“I am concerned,” she said, as plainly as possible.
“I am not,” I replied. I meant that.
Whether it was mama bear instinct or serenity based on some innate knowledge that only mothers can have, I kept a straight face while being told that my son will soon start to feel embarrassed because he will not be among those who know how to.
That he had no reason to feel embarrassed about anything is an understatement. His interest in Egyptian gods back then, plus his admiration for Steve Irwin, inspired him to draw beautiful colorful renditions of the said gods and also fill many pages of his notebooks with drawings of creatures, both real and imaginary. We read books – nature books, chapter books and picture books, although to be fair, he has always been more taken with the long reads. His vocabulary contained words that would take me by surprise.
I could not understand why at the age of five and a half he was expected to write, as in write down most of a word based on the sound of it as the word was dictated by the teacher. He was expected to read simple words and slowly make his way up the reading skill scale, I was told. Like many kids his age, he could not care less and he was not interested or ready to do so. I let him take the lead and do it when he’s ready. He became ready.
So here we are, a year later, plopped on the sofa every afternoon, opening tiny books with tiny stories about jolly pirate captains that drop their hats in the water and don’t mind, and dinosaurs that eat dragonflies and cockroaches. Accurate stuff, wouldn’t you say? Sasha reads, I listen, and there’s no “you’re amazing” uttered every third word but my proud looking at him matches his sparkling eyes. His pride shows too.
We celebrated his first reading of a tiny book with my eyes growing big and surprised. “You’re reading! Isn’t that nice?” Their room has a huge red bookshelf that holds an army of books. Every week or so we bring a couple from the library. Think of all the books you’ll be reading, I told him. But there’s no hurry up and do it now that you know how. I love our cuddling reading times, just like he loves my reading with different voices and sounds. And yes, the cuddling.
What I wanted him to know most of all is that reading is supposed to be his big breakthrough and no one else’s. He is equally loved and accepted and appreciated for everything that he is. The fact that he is prying open the writing and reading doors and looking at the world through different colored lenses should make him look forward to new adventures to come.
Not that he did not have any until now. His world has been enriched by exploring the world in his own way, by daring to do so, by listening to stories being read to him, by asking many questions, by getting down and dirty every step of the way. The human mind is always pushing forward when the time is right.
Being told or suggested to that they need to do it because everyone does it is not only unfair to children, but also deleterious to the way they perceive reading. Back when I wrote the first post on the topic I argued that it could lead to feeling inadequate and that is the wrong feeling at such an early age when enthusiasm and curiosity and confidence work so well together. Let’s call it creativity for short.
Curiosity must remain the perpetually hungry, perpetually wild beast that will make our children explore further and find richer feeding grounds as it grow. If we don’t spook it with silly milestones that are not set by anything else but the pressure to engage them in the rat race sooner that is.
Ultimately, monumental achievements such as reading and writing should happen because nothing else would be enough anymore. Joy should be part of it. Just like stepping stones, you know. You can’t move further away unless you step on a certain stone at a certain time. But of course, I am merely speaking for my children. I am not a teacher after all…