In the last 36 hours or so, my son Peter has gone from being vaguely aware of the way letters sound to being a reader. We’ve plowed through all the Little Bear books, a couple of Seuss things, and we’re on to Amelia Bedelia. Heady stuff!
All parents are, I assume, delighted when their children enter the literate world, but for me, this is also an enormous relief, and the end of at least a couple of years of nagging fear that my son would never figure it out. Peter’s not 5, he’s 8. He’s not, as far as I know, learning disabled, but he goes to a school where the philosophy about reading is "better late than early," and there’s a laissez-faire approach to the subject that I’m sure would curl many American educators’ hair. The idea is that 5- and 6-year-olds need to spend their time doing 5- and 6-year-old things–mostly playing, but also being introduced to other languages, learning to knit and play the recorder and sing, cooking, building, working in the garden–instead of doing phonics drills. In principle, there are many things I like about this approach, but in practice, it has been excruciatingly difficult for me to stand back and not get out the flashcards. The last couple of days have, in many ways, demonstrated all of the things I’d wanted to believe about the theory: Peter reads pretty fluently already, changes his inflection to reflect punctuation and tone, seems to be understanding what he’s reading, and quickly assembling words and sentences in his head, rather than just decoding sounds. We’ve skipped the "Beginning Reader" stage almost entirely, and I strongly suspect that by next week or so, his prowess will be indistinguishable from that of his more conventionally taught second grade peers.
One is tempted, of course, to craft a thousand hokey analogies–I’ll try to limit myself to just one. It seems to me that we often think we’re doing and learning something other than what God knows we’re doing. We set goals, we come up short, things go horribly awry, and then we turn around one day to discover that we’re more patient and charitable than ever before, or that the particular way we failed at one goal has perfectly prepared us for what now appears to be something far more important. God lets us poke along at learning to knit, or singing cute rhyming songs in German, without letting us in on the fact that we’re picking up the crucial left-to-right eye motion and skill at picking out final consonants that prepares us for fluent reading.
Although it sometimes drives me crazy, I love the task-orientedness of Mormons–I love knowing that tomorrow’s meetings will have lessons on the mechanics of goal-setting, that somebody will inevitably hold up his Franklin planner to show what a wonderful tool it is, that there will be admonitions to be strong and determined and reminders that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. I trust that God can work with our often-misapplied zeal, and that he is as delighted as we are when we finally realize what all our scurrying is *really* about. I take great comfort in my sense that our Parents are pleased, as well as amused, by our efforts.
"His adorable will let us gladly fulfill,
And our talents improve,
By the patience of hope, and the labor of love." (Charles Wesley, Hymns, 216)