This summer I thought I’d teach my daughter to read. I’m not sure why I had in mind that we’d just sit down everyday for reading lessons. This approach didn’t work with my son, but some of my daughter’s friends have learned to read this way, so I thought we’d try. After the first couple of short lessons I realized it wasn’t going to work. We both got frustrated, and my daughter told me it was boring. She was eager to get to the good parts in the stories without having to work hard. I don’t blame her. I can’t stick with a book either if it’s too much work and little reward.
Yet I’m confident reading will come for my daughter in her own way. Rather than sitting down for directed lessons with me, she’s picking it up in other ways. A few months ago, I ran into the living room to investigate some strange howling noises. Was my daughter moaning in agony? No, she had simply climbed into a tent we set up in the living room and was laughing hysterically while reading her brother’s Garfield cartoon book. I watched as she “read” the cartoon sequence aloud to herself, pointing to each frame in sequence: “First comes this picture, and then he goes here, and then he does this…ha, ha, ha!” She traced with her finger precisely the right order, and she was clearly going through the motions of reading, even if she wasn’t getting the words. And where did she learn to trace words and story sequence with her finger? I didn’t teach her that, but when I’ve watched her read words on a page, she always does this, something she says she learned from an older neighbor girl who gets more formal reading lessons.
Maybe I’m lazy and shouldn’t give up the more directed reading lessons. But my gut tells me that she’ll be fine, and in the interest of mother-daughter harmony I’ve decided to back off a bit. Our approach with both children has been read to them as much as possible, and our bedtime story hour is just that, a full hour sometimes. And when my daughter gets together with her friends they often play school with their dolls and stuffed animals or write notes and letters. She’s learned an amazing amount from her peers, but she doesn’t see it as learning. And when she starts kindergarten in the fall, reading activities will be part of the fun, not just something her mother makes her do.
After a conversation this evening with a couple who have daughters in their early teen years, I felt a little better about my approach to reading. Our friends told us that they still read to their daughters at bedtime whenever possible. It’s something they continued even when their daughters were old enough to read on their own, and the girls still ask for it. They often read non-fiction so that they all learn something new together. It’s a special family time they all enjoy, when homework and busy schedules allow for it. “Parents pay a lot of money for systems and workbooks to teach their children to read, but we always felt that the best approach was just to model reading,” our friends told us. That sounds great to me. Maybe what I should do is put my feet up with a novel more often and model good reading behavior, while the neighbor girls come over to play school and teach my daughter phonics and other stuff she’d rather learn from her friends.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts