by: Crystal Seiford
There once was a girl who dreamed of being a teacher. She couldn’t wait to share her love of learning with others and couldn’t wait to give them the gift of reading. Sadly, the girl taught in a school where learning to read was forced, it was not something you loved, it was a deadline to meet and the sooner the better. She was told, “Your kids are behind, you need to work harder.” Then she pushed the kids harder, she told the kids “Don’t get behind, you’re not reading fast enough.” The teacher had to tell the parents “Your child is behind. Your 5-year-old is behind.” The teacher hated this. She knew in her heart this wasn’t right, they weren’t “behind”. They just weren’t there yet. It didn’t matter, she had to do what she was told. It hurt, she wanted the kids to love reading, not hate it. Reading is to be enjoyed. The girl endured because even though she knew better, she couldn’t do differently, yet.
That girl had another dream come true, a baby boy, a boy she wanted so much, a boy that made her a mom. The moment that boy came, her world changed. Everything she once dreamed of seemed to not matter, only he did. She couldn’t teach that way anymore. She looked at her son and knew he deserved different, he deserved better. He deserved a chance to learn and find joy in it. She decided to leave her dream of teaching to stay home with him. In their home, she filled it with books, piles of books, hundreds of books. She read them over and over and over. Filling him with words and stories. Stories he would ask to hear again and again. She filled him with the joy of reading. As he got closer to school age, she knew deep down she had to find a different way for him. He deserved a school that nurtured him and let him develop as he was ready. She found it. She found the school that stood for everything she ever dreamed of in a school. A place that truly honored children and how the brain develops. A school that believed in children. She found Marvelously Made.
The boy thrived in this school. He was full of joy and excited to learn. Something happened to the mom too. She found joy again in school, in education, in teaching. A passion she once had lost, reignited. She saw a place that met children where they were and let them develop as they should. She loved teaching again and she watched them soar. There were artists, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, athletes, and readers. She watched her son build obstacle courses, thrive in instant challenges, teaching others how to build and create. She watched him soak up math and solve things she never could do on her own. He loved it all. School was the happiest place for both of them.
He loved it all, except for reading. Wait, how could that be? The mom read to him all the time, since the day he was born. Books consumed their home. Bedtime was full of story after story. But when given a book to try, the boy said “no.” Ok, he’s not ready, I’ll give him some time. When asked again, the boy said “no.” The mom started to worry. It’s time, he should read. So she tried again, pushed a little harder this time. Again the boy said, “no.” The mom started to drift to that teacher long ago and heard the word “behind”. So she tried again, and more frequently and the boy said, “no.” The pressure got to her, she heard others ask about his reading. The mom got defensive and would change the subject. She started to worry so she ran to her friend. Her friend who believed in him, who taught her over and over to trust the process. Give him time, just read to him. Mom backed off, gave him more time. Then that worry bug snuck in again. Mom tried again, each time losing her patience and joy. So the boy did too. He would cry, “no”. Mom ran back to her friend. She would say “How old is he?” “Six.” “Give him time, trust the process. Keep reading to him and back off.” The mom knew her friend was right. So she would wait for a month or two, and try again. The boy said, “no” Each time getting more upset than before, crying or even yelling, “no”. The mom’s heart broke that she hurt him. She was so restless. The friend told her, “This is why you chose this school. Let him excel in everything else, reading will come. What are you afraid of?” The mom replied, “That he will never WANT to learn to read.” She understood and said give him more time, he’s not 7 yet.” This process went on and on for over a year.
Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.Kate DiCamillo
One day they were reading together in class. The boy was fumbling through words, on the verge of tears, hating himself, comparing himself to others, saying he hated it. So she said, “Stop, let’s try again tomorrow.” The next day they tried again. Mom was ready with the pep talks, ready to stop as soon as he seemed frustrated. He started reading, fumbling through the same words, he didn’t stop, he wasn’t upset even though it was hard and he finished the page. He looked at his mom (his teacher) and said, “That was fun! Let’s read the whole book.” The mom burst into tears and hugged him so tight. Then they read the whole book. After school, she ran to her friend and shared her story and her joy. She cried and laughed and said, “How old is he?” The mom said “7 and a half.” She said “Seven! I told you that’s when the brain is ready.” And they laughed and the mom said, “I know!”
The boy still had to put in the work. He still fumbled through the same hard parts, he still had to work at it but his attitude changed, he had the motivation. Overnight something changed, he wanted to learn to read. So he was ready to work at it, he was ready to take on the challenge. He didn’t suddenly start reading everything. But his brain was ready to put in the work. He was able to understand. He now enjoys reading. He realized others had struggles too, they weren’t all perfect readers. They didn’t know all the words. He was ready to learn to read. That boy is now 8 and the mom often finds him reading a book in the car, in his room, at the table. He’s reading to his brother, showing him words and helping him on his journey to reading. That boy who said “no” so many times is joyfully and eagerly reading words everywhere. Even when he doesn’t know one, he is not frustrated, he just tries and then asks for help. That mom is amazed at every word. Thinking how his struggles were not struggles, he just needed time. Time was the answer for him all along.
If you haven’t caught on yet, this story is about me and my son. This story isn’t so much about him, but me and my journey. His journey is his own. This is about me getting caught up in the pressure of time, the process, the struggle, and the worry, the hard part of being a mom and a teacher, letting the world tell me he’s behind. There are things I wish I hadn’t done. I wish I truly and completely backed off and given him the time he needed. I wish I never forced him once or made a tear shed. He didn’t need me to push him, it didn’t help him, it only hurt him. He showed me when he was ready, it would happen (just like potty training!) Pushing him only made the journey harder and took the joy away, from both of us.
Trust the process.
Learning to read is a slow process. It takes time. You do not wake up, understanding it all. Our brain needs time to take it all in, to process it. Even if your child is quick to read, they are still learning, there are things their brain won’t fully understand until 7 or even 8. They may be able to quickly remember words, but they are still learning how words actually work, how all the different phonics rules put words together. English is so hard. Let your child love reading. Read to them. Read to them. Read to them. Fill them with beautiful words and stories. Let them love reading. When they are really ready, most around 7 and a half, then they will do it. They will want to do it. Give them time, trust the very hard process. And call me when you think you can’t do it. My story is proof that time is the answer. Pushing him and all my students so long ago, only makes a hard journey harder. When you are struggling to ask yourself do you want just a reader or someone who loves to read?
This story provides a great lesson for parents, teachers, teachers of teachers, and the kids themselves!! Hopefully, as the lesson is shared and learned, a revolution of thinking will occur and the face of the current educational philosophy will begin to change.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. We are so committed to our responsibility to children to be part of this very change! Glad to be part of that fight with you!!