“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943
When my son was four, he started playing T-Ball. He loved playing until he actually caught a fly ball at second base.
Then he ran off the field crying never to return again. Ever.
We still don’t know why and we’re not allowed to talk about it.
But during one of his games, he was playing third. There was a runner on first and second. My husband and I yelled out to him, “Jake, be ready to cover third, okay?”
Right then, he started to kick dirt over third base. My husband and I looked at each other wondering what in the world is he doing out there. He isn’t paying attention at all!
He finally stopped kicking the dirt and then we reminded him again to be ready to cover third base.
Once again, he started to kick dirt over third base.
Then, it finally hit me. He was actually covering third base! He was doing exactly what we were telling him to do!
It was kind of an Amelia Bedelia moment! I can only imagine what was going on through his little head. Why in the world are my parents asking me to do this right now?
Poor little guy!
It’s amazing what we think they know, but they don’t…not even close.
This got me thinking about how many assumptions we may make about what our kids know when it comes to reading.
Just last night, my five year old was reading me her reading book for the day. She had read it in reading groups that day, but it was different than all the other books she had brought home. It had four lines of print on each page.
I could see her little finger unsure of where to go at the end of the first line on the first page.
The four lines to a page threw her a little bit.
Now, this is a kid who has had many books read to her. With lots of print.
She’s also brought home many books from school to read to me.
And she still stumbled a little bit on what could have looked like a very easy book. To us, at least.
But it wasn’t. To her. Something looked different to her and she needed a little bit of help.
Right away I stopped her and I mentioned, “This book has a lot of words to each page, doesn’t it?”
She looked relieved that I noticed, too.
We talked about how many lines of print are on each page. We talked about where our finger will go at the end of each line.
We talked about it for probably thirty seconds and then she flew.
Until the next night. Same book came home. She still stumbled a bit with those four lines of print. It was still too much for her. I wasn’t surprised. Four lines is a lot to see for a young reader. So, I gave her an index card to place under the line she was reading and to cover up the many lines below.
She needed it and she knew it, too. She had no problems reading the book with the card.
That index card went to school with her today. Hopefully, she’ll use it.
It makes it easier for her. Much easier.
She just needed someone to see the page like she does: A lot of words staring back at her all at once and where in the world do I go next?
The index card put her in charge of the words and lines and she felt much more comfortable with the book using it.
As adults, we tend to forget the tricky parts of reading because we’ve been doing it for so long.
As we sit next to a budding reader, we have to remember what it was like to be a brand new learner and not let our assumptions get in the way of his or her learning.
We can’t assume these little ones know what we know about print, books, and reading.
Print throws a lot of new things at a new reader. Letters and words look different from book to book. Sometimes the words are written at the top of the page, sometimes it’s at the bottom. Some books have question marks or talking marks or exclamations marks for crying out loud! New readers are desperately trying to make sense of print for the first time and letters and words are not always making sense to them.
To our seasoned eyes, it makes perfect sense.
To the young eyes, it will take more time.
Though, if our seasoned eyes are helping a young reader learn to read, we need to be looking at print with new eyes. Looking for possible stumbling blocks. Looking for ways to help and nudge, and never letting the young reader struggle simply because we assume a book is easy and on level.
We, as parents, have to be a source of help, not a source of struggle for our budding readers. Leveled books will come home, how can we help in the best way?
My five year old did not need to struggle with the four lines. Right now, she has other things to learn first. The ability to read numerous lines will come with time.
Until then, I’m keeping an index card handy at all times, while looking ahead at any other obstacles that may come her way. My little literacy apprentice will eventually be an independent reader, but that is a gradual release.
A gradual release that happens as I continue to show her what she knows, nudge her gently forward to learn something new, and feeling wildly successful the whole time!
Next blog, we will share some ways to help make a book easier for a child who is learning to read. We call it “de-bugging” a book. It helps a child know what they know, but in a new book.
Because knowing what you know, in a new format, can be very tricky! More to come…