Thursday, October 21, 2010

He is reading to me

This is one of my favorite pictures of my son. He is just a few months past three here. But he is doing his favorite thing in the world, reading to one of his friends. 

No, he isn't actually reading. Mostly he would choose a book and then sit down with his buddy du jour and babble about the pictures, or the colors or point out letters. He has the lecture demeanor of a Ivy League professor when he is on a roll, and none of his stuffed friends have escaped his monologues. These days he lectures on plate tectonics or volcanoes on Mars but in those days he was just happy to point out an A. Throughout his preschool years, books remained his favorite toys. Always he would choose a book over even the most sensational light up, noise making toy.  

Then, just before his fifth birthday, he started kindergarten. The child who begged me to teach him to write at the age of three, stopped writing. His art which often included waterfalls, spaceships and forests of trees with bright fully developed color schemes, suddenly were again stick figures and scribbles in monochromatic colors. Sketch books, which had been a common request were no longer asked for, no longer noticed when we were out shopping. His books, lovingly chosen, began to gather dust. Every page of school work, even things he had been doing for years, became a fight to get finished. I have chronicled in other posts the issues we had with his education and his hellish kindergarten year, so I won't go into that here. 

There is very little more frustrating for a parent than knowing your child is fully capable, has all the necessary skills and just won't do it. What is worse is not knowing if the reason he won't is because he is just lazy or because he honestly thinks he can't do it. I chose to believe the latter and pushed through the battles of the last school year on that belief. Luckily his teachers agreed with me. Nothing in all their interactions with him said laziness to them. He did not come off as an apathetic child, but rather a child with an enthusiasm for learning that was completely contrary with his lack of willingness to try. I have often caught him reading. Labels on food cans at the grocery store, or street signs or the synopsis of a television program. Still if you were to ask him to read the word he just said he would insist that he was not able to. It's enough to drive a parent to baldness.

Through his online school he has been able to put the focus on his school work and take the spotlight off his behavior issues, quirks and tics. He made all A's last year. I'll tell you though, I never looked forward to summer more. Every lesson was a struggle for us. That was the rub. If he struggled and only pulled in C's I would have been happy. I always had classes I busted my butt for and couldn't pull the grades. But he always came out shining in the end. The skill was there. It was getting him to act on that skill that was the struggle.

Slowly he has begun to come back to us. The art came first. Bolstered by actual art lessons and projects for school, he has regained the confidence to experiment and relearned the enjoyment of putting a pencil or a crayon to paper and seeing what will come out of it. He even writes for fun now. Not very well. Often it's phonetic, barely legible and well below grade level but he WRITES. Recently he has even combined those actions as he has developed a love of making comic books. I have dozens of science journals chronicling the moons phases or text books about rocks or schematics for new and improved iron man suits in his art cabinet.  Lately sketch books have been on the weekly grocery request list. He really does fill them up that fast. His art is once again full figured people and animals with texture and detailed vehicles and buildings.

Then, out of the blue, he read to me. He picked up a book he hasn't touched voluntarily in more time than I care to admit and he read the book to me cover to cover. Sure, it was Hop on Pop. Again, well below grade level and far below what he actually is capable of, but... He didn't whine or fidget. He was surprised when the last page of the book turned. I held my celebration in check, because I still didn't know what the school day would bring. Would he read his assignment to me? Would give me the usual grief about vocabulary and writing as he did for hours every single day.
The truth is, he didn't. He was actually through almost the entire school day, achieved in record time, before he started to fuss about hating to write and not knowing how to read his text book. A major victory, I thought. That is, until later that evening when he brought out another book and crawled into my lap and read to me. Cover to cover. Something that even the promise of owning his very own video camera hasn't been able to induce in recent months.

 I pulled him out of the public school system that it not only failed to teach him forward but was responsible for his regress. I didn't think I could do better than a trained teacher so I chose a program for him that incorporated teachers I could fall back on. I wish I could take full credit for his success, after all I am the one who trudges through the assignments with him each day. The one who bears the brunt of his daily meltdowns over the simplest tasks, but I did what any parent should. I explained to his teacher what I observed about his study habits. She made it clear to him that she would grade him hard and expected much from him. She found him a class, once a week to tutor him in reading and writing skills.  Then she found him a website where he could read full sized books, with tools for listening to the words and quizzes at the end. Much like, which I love for reading help, but longer more scholastic type books with a wider subject base. His school also uses something they call study island to teach and test basic skills either in a test format or in game format. 

Most of the credit goes to my son. He asked to use the Wii tonight. He had a mostly great day through school and it was well before the nightly cut off time so, I let him. Did he pull out his wii sports or that stupid lightsaber duel thing? Nope. I found him on the internet channel reading from his books website. In fact he read not one, but seven books. Then just for kicks he pulled out his journal and started writing the stories down in there. There is no substitute for just doing it. Whether he finally heard me when I pointed out it gets easier with practice or the curiosity factor finally just got the better of him, I don't care. He IS doing it.

This is my kid we are talking about here. I know that tomorrow morning when he has to record the reading passage to be graded by his teacher, that he will be in tears long before we get it finished. I know he will insist that he doesn't know the words and can't make out the sounds. I have no doubt that we will continue to struggle with this long into the school year and maybe beyond. But I can't help but be proud of him right now. My baby is back. The child who loved learning for the sake of learning. The one who made me teach him how make the alphabet because he wanted to write letters to his granny. I am certain that the stuffed animals he set in rows on the floor in front of television, (so they could see the pictures) enjoy being read to as much as I do.  What a time to have a camera with dead batteries. What a picture that would have made.

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