My in-laws sent Isabelle a Halloween card last week. I opened it and read it aloud to her. She was delighted by the card and carried it around for awhile. But then something unexpected happened. She began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She had forgotten what it said. I scooped her up on to my lap and read it to her again. And that seemed to please her until…
30 seconds later she was crying again.
“What’s wrong now?” I asked, feeling my patience being pushed to its outer limits.
“I can’t read it!” she wailed.
I softened. “You don’t know how to read yet. And that’s okay. You’re just learning how to talk. First you have to learn to talk, then eventually you’ll learn how to read.”
But she then she said what I thought I always wanted to hear, “I wanna learn to read.”
Thoughts swarmed in my head. What’s that? You want to learn to read? You’re not ready to read yet!
I pulled Isabelle back on to my lap and told her, “Mommy will teach you how to read. I promise you. But it’s going to take some time. Just like it took time for you to learn how to talk, it’s going to take time for you to read. It may take a few years.”
“A few years?” Isabelle asked, probably wondering just what years were.
“Yes, a few years. But I promise you, I will teach you how to read.”
And that was that. Or so I thought.
Last night she was still napping when my husband’s plane arrived at the airport. The plan was to pick him up at 5 p.m. and go to an early dinner at Panera on the way home. But she was in a deep sleep. Therefore, he took a cab home. When Isabelle awoke from her nap, all she wanted to do was go to Panera to eat. I explained we were eating dinner at home, but that set off the tears again. (Oh to be three years-old… everything’s a crisis!) So, I did the first thing that came to mind. I wrote up grabbed a sticky note and explained what an “I.O.U.” was. Then, I issued an I.O.U. for a dinner at Panera to her with the date on it.
A few minutes later, I was in our bedroom, chatting with my husband who was unpacking his suitcase, when she came into our room crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Tears streamed down Isabelle’s face. She held the sticky note and said, “I can’t read this!”
“That’s because you can’t read yet,” I replied matter-of-factly.
“I want to learn to read!”
Then I had a virtual repeat of the scene from three days’ prior. This time, I had to explain what was happening to my husband. As I drew my tearful toddler to my lap, I looked at Marc and said, “Isabelle wants to learn how to read.” Then I turned to her, “Remember Mommy told you I’d teach you how to read after you saw the card from Grandma and Papa?”
“Yes,” she said through her tears.
“You don’t know how to read yet. It’ll take time to learn how to read. But I promise you, I will teach you. It’s going to take a few years, but with a lot of practice, you’ll learn to read what the words on the page say. Until then, you can use the pictures to remind you of what things say.”
A few minutes later she was giggling again, but I was left wondering what my next move was going to be. Clearly she is motivated to decode the squiggles on the page. Isabelle knows the letters stand for sounds which form words. She can identify uppercase letters and a lot of the sounds they make (That’s thanks to all of the phoneme practice we’ve done for her C.A.S.). She loves “reading” memorized books aloud. All that said, I’m pretty sure she’s not developmentally ready to read.
After waking up in the middle of the night (an hour ago) thinking about this, I started googling, “What do I do when my three year-old wants to read?” (BTW: Start googling that phrase and you’ll be surprised by the things Google wants to auto-fill for you!) I came across a piece that reassured me of my decision not to purchase flash cards or any other kind of packaged program to help Isabelle learn to read. The author of the article encouraged readers to help children identify letters in their natural settings. I figured that’s a good place for the two of us to start. I can certainly have Isabelle identify uppercase and lowercase letters in words she’s curious about and ask her what sounds they make. I think this will help her find the significance in the letter-sound connections since she’ll be ‘studying’ words she is interested in.
With that, I think I’m going back to bed. I will get off of Pinterest where I found lots of sight word bingo activities and Montessori word puzzles. For now, we’re not going to do those. I’ll just keep reading lots of picture books to Isabelle and encouraging her to interact with words she’s curious about learning. And slowly, in her own time, she’ll learn how to read.