Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learning to Write

When K was around two years old, I hand-wrote something in front of her and her whole body stiffened in fascination as she watched me. She immediately demanded that I repeat the trick, so I took a blank piece of paper and demonstrated how to write her name and, upon her insistence, various other words.

It instantly changed her whole way of drawing: previously, she would scribble and maybe on a good day we might get a circle, but from that moment on her drawings became pages full of small, intricate symbols. She also started noticing things written outside, on the bus, in the store, and wanting to know what they say. Her fixation on it was really sweet, with this attitude of "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAVE THIS SKILL YOU'VE BEEN HIDING FROM ME ALL THIS TIME." (My response, of course, was "YOU'RE ONLY TWO. DON'T BE RIDICULOUS.")

Since then K has gone through a few phases of intense interest in reading and writing that last a few days or weeks until something else catches her attention. I've been using those high-interest periods to slowly and casually teach her some of the alphabet. The results of this to date are that she recognizes a few letters (K for her name, M for mama) and can write a few others (she writes lines full of T and O and then tells me what they say) and her alphabet puzzle is no challenge any more.

We're going through another intense writing phase at the moment: K makes me write down a word and then she copies it out to the side. She doesn't know what sounds most of the letters make and hasn't really caught on to the principle yet, but she is surprisingly good at making (backwards, upside down, sideways...) copies of the letters she sees. She can be somewhat single-minded (I have no idea where she got that, unless it was from the Slovak. really. that's my story), so we have pages and pages full of writing, ranging from "cat" and "dog" to "basket" and "computer", whatever she requests. I think she wanted to write "octopus" once.

I've been indulging her so far, sounding out the words as I write them and not addressing the backwards and upside down aspect. I think just practicing writing them will help her to eventually straighten them out and remember the names, etc. And of course, backwards and upside down writing is common even in children older than K, as I had to tell my husband - it offends his sense of correctness to just let it pass. He also doesn't like it when K uses "he" and "she" (or similar) incorrectly. It's wrong! I do sympathize :) but I remind him and myself that it's really developmentally normal and K will straighten it out herself eventually...

K also mentions almost daily that when she is a big girl, she will go to the big girl school (where she would really like to be attending already, in fact). She asks me about big girl school: what they do there, what they learn, if they have toys and a sandbox. She was very interested to hear that in big girl school you learn to read and write (and count and learn all about the world). I have been wondering this week if she wants to learn to write now so she'll be able to go to big girl school, or if the two interests are actually separate, if related. She hasn't mentioned them in connection like that, but you never know what is going on in her small, curly head.

I know it's not entirely unusual for parents to teach a two or three year old to read, write, count to 100, and do long division (really, some people's laundry lists of accomplishments are kind of silly), and of course sometimes a child absorbs these things without being specifically taught, but I am really finding a lack of desire in myself to cultivate an early reader (etc.) beyond allowing K access to knowledge as and when she requests it.

Because I also think it's silly to deny a child the opportunity to learn when he is clearly interested, as apparently my mother-in-law did with my husband - it was frowned upon at the time for kids to start school knowing how to read, so none would be ahead of the others, so she didn't teach him anything until he started learning in first grade. (I think this is why he was so surprised when I recently mentioned reading chapter books at 6 and 7 years old - I was an early reader and by first grade was reading Nancy Drew...he looked at me with a little extra respect after that!)

I always thought I'd be more eager to encourage my kids to read (and acquire other academic skills) as early as possible, but I kind of surprised myself once I became a parent and decided, you know, I'm really not interested in pushing it. I am confident that K will learn to read when she is ready and that pushing too hard runs the risk of her losing interest. I'd rather she learn to love reading at any age than learn to read early but regard it as a chore or something to make Mama happy.

K has access to crayons or pen and paper, willing scribes in me and the Slovak, (rather a large number, in fact, of) books, and I make sure she sees me reading myself. Have had to make an effort on this front, actually, as I took to mostly reading on the computer once she was born (hands free), so you can't tell if I'm reading my e-mail or something more substantial. I am picking up real books more often now, though, and not saving them just for when she's asleep. (We'll see how this goes when boy baby is born and I have my arms full again, though...)

So basically, that's where we're at: 3.5 and determined to learn to write. Reading seems to be less of a concern, since K can already "read" (i.e., retell a story to herself as she flips through a book), so I guess she feels like she's got that one down. I imagine that if she continues writing like this she'll learn to actually read sometime before starting school. That's fine with me. Whenever she's ready, I'll be ready to help. To me, the important thing is that she's engaged, eager to learn, and terribly proud of herself. I am not invested in her learning as much as possible, as fast as possible, but I am also proud of her - of her determination to learn and quick mind, yes, but even more of her confidence, joy in life and kind heart. Those are the real skills she'll take with her to first grade, regardless of what else she knows.

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