Every parent hopes that their kid will be smart, and although “smart” is objective, depending on what each kid’s individual strengths are, it’s easy for parents to focus mostly on academics, because that’s what we’re all forced to put up with for thirteen or so years of our lives.
Personally, I hope that my daughter will turn out to be well-rounded, but as a woman who grew up loving books enough to eventually write one, I do tend to put a little more of my own personal focus into ensuring that my daughter can read (and hopefully spell) at an acceptable level. That’s why my husband and I would sit down with her as a baby, patiently showing her each of the letters from her wooden puzzle until she could point them out herself (at barely a little over a year old), and singing the Alphabet Song with her until she had it memorized (at about eighteen months). Then, I moved on to what I personally thought was the fun stuff, but is apparently something that many parents never bother to do anymore: I started reading to her at bedtime every night.
Of course, at first, she wasn’t all that receptive to it. She was still very small, and thus mostly wanted to look at the pictures and interrupt me to talk about whatever was randomly rolling through her mind at the time. But eventually it became a routine. Eventually she began to pick which stories she wanted to read. Eventually she began pointing out random words (mostly character names) that she recognized. And eventually, she began to mouth words along with me, or insist on reading little bits of sentences that she recognized by herself.
My daughter is currently in grade primary (kindergarten to most of Canada, and the first “grade” of grade school to anyone who doesn’t recognize either of those terms), and of course part of the curriculum is learning to read, she she comes home with a homework book every night and reads them to me or her father. They’re all very basic, repetitive stories (“I can make a banana with my play dough.”/ “I can make a carrot with my play dough”/ etc.) but I was still very proud when she first came home and read to us, pointing at the words proudly, sounding out or using the pictures to figure out words she didn’t know. I thought she was doing great, especially considering that she’s the youngest kid in her class (her birthday was just before the cut-off date and we chose to let her go instead of holding her back until she was a little bigger).
The stories were very simple, but she was reading them, and I was more than happy with her progress. And then, one night last week, we were reading a couple of Disney Frozen board books that her friend gave her for her birthday, when she decided that she wanted to read it herself. I let her go ahead, expecting that she’d be stopping and asking for help rather often, but was amazed to see how little help she actually ended up needing. Below is a transcript of the little book, with the words I needed to help her with crossed-out:
“Anna was a princess in the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna’s sister, Elsa, was the queen. The sisters did not always agree. One day, Elsa
accidentally revealed that she had magical powers. She was so upset that she ran away. Anna made up her mind to bring Elsa home. Anna met an ice harvester named Kristoff. He was covered in frost! Soon Anna and Kristoff became good friends. He helped her find her sister. Elsa learned to control her powers, and ruled Arendelle once more. Anna and Elsa were together again! Anna was happy to be at home with the people she loved.”
So by my count, out of 102 words, she only needed help with 13 of them, and two of those words were 3 and 4 syllables. Can I remind you that this kid just turned five this past December?
And the thing is, yes, a lot of the words she knew because she’d seen them when I was reading other Frozen stories to her, and some of them she worked out logically by noticing what was happening in the pictures (she knows that Kristoff is an ice “harvester”, for instance, and he was in that page’s picture). But that’s great! That means that she’s paying attention! It means that she follows along when I’m reading with her! It means that she’s got reasoning skills that she can use to work out a word she’s unsure of! It means she’s trying, in whichever way she knows how. And that’s awesome.
It’s entirely possible (likely, even) that my daughter will never been obsessed with books like I was when I was young. She’ll likely never get deep into writing her own stories like I did and dream of becoming a published author. And that’s okay, because I’m not trying to turn her into me. But I do want her to be well-rounded, logical, and hard-working, and seeing her work her way through this little book the other night showed me that she is well on her way. Score one point for parenting, and one point for a wicked-smart little girl. 🙂