While I loved the excitement of going to the movie theater and the camaraderie of playing video games with friends, reading was my first love. Movies and video games provided a certain amount of visual stimulation, but they paled in comparison to the cerebral joy and comfort you could get out of a good book.
“Its too hard!”
“I’m never going to be a good reader!”
“ARGH, can I just go play video games?!?!”
Fast forward 28 years. My oldest child, Luke, is now is first grade. He does well in school; he’s a leader in his class, helpful, and has never met a proverbial stranger in his life. However, he struggles at reading. To help ensure that he hits the learning expectations for first grade by the end of the school year, he’s been placed in a supplemental reading group that meets four days a week.
As a parent, its tough to see your children struggle. Being an avid reader, this struggle cuts close to home and yet, is foreign to me. When I was his age, reading came so effortless, yet why does it pose such a challenge for my son? I’m reminded of a quote by cartoonist Charles Addams, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” Why is reading so chaotic for Luke? Did we not read to him enough when he was younger? Were we too permissive when it came to TV and video games? Many a homework session has ended in exasperated tears, anger, and feelings of inadequacy (on both sides.) Where did we go wrong?
After discussions with the reading interventionist who runs his supplemental reading group, those questions became moot. There was nothing specific we did to contribute to his delays in becoming a proficient reader. Thankfully, he does not have dyslexia as I originally feared; he’s just one of the many kids who pick up reading more slowly. According to the interventionist, for some kids, the proverbial “reading light bulb” doesn’t turn on until second or third grade. It was a good reminder that we’re talking about kids here, not programmable machines. Each kid is different, and if that is the path Luke walks, that’s completely okay. The biggest takeaway from our conversation was to keep reading to Luke, having him read to us, and foster a love for reading. So every night, we read, he reads to us, we encourage him and do our best to build his self-confidence.
A few weeks ago we had parent/teacher conferences at school. For 1st graders, it was a guided conference where you take your child with you and they walk through some items they worked on last semester. Other than sitting in a chair entirely too small for an adult (my knees were practically at my chest), things were going smoothly. Luke was being his usual playful self, grinning from ear to ear as he showed us all of the cool projects, pictures, and other stuff he’s been working on. We got to a part in the conference where Luke’s teacher asked him about something that challenged him this year. He was quiet for a moment, and then replied with something to the effect of, “Reading has been hard for me. I’m not really good at it, but I like it and I’m working really hard!” I felt a lump rise in my throat and I had to momentarily turn away. Reading may very well be chaos for him. It may be difficult. It may be hard, but my God, this kid is hanging in there. He’s not quitting. Rather, he’s giving a big middle finger to the proverbial spider, staying positive, and putting in the hard work. In that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud of my son. Amber and I have always told our kids to do their best in anything that they do. You give something your best try…that’s all we can ask for. His words gave me hope that we’re doing something right. That in spite of his early struggles, this is just a blip on the radar. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that he will be a proficient reader one day soon.
Since he’s started in the supplemental reading group, we’ve seen a huge amount of progress in his reading, along with a healthy bump of self-confidence. Growth doesn’t come without hard work and sacrifice, and I’m so incredibly proud of Luke for the effort he’s put forth. He still has moments where he gets frustrated, but they are fewer now. We take his homework sessions more slowly and use techniques the interventionist suggested to help him “decode” words. Sometimes I’ll catch him reading books to his younger sisters. I can’t help but smile. A situation that started out as a chaotic and disjointed mess has transformed into a more peaceful and hopeful journey. Luke is not at his destination yet, but we’re getting there, slowly but surely.