I have forgotten everything about learning to read. I have conveniently forgotten everything about teaching our firstborn how to read (it’s a highlight reel where I hand her a book and nod encouragingly and she starts in on “War and Peace” at six months old – never mind that it didn’t happen that way). What I remember, very vividly and mostly at ten pm when I am hanging on by the last thin thread of humanity is how bad I am sucking at teaching our kindergartener to read.
Redirecting her when she flubs a word provokes tears, correcting her if it’s wrong altogether invokes scorn and by page four or five of anything other than “Biscuit goes to wherever” my little kindergartener and I are barely on speaking terms. Now, I enjoy a guilt-laden walk of heavy-hearted shame from one end of the house to other as much as the next mom who is convinced she’s doing it all wrong, but tonight I resolved; I couldn’t do it one more time.
I wanted the old me back, the one where I tucked a heavy-lidded, juicy baby to bed after I read some soothing childhood favorite to her from my glider-rocker, feeling like an earth-mother goddess in my muumuu. Somehow, I still had the natty XXL jammies but none of the same confidence. I could go about the cop-out method of flash reading every book for her and hurrying off after a forehead kiss – secure in the non-violent power struggle, but graduation is looming close and at some point this had to be dealt with.
Her teacher assured me that she was right on target with word recognition and reading and comprehension. She had no problems in the classroom. Come to think of it, she had very little issues with homework. She read confidently alongside her sister. The problem, it seemed, was me (stop me if you’ve heard that one).
I went rogue. I went to all in. I attacked it like a new mom.
I read all the preambles in the I-Can-Do-This-Myself! books (those “Dear Parents” pages we all skip because, Duh, I know how to read to my kid, thank you very much…). It had all sorts of stupid ideas like not correcting the mispronunciation of words and not suggesting children sound out the words and other general mind-numbery.
Tonight, though, I did it. If she stumbled on a word, I didn’t object. If she got stuck I “asked permission” from her (not my idea) to give assistance. I pointed out the pictures and asked engaging questions such as “what do you think that sentence might be telling us based on these pictures”. Pretty much everything ran counter to the way I knew how to teach a person to read. And guess what? It worked. Like, totally. My kid, who days ago gritted her teeth as I pointed out that a “b” sounded like “bah-bah” was reading words where she first tried to sound it out as a “d” doubling back at the end of the sentence to proudly declare “well, that doesn’t make any sense, it has to be a “b” then”!
I couldn’t believe it. It was almost the equivalent of assembling a piece of furniture, looking at it and saying this ain’t right, only to pick up the instructions and know for sure that you did it wrong. Except, trying out a new teaching method is far easier than “gently” dislodging a half inch wooden dowel from a piece of particle board with a tee-shirt wrapped hammer (trust me on this one).
Right now, she is sleeping soundly, proud of herself for reading alone and happy that I didn’t interfere the whole time. My eye isn’t twitching (from rage OR too much crying). So I am calling this a win. For anyone out there struggling with this let me first say I feel you. As in, if I was drinking a pint I would first pour a sip on the concrete for you. Don’t give up. If you are past the baby years, you have probably forgotten the horrors of tummy time and potty training and sleep training and all the other atrocities you mastered. (If you are still in the baby years, I am pouring another sip on the concrete for you). It gets easier. And then harder! But then easier again.