The short and direct road

… to reading!

My apologies to the Beatles. I always assumed that L would learn how to read at school, assisted by small group activities, whole-group introductions to letters and word families, and repeated readings of decodable texts. Perhaps some of these early developments should have been indicators to me…

From her baby book:

  • In April (21 months), you were eating a string cheese and the dog came up and took it right out of your hand. You yelled, “No, no, woof-woof! Cheese my!” In retrospect, that’s a pretty complex sentence for a 21 month old
  • At 23 months, you could read all the numbers 0-12 and identify about half of the letters! In retrospect, that’s pretty solid pattern recognition for a little one
  • At 26 months, you liked to hold your duckie up to your ear and pretend your duckie was requesting things that you actually wanted (“What’s that, duckie? You want to watch a show?” “What’s that, duckie? You want pancakes?”) Again, in retrospect it should have been clear that she was abstracting thoughts long before she had any business doing so

I’ve also found some great facebook statuses from back in the day… again, should have known at the time!

(Age 27 months)

Me: What’s your ballet teacher’s name?

L: Miss Donna. Like iguana

Ummm… rhyming? Really??


(Age 31 months)

Me to hubby: We could make c-o-o-k-i-e-s

L: I want to make cookies!

(Loooooong pause)

Me: How did you know about cookies?!? Did I say cookies??

L: shakes head no and smiles

Me: Did I spell cookies?

L: smiles and shakes her head yes

Crap! Crap! Crap!!


(Age 32 months)

A hand-written sign at her daycare is found saying “Please do not touch.” L is found, marker in hand, carefully scribbling out the word ‘not.’ When questioned, she exclaims “I change it! Now it say “please do touch!”

Ok. Seriously, we didn’t know she might be gifted. Clearly she’s far better at patterning than we are!


At the zoo, 33 months

L and I were making a list on my phone of animals that have 4, 2, and 0 legs. She wanted to add “fox” herself. She she typed “fs.” Holy crap. That’s emergent spelling!


At 3 and a half years

L: Why are the keys not in order? (meaning why are the keys not placed in alphabetical order)

I answer about levers and typewriters and frequent combinations getting stuck.

L: So not they don’t get stuck. What do they call that keyboard?

I point at the first six letters of the keyboard and keep working

L: They call it a Qwerty (pronounced properly)???? Qwerty is not a word!!!

Ok, enough side commentary about Just. How. Dumb. We. Were.


At about this same time, I was talking with her about the upcoming Christmas holiday. I explained to her that there was a holiday coming up and that people might want to give her presents. I asked her what I should tell people if they asked me what she wanted. She sighed and replied, “I just want to know how to read.” I tried to encourage her to think of things made in China or of plastic… =)

In any case, I should have realized at that point that her heart was set on reading. Now, to be fair, we have always read a lot with L. She has always been amenable to sitting on someone’s lap and pulling them book after book after book to read – literally for hours. She has “read” with intonation and pointing at pictures since she was very, very young. She has even been very interested in letters, completing many “emergent reader”-type apps on the iPad quite quickly. And yet, I didn’t realize that my little darling had set her heart on a goal.

I want to be clear that we continued those same behaviors – we read A LOT. I followed along with my pointer finger underneath the words I was reading at the time. When I knew she knew a word by sight, I paused, pointed at the word, and let her say it (with tickles and “hoorays”). We did NOT do any reading lessons. No blending lessons. No strategies beyond learning to read by sitting on a reader’s lap.

So it was a surprise when, two months later, she brought home a Bob book to read to us. For those of you who haven’t experienced the delight of Bob books, consider yourselves lucky. They are a great tool for learning to read, but they’re pretty dull! You have to remember that this is a kid who was already requesting that we read pretty information-packed non-fiction texts aimed at K-2, so Bob was a change of pace. Regardless, we were shocked when she could actually read it to us! The audio of her first attempt at reading it to us is precious, I think. For those of you following along at home, here’s the transcript of what she’s reading.

transcript of the Dot book

transcript of the Dot book

Fast forward to this month. She’s now 4 and 2 months. Here she is reading two pages from Did Dinosaurs Have Feathers? Again, the transcripts of the pages appear below:

First page on the audio recording

First page on the audio recording

Second page on the audio recording

Second page on the audio recording

Keep in mind that these two audio clips are separated by 8 months. In 8 months she went from reading a kindergarten decodable text to this.

Now, granted, this particular book is of high interest to her. However, it is leveled as a 4.8 grade level, meaning that it can be read by an “average” fourth grader who has completed 8/10 of the grade (so, late spring of fourth grade). She’s four. Not fourth grade. Do I think she’s completely fluent with this book? I do not. Do I think she’s demonstrating some solid third-grade skills? Absolutely.

Another recent addition to the list. She was reading a book out loud that had a “quotation, she inquired.” L read it aloud as “quotation, she asked.” I was prepared to do a quick recheck on the word to try it again. L told me, “I didn’t know how to say that word but I think it means the same thing as asked so I just said asked.” Um, yeah. That’s a pretty good strategy, actually.

So, the point of this post (and there is one, I promise!) is to demonstrate a little bit of what I mean when I say that this kid simply “gets” new material. It feels to me like I rarely “teach” her anything. Instead, I find appropriate materials that are challenging and interesting and facilitate her way through exploring with them. The concepts and skills seem innate. I know they can’t be (can they?!?!) but it really does feel that way.

One of my concerns about sending her to school is exemplified by this post, I think. How on earth do we find a place that can keep her engaged? How do we find a place where she won’t be required to sit through the multiple iterations that most children require to grasp a concept?

She’s not better than them. She’s different than them. And just like I don’t think it’s fair to put a kiddo in a learning environment where the material is moving too quickly for them, I also don’t think it’s fair to put a kiddo in a learning environment where the material is moving too slow. I can’t find a place that seems to balance the needs of the group with the needs of my kiddo. So for now at least, we homeschool.

And hey, thanks for sticking with this rambling post! As a reward, here’s one of L’s favorite knock-knock jokes:

L: knock, knock!

Anyone: Who’s there

L: Interrupting dinosaur

Anyone: Interr—

L: ROAAAAAR!!!! (delight and glee abound)

“So, what grade is she in?”

The levels of irony present in this post are really something!

I remember reading the Ramona books as a little girl and really connecting with:

Ramona had reached the age of demanding accuracy from everyone, even herself. All summer, whenever a grown-up asked what grade she was in, she felt as if she were fibbing when she answered, “third,” because she bad not actually started the third grade. Still, she could not say she was in the second grade since she had finished that grade last June. Grown-ups did not understand that summers were free from grades.

I remember feeling this way! What WAS the proper way to answer? Should one answer, “I just finished second”? Or “I will be entering third”? One of the schools I taught at used the phrase “rising” to describe the group moving from second to third – so, “I am a rising third grader.” These seem lovely, but I continue to learn about how regimented my thinking was as I try to address these same questions for my little one.

L is not “in” a grade. That’s the short answer, but it also sounds pretty grumpy (at least to my ears). People are just trying to categorize her in some way and they don’t know that this question represents more!

Let’s see. There are a variety of answers to this question, none of which actually answer them.

  1. She’s four, so she’s not in any grade. Technically she would be in pre-K/preschool. However, we’re not sending her to school, so… she’s not.
  2. She’s reading Magic Tree House books with fluency and comprehension. Grade level equivalent? 2.2. Now, her fluency and comprehension isn’t perfect, but I do think it’s at least between the 90-94% fluency level Fontas and Pinnell would use to put her at the instructional level. So, in reading, she’s doing second grade work?
  3. She has the fine motor skills of a four-year-old. So, even though she can spell and express complex ideas orally, her “writing” is at a pre-K level.
  4. Mathematically, she flies through the kindergarten level (Common Core aligned) levels of various apps (DreamBox, IXL, TodoMath) and is working at a mid-first-grade level.
  5. Scientifically, she’s working on understanding the concept of dark matter. Seriously. She understands dinosaurs and the Mesozoic Era as a whole at a level far deeper than I do. While she needs help making analogies between abstract concepts and more concrete examples, she understands and questions at quite a high level.

What grade is she in? She’s in pre-K through college-level physics. And she seems pretty darn happy about it. And that makes me happy, too.

Happy little reader

Happy little reader! Reference books are so, so fun. #ForReal