A little over two years ago, my daughter started asking me about letters. When I read to her, she would point at different letters on the page and ask what they were or what sounds they made.

“She’s ready to read!”  I thought, and immediately started trying to teach her the alphabet and some rudimentary phonics. 

Not so much. I discovered very quickly that, even if she was ready to learn her letters, she was not ready to learn them in anything resembling a traditional fashion.

So I dropped it.  I left her to learn in her own way–and she stalled. Or did she?

My daughter, apparently, is a stealth learner: once she shows interest in learning a skill, she processes everything internally.  She shows little to no outward progress until, suddenly, she displays complete mastery.

Kind of like a rocket that’s been rolled to the launchpad. From the outside, nothing’s happening.  It simply sits there for days.  But, inside, it’s a hive of activity as computers churn and personnel prepare for liftoff.

Then, all at once, smoke billows, flames blaze–and the rocket slices into the atmosphere.

For a year after those first questions, my daughter appeared to know almost nothing about the alphabet.  If asked, she might recognize two or three letters, but that was it.  Then, suddenly, she knew every letter and its sound, how to write the alphabet, and how to use phonics to spell words.

I started feeling like a kid waiting for Christmas.

One day, I thought, she’s going to pick up a book and just start reading.  And, last week, that’s exactly what happened.

For the past year, she has done almost nothing with words. She’s done plenty with letters–recognizing them in stories and on signs, writing them everywhere–but I could probably count on two hands the number of times she’s actually tried to sound out words.

Then, last week, while my husband was out of town, she tried to read a few words from her bedtime story.

The night my husband returned, I announced this little event at dinner.  And my daughter countered with an announcement of her own: “I’m going to read a book!”

She insisted that we follow her into the living room: “Mummy, you sit on the couch.  Daddy, you sit here.  I’ll sit in the middle.”

She pulled Max’s Chocolate Chicken from her bookshelf, plopped down between us, and read every single word.

It was classic early reading.  She sounded like a software program: monotone, pauses in all the wrong places, the inflection not quite right.  But it was beautiful.

When she closed the book, she jumped up and down on the couch, yelling, “I DID IT!  I DID IT!”  Her face was on fire with smiles.  My husband was simply astonished.

And I wanted to run into the front yard and scream to all the neighbors, “MY DAUGHTER CAN READ!”  I was giddy for hours.

When I try to explain why I’m so excited, words fail me.  I just know that, as a parent, I want blessing upon blessing for my daughter. And reading somehow brings that desire one step closer to reality.

What do you remember about your first reading experiences?  If you’ve witnessed a child reading for the first time, what did you think?

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2 thoughts on “Houston, We Have Liftoff

  1. My daughter seemed to have a strong handle on letters and the sounds they made at an early age. We tried the “Dick and Jane” books, but she simply had no interest in reading. I forced her through a few pages, and she demonstrated competence, but reverted to rote memorization immediately thereafter. (With so few distinct words and three- or four-word sentences, rote was particularly easy.)

    When she turned five with no progress, I was concerned she might have a delay with written language. However, within her first month of kindergarten, she was reading books by herself. At least once a week, she came home excited about a book she acquired from the library.

    She prefers to read to _me_ now. Also, she writes notes and leaves them all over the house.

    1. I think you’ve pegged a real problem with “easy reader” books: they’re too easy, period. They have their place, but I have a hunch that kids develop higher-quality reading skills by reading “real” books.
      One of my friends told me that her librarian actively tried to discourage her from checking out chapter books for her first-grader because they would “stretch him too much.” To me, that’s the point!

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