The other morning Max climbed in bed with me, and proceeded to read to me from his library book about bees. I lay there, willing this to be a dream that would be followed by about seventeen more hours of uninterrupted sleep. After a few moments I realized that Max seemed to have made a huge leap in reading ability overnight. I pried my eyes open and watched him seamlessly fit together words he’d never read before, forming them into sentences…paragraphs…meaning.
Max tends to learn like this, with blank looks and tiny mincing steps toward understanding, and then comes a great LEAP ahead. Breathtaking, every time. I’m used to Tre’s style of learning, which is methodical and orderly. When he was learning to read it was one phonics rule at a time, fitting them together like so many building blocks that slowly took the shape of something great.
However they get there, it’s still like magic. Particularly with something as complex as reading, I can’t imagine how they assimilate it all. I teach them the rules, but there are so many words that just plain don’t follow those rules. Why does “said” say “sed” and not “say-ed”? I dunno. How can “read” rhyme with “bed” in one sentence and “seed” in another? Well…just because.
Now, I wrestled my way through The History of the English Language back in my college days, so I have some understanding of the tangle that English is. Um…SOME understanding. I mean, I passed the class…
Anyhow, that doesn’t help much to a six year old. Even if I could still diagram the evolution from Old English to Middle English to today, so what? It doesn’t help with that move – that leap – from simply decoding by the rules to reading.
Later that day I gave Max a simple chapter book and asked him to read the first chapter to me. He sailed through it, reading words that he doesn’t KNOW HOW TO. He plucked their meaning out of context, from the pictures, and from his own innate sense of what word just plain belonged next in the sentence. And he did it all without a second thought, without even the awareness of what he was doing.
When we first moved into this house, Raphael was a baby, just crawling. He used to crawl up onto the brick ledge in front of the fireplace, laboriously working his arms and legs together to haul himself up there. Once there he would painstakingly turn around and peer back down the four inch drop to the carpet below. It was impossible to navigate his way back down, and he would usually just sit there and holler until someone scooped him up.
Today, as a sturdy-legged three year old, he races through that room and up and down that ledge, banking that turn without a thought. What was once a huge obstacle has become just another thing that belongs to him.
So it is with Max and the written word. I like to claim to have taught him how to read, but the truth is that I taught him some rules. Suddenly he seems to have grown into the ability to read. Like magic, he’s leaped over that divide between decoding and reading, and now it belongs to him.