried to distract me with art supplies, craft supplies, play dates, nursery school, anything, until my mother succumbed to my misery and pulled out the “easy to read” books and started in on phonics.

The inevitable happened, and for first, second, third and fourth grades I was bored, bored, bored — and spent much of my time sitting at a desk out in the hall, because bored, curious children. . .well, it isn’t a good thing. I think my mother decided that teaching me to read early backfired in all the ways she had feared, and in many ways she was right.

So I had a few trepidations about early reading when my children came along, but I suppose not enough, because as soon as I saw that little glimmer in their eyes — that intellectual connection between the words on the page and the words I was speaking — and they began to tilt toward literacy by learning their ABCs, and then learning to write their ABCs, and then writing books with titles like PREWEO REWO and reading them outloud, good old mom was right there, bouncing up and down with a nauseatingly goofy smile, bending forward in the way mothers do when they are terribly excited, nodding vigorously, and stage whispering, “Do you want to learn to read? do you want to learn to read??”

It was all over, then. Of course, the older child came first.  I think he was four. Lest anyone think this requires extraordinary intelligence on the part of the parent or the child, it does not. It’s really quite Pavlovian.  It begins with identifying the shapes of the letters, perhaps on wooden blocks or other toys, and repeating the letter sound at the same time.  Of course, today one can get V-Tech toys to do all of this, but I doubt there is any substitute for physical closeness with a parent or another trusted adult in the process.  (My daughter used to fairly pound the floor with her little fat hand as she played: “Mama, sit! Play!” as I raced through, invariably on the way to the washing machine. Would a V-Tech toy have answered that desire for human proximity? Of course not. Did I? Let’s just say that even “renaissance parents” have strains of guilt years later over various failings and personal propensities. And the kids are all right.)

But I do think that half of learning to read is about snuggling, lap sitting, or just being side-by-side on a sofa or in a big, cushy chair: which may have something to do with the decline in public school literacy in the primary years, but I am no expert about that.

Having a lot of books around is also critical. But they don’t have to be new books from the bookstore or Amazon, if the budget is tight.  They can be from the library, they can be from used booksellers, they can be exchanged with friends.  And of course, children will want to read if they see their parents reading — so even if you don’t have the habit, develop it.  Even if you find it the hardest thing in the world to do, fake it for your kid! Sit with a book in front of you and turn the pages in the child’s presence, rather than let him or her always see you watching television or playing on the computer.  I will be assaulted by parental feedback for that — for encouraging deception — and of course, part of me is being facetious when I recommend faking anything, but I am only trying to impress upon you how good it is — like Vitamin D and Vitamin C and broccoli and protein and fiber and baths and hugs and kisses — for your child to see you using books and deriving benefit from them.  A lot.

From there it’s really quite simple.  What does the “C” sound like? “kuh-kuh-kuh”  What is the next letter?  “A”  What sounds does that make?  “ah” or sometimes?  “ay” What is the last letter?  “T” And what sounds does it make”  “tuh-tuh-tuh” So we put it together to make? “kuuh. . .ahhhh. . . .tuh. . .CAT!!!”

Now, here’s the critical part: if there’s a picture of a cat on the page, the next time, the child will say, “CAT!” immediately, from the picture — BUT HE WON’T HAVE READ THE WORD.  So if you are really trying to teach him to read and not just to find reasons to load him up with empty praises, you have to force him to slow down, and repeat the whole exercise: dismantling the word letter by letter, sounding out each letter, and putting it together.  Because kids can memorize books very, very easily, and they and you can tell yourselves that they are reading.  There is nothing wrong with that, but don’t be fooled by it. Reading comes when they recognize the individual letters on the page, identify their corresponding letter sounds, and string them together to create the words.  And yes, it gets a bit complicated with short and long vowels and “e’s” on the end of words, combined vowel sounds, and similar English peculiarities. It requires a lot of faith and patience, but if your child really wants to do it, you can do it.

Should you? Oh, that depends. I would say it depends on the primary educational offerings where you live, and your willingness to advocate (read: fight) your way through them. In our case, I was pretty sure that I could find what my children needed when they entered school, even if they went in reading chapter books fluently. And I was even more certain of my own dedication to making sure that they got what they needed, smash-mouth mother that I was.  And I knew the law, which is vastly different than it was in the early 1960s. Today, special needs children have to be given the education they need in the public system. Is it wrong to make them outliers by teaching them past grade level, and then to insist that the public school system meet their needs? Well, let me answer that question with another question: Is it right to discourage one’s children from learning when they are ready to and want to, simply to save government resources?

I told myself that if I weren’t able to find a classroom that could receive them exactly where they were in terms of learning, and move them forward enough that they weren’t bored, as I was in the primary grades, then I would teach them at home.  I didn’t especially want to homeschool, because I’m independent by nature and have always enjoyed having my own life separate from my kids, and we were blessed that I never had to. I know that both of my children are grateful that they were able to go to “regular schools” (public all the way through for my son and parochial most of the way through for my daughter) and get a good education.  But I wasn’t going to hold them back academically because it might require homeschooling. If they wanted to learn, I wanted them to and was determined to facilitate or even lead the process. If we had to drive one beat-up car, if we had to forego a lot of other perks and pleasures, and I had to sell cosmetics in the evenings, we would do it. (Okay, I lied: I don’t think I could have sold cosmetics, or even plastic leftover dishes, or even encyclopedias. These days, some moms learn to pole dance. I would not be good at that. I guess I could have sung at weddings: “The Lord’s Prayer” and Paul Stuckey’s “There is Love,”  over and over and over and over and over again, Saturday after Saturday, $50 a pop, two per weekend, $400 a month: saved from a life of pink Cadillacs or cash tucked in a G-string. Whew!)

How did it all this early learning work? Remarkably well, for us. Yes, school shopping was a bit of a project at every juncture — kindergarten, primary, middle and high school. Much of that is due to our city and how the schools are organized, as people have told me who have relocated here from other cities, where you simply enroll at and go to the nearest neighborhood school.  I was glad we had a lot of choices; school shopping was a great pleasure for us.  People told me for years that we could have published and sold our “kindergarten notebook” to parents after we were done with the shopping process. I could always find a school that was offering curriculum at the right level.  In the primary grades, that was a Montessori school, which we were blessed to find in a public school setting.

Today my children are both avid readers. They seem to love reading, and to consider it part of their identity, their gestalt, almost their obligation in carrying out a cherished family tradition. They seem to know that reading is nearly as good as travel, and in some ways a good bit better: the water is potable, the bed is your own, there are no suitcases to pack and unpack, you don’t have to worry about forgetting your toothbrush, and you can always find a bathroom.

Going through old papers recently I found the letter posted below, about which we have laughed as a family several times in the years since. It was written when my son was in the fifth grade, to his music teacher at the time. Obviously, he had reported the injustice to me, and I was determined to make it right. Check out the attachments at the bottom — I’m laughing today, but we had no more trouble out of that teacher the rest of the year. Sometimes a mom’s got to fight.
________________________________________________________________

2-24-99 midnight

Dear Dr. L——,

My son, [name], did not understand that he was to copy verbatim all the information you had on the board in your class on Tuesday. Therefore, he was not able to re-copy information that he had not written in the first place.

As he was not among the students creating a disruption, I expect there to be no negative consequences for him. I also expect him not to be ridiculed or humiliated, in class or out, for any reason. I have no problem with fair discipline, calmly communicated.

Thank you.

Vivian Ruth Sawyer

cc: David B—–, principal
Sally G——, teacher

Att: 1998-99 Uniform Code of Student Conduct and the Student Bill of Rights
p. 4 — student responsibilities — no violation
p. 5 — B — staff’s resonsibilities — violation of items # 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 & 13
p. 7 — “Harrassment. . . .is intimidation by threats. . . .or the expression of hatred, contempt, or prejudice toward an individual.”
p. 12 — The Right to Freedom from Harrassment and Discrimination
p. 38 — violation of #8 The Right to Freedom from Abuse

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