Learning to Read is a Little Like Learning to Drive–Only Harder

kids at signing
High school students Chloe and Lucy Loukes manning my finances at a recent book signing, while young visitors Greta and Carver Krill, Gabby and Zack Whitcher, and Patrick Duncan swing by on their way to visit Santa at Fadden’s General Store.

The wee one on the far left knew that writing her name came easier to her than it did to her older brother, the husky fellow holding the red snake.  She never teased him about it, but instead, would put her little hand on his arm and reassured, “It’s okay, Carver, writing can be hard.” How did she know?  She is four.  He is almost six.  “You just keep practicing,” she sings, “and pretty soon you will be as good as me” as she writes her name 60 times on a piece of paper.  And he didn’t take it the wrong way.  But getting this boy to sit down and write his name when I thought he ought to have been able was painful.  So I stopped trying.  His pre-school teacher, Ms. Shannon, was never worried, and always told me it would come with time, and, of course, she was right.  I knew this instinctively as a teacher, but this was different- this was my own kid.

So, this is exciting news! He is learning to read in kindergarten.  His teacher, Mrs. Pamplin, is sheer magic to watch in her classroom, part actress/part psychologist/ part alchemist/ part genius– she is truly remarkable.  Before I had children and work life bogged me down, or I grew frustrated with the apathy sometimes present in our adolescent population, I used to visit her classroom to watch and remember and realize that EVERY kid is excited about school in the beginning.  She could make even the letter Q seem like the most amazing entity in the world.  He is also LUCKY enough to be receiving Title 1 reading services with a new teacher to our district, Ms. Bartlett.  He gets “borrowed” from time to time and thrives with the additional attention from her about his sounds and words, and there is such pride in his voice when he tells me about his time with Ms. Bartlett.  And the best part is that our little guy also LOVES kindergarten.  He loves music Mondays with Mrs. Burhoe, and PE with Mr. Murphy, and library time with Mrs. Smith, and art with Ms. Frobey.  He is learning so much every day, and these are my favorite tidbits.  “Mom, Mom, Mom, did you know that the letter C can be tricky?”

How is that, Carver?

“Well, he can have a KKKKK sound (he yells this part I’m guessing because of the hard sound) or it can be soft like this SSSSSS (in a lispy whisper).  Did you also know that T and H are best friends?  They stick their tongues out together and make the THHHHH sound” (and if he’s done this to you, he has also maybe spit a little bit, and I’m sorry with it being cold season and all).  Mom, did you also know that Y steals I’s identify all the time? He is such a little thief!”

To friends and strangers alike, he shares, “I have 3, 8, 10 site words now.  Do you want to know them too?” And he is writing his name, and many other words, like “Darth Maul” when asked to draw his favorite idol in art class.  Other kids’ idols are their mothers, fathers, aunts or uncles, and our kid’s idol is Darth Maul?  A math paper came home on Friday with six black circles glued in a semi circle, and the sentence, “Six circles work well with a trebuchet.” Thank you to one of the many teachers, paraeducators, or students aides who may have helped him to spell that word.  For these things, I blame his dad…

The important part for me as his mother, also an English teacher and K-12 reading specialist, is that he now views himself as a reader, which he never did before, despite my reading books in utero and almost every day since the child had been born.  And it doesn’t matter to him that his sister is also learning to read at the same time.  They like different kinds of stories, but we talk every night about the books, and the letters, and the sounds they make.  Greta gets bored easily with all of Carver’s non-fiction choices, and he cares very little about the stories she chooses generally involving a curious monkey, cat,  mermaid or a girl.  But they sit and listen because those are other life skills after all.

Which is what brings me to driving.  I’m teaching one of my students how to drive during my lunch time.  Driving makes her anxious, and not enough kids signed up for Drivers Ed this fall, but she needs to practice, so here I am.  No, I did not become a driving instructor.  My parents were very good driving instructors; my actual drivers ed teacher, hired by the school and fired shortly after I graduated for sexual harassment, definitely made me uncomfortable. But what I do know is that driving is a whole lot like learning to read, only easier.  There aren’t as many rules to remember, but the few rules which do exist are actually really important. We take little steps.  First, like my dad did with me, we only drive in empty parking lots.  Then we graduate to the not very busy  neighborhoods.  After that we conquered Main Streets in both North Woodstock and Lincoln, which although busy by rural standards are not that scary.  This week we will revisit Main Street and maybe take on Loon Mountain’s parking lot and practice parking next to other vehicles and backing up without hitting those same vehicles.  And after that, it’s time for the highway, the new driver’s version of a chapter book.

Books will be available for purchase and signing at Gordi’s in Lincoln, NH on Saturday, Dec. 19 from 4-6! 


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