Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Reading by 5" vs. "Reading by 9"

Children can’t read what they can’t see. Simpler words have rarely been spoken, but this truism is so often overlooked that it bears mentioning. I remember the stories about my oldest brother, how they thought he was “slow” up until 2nd grade when they finally discovered that he was legally blind. How frustrating that must be for a child to not know that everyone can see what you can’t.

I never realized what that meant (and not just because I made the previous sentence as convoluted as I thought I could get away with!). For years David Bear and I would go out on our balcony and I would remark how lovely the mountains looked and David Bear would agree with me. The morning after his “miraculous” sight recovery, we were standing on the balcony and he was quite quiet. After a long moment, he quietly said:

“So that is what a mountain looks like.”

Wow. Years later I am still moved to tears remembering that morning.

Children can’t read what they can’t see. We wanted David to know how to read, but let’s face it – I’m far too lazy and self-centered to learn Braille. When David was born, we lived just a few blocks from the local Blind Institute in Anaheim, so it would have been logistically quite simple for me to take him around the corner to learn Braille. However, being the selfish person that I am, all I could think about was the dozens (closer to a hundred) books that his father and I had from our childhood that we wanted to share with him, and buying them all in Braille just didn’t seem like an option at the time. So we had to find another way.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.

(excerpted from “The Man Who Thinks He Can””Walter D. Wintle
We found our way in the Institute for Achievement of Human Potential program. I just can’t say enough good things about them because we got such great results from them. When we first started the program, we created flash cards which were 12-inch squares, each card with one word written in bold 4-inch red thick letters. We did our best to make sure he could see the words, because ... children can’t read what they can’t see, so .

We started with five words per day, and we would hold the card and say the word five times per day, always changing the order of the words. As he began to recognize words, we would introduce new words or groups of words, such as “TRUCK” and “RED” would become “RED TRUCK”.

He really liked trucks back then. As he started moving away from words to phrases, we changed the shapes of the card so they were now 6-inches high by 18-inches wide. Materials can be purchased at any art or office supply store, and we turned the card creation process into his art time, killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

We mainly purchased books with super-large print. THERE IS NO EXCUSE TO WRITE A CHILD’S BOOK WITH SMALL PRINT. None whatsoever. We thought we were doing a great job until someone challenged us to do more. David did not speak until after he was two (another story for another day), and a friend’s mother commented that we did not read to him enough. I was thoroughly insulted. At first I thought she was making a racist remark (because her husband was a jerk) but after I allowed my own negative thoughts to give way to her message, I understood that she was not insulting me, but rather challenging us. In her view, we needed to read David no less than five (5) books per day to encourage him to speak. At the time we were reading him two (2)-to-three (3) books per day, which is well over the “minimum” standard of one book per day, or so we thought.

I have no idea why this worked, but he was talking in less than a month. Moreover, he was reading by 5. The best part – we had an excuse to hold our son a few extra times per day. Does it get any better than that?

Children can’t read what they can’t see, and children can learn whatever they are taught in a loving pleasing manner. If you think your child can, and then show them how, they will learn. Be patient with your child and yourself, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

*Note: At a friend's suggestion, we are considering sending him to the School for the Blind so he can become more independent. Considering, but not quite sold on the idea.

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