Monday, July 26, 2010

Letter Love, Love Letters

If your oldest child isn't quite at the developmental stage where he/she is taking an interest in literacy, brace is a joy akin to watching your child taking a first step or saying a first word!

I've always been one of those Maria Von Trapp type-teachers...the one that kids love, and talk about adoringly to their parents (or so I'm told!)  My classroom is a fun place to be...I haven't forgotten what it is like to be a child, or the qualities that I adored in my own teachers. Being gentle but firm, consistent but flexible, and humourous but professional are skills that have taken years to hone. I haven't perfected them yet! But I still have lots of years ahead of me to work towards that!

I also happen to be an incurable bibliophile. I have books set strategically throughout the house, so that at any given moment of peace I can pick one up and read. This includes stacks of children's books: in the bathroom (to be read aloud while the kids splash in the tub!), on their nightstand, on OUR nightstand, on the woodstove, in the summer kitchen, potting shed, and living room. We read a lot of books in a day.

SO, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that my first child
a) had no interest in stories as a baby/toddler
b) wasn't saying a word when he was 2, and
c) was not into board games and activities aimed at introducing the letters of the alphabet

When he was first diagnosed as having a speech delay, I was filled with anxiety, worry, fear for the future, and guilt (did we do something wrong??) After a few months of this, I realised that all of these negative emotions were NOT going to change anything, and that all we could do was focus on what we could accomplish each day. Wondering if he'd struggle socially/academically when he started school was pointless, as it was a long way off. We just worked diligently at all the suggestions of his wonderful speech pathologist, and watched with joy as he began to progress. It's been a long road, and from this journey has sprung my parenting mantra: Faith and Patience. Jude still struggles with receptive language, and we continue to practise various aspects of speech to help him communicate more clearly.

One of our favourite stories is Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. It is the story of a little tiger who cannot do the things his peers can (eating neatly, talking, writing, drawing, etc.) His father frets and frets, but his mother says "A watched bloomer never blooms!" Sure enough, Leo does bloom in his own good time. It is heart-warming, and particularly poignant for parents who have a child who isn't quite like his/her peers.

They say that boys aren't often ready for "literacy" as early as girls are, and I would say that this certainly seems to be the case in my kindergarten classroom. I work hard at not being the teacher-parent (having grown up in a house where my dad was a teacher...); I try to turn it off and just be mommy when I'm home. I do catch myself chirping, "Let's practise your letters!"...the Mary Poppins voice doesn't seem to have the desired effect, and my active little man usually disappears before I can pin him down.

So you can imagine my delight to find him doing this:

In his own good time, my little late bloomer has bloomed. He is always asking for his pencil to be sharpened, and finds a little corner in which to create maps, lists, magic spells and signs that read: " iNoANieNGN" (No Bear Hunting Allowed). This is a beautiful developmental stage in early literacy: invented spelling. You may get the well-intentioned urge to help your child "sound out" the words, or at least create some semblance of sense.

Resist that urge! This experimentation is wonderful because it means your child now understands that the printed word has POWER and MEANING! We find signs stuck to garbage cans, walls, doors, and mirrors, and Jude tells us what each one says. He makes lists of things to bring on our camping trip, to buy at the grocery store, and of items in his toolbox. He gets it! Words are useful!

Another way to support your young child's developing literacy is to help them create a story. These may make no sense at all, or have no ending, or no consistent characters or plot. That's okay! You have the power to record their ramblings, and to capture this stage of their development, by scribing their exact words.

Here is a story Jude created for Daddy as a Christmas present (with me acting as a scribe):

Jude copied the title from my example; I encouraged to independently write the letters he knows.
I used fabric and watercolours to enhance his already-adorable illustrations.

Don't you love the octopus?

You've just got to love a satisfying resolution like this!

The highlight of the whole project: proudly presenting his creation to his Dad,
a wonderful, thoughtful, handmade gift.

To create this simple book, I folded two sheets of cardstock in half, and sewed a seam down the fold to hold them together. I have another great book tutorial that I can't share with you, not because I love to leave you in suspense, but because my camera is broken (boohoo!). I'll save that for another day. You can find another lovely book-making idea at Childhood Magic.

Read to your child every day. Let them see you reading, and talk to them about what you read (explain what a road sign says, talk to them about a recipe, discuss the news, etc.). Take them to the library as often as possible, and show excitement (but not so much that they kick you OUT of the library!) about books on many topics. Write down what your child says, and without pressuring them, show enthusiasm for recording their stories. Instead of more plastic toys, encourage your relatives to give books (or bookstore gift certificates) as gifts. Fill your house with books, and read them, and you just might find someday that you have raised a reader!


  1. I loved your post. I also have a son who I thought was a late bloomer as compared to our nieces and friends' children (all girls). We have read to him since he was 2 days old and he always liked to spend time with a book paging through books but he showed no interest in "reading". Then one day we heard him sounding off words. We went to his room and he was sitting on his bed, half way through a Mercer Mayer book! I was amazed that he actually could read but didn't care to show us. He is 6 now and at night, I read him a book and he proudly reads a book to me. As you said, it is one of the greatest joys.

  2. This was so wonderful to read, my son was a late bloomer and he is actually starting to read on his own now. We will just keep moving forward:) I love the book, it is beautiful!

  3. I love your late bloomer, and I love the book he made with your help. The drawings are absolutely priceless. Please, can he make one for me for Christmas? :)
    Wonderful post and so true. Our eldest was the natural reader, and the second never seemed as interested in reading on her own. I still read stories to her and showed excitement over her writing, and over trips to the library or bookstore. Suddenly, she is interested in Chapter Books, and reads to herself before she goes to sleep. She doesn't want me to turn the light out "til I finish this chapter!". Music to my ears.

  4. I once entered house where there were no books and it felt very wrong. Not one. Not even a magazine! My kids are both little bookworms and I am glad for it. My girl is learning to put sounds together. Watching her sound out each letter and the lighting up when she fits them together as a word gives me the warm fuzzies. Love the make a book idea too!

  5. Ah, this makes me think of my late blooming Eldest Son. While he could actually read fluently from a young age, he had no interest in reading for pleasure. This distressed us, his book loving parents. However, it simply represented a challenge to his eldest sister. Eldest, a devout bibliophile, would regularly select used books that she thought would interest him. A couple of years into this strategy, it worked! At age 10, he was lured into a hockey novel and he has now been converted to Bibliophilia. So, as you said, keep your house well-stocked with books, especially ones that cater to the interests of your child(ren).

    Fabulous post, Stephanie!

  6. What a beautiful gift. Love the illustrations. A friend was just telling me how much her son loves Leo the Late Bloomer as well, I had never heard of it before but you've just reminded me I wanted to get it from the library and have a look. It sounds lovely.

  7. love the drawings. i also have books scattered thruout the house with markers, where one can pick it up and read a few lines of thoreau, virgnina woolf, hemingway, nat geo, whatever whereever. xxx

  8. Wonderful post. My brother was a late bloomer, so I relate to this post for him. Feeling the pressure from others was hard for him growing up. He is 30 years old now and is incredibly bright, warm, interested and owns his own business/company which does very well. All children are different and it should be embraced rather than rejected.
    I love your son's book! So beautiful!!!!

  9. I love your post!!! I have run a daycare for 16 years as well as been a happy mom of two! I have seen so many different ages and stages in these little kiddos lives. It is great fun! I am always looking for ways to help them over obstacles. Hearing your speech delay story brings to mind a couple of them. We have been working with speechtails every week and I have seen great great improvement. I wish I would have known about this earlier in my career. My youngest son struggled with social speech and I didn't get help until Kindergarten. Like you ssid, reading is the magic key!!!!!! I don't know what we would do without books. Sounds like you are a great mom!

  10. PS - Speechtails is a web site. Great tool!

  11. Like you, I have books all over my house so I can pick one up and read when i have a free moment. My young boys love it when I read to them to, we read many books in a day. My eldest son only started talking after 2 and now he never stops! He's now seven and half and he's showing me certain letters in books. I can see he's trying to make out what the words say. I've never put pressure on learning. It's all been imitation so far! I see how they learn so much on their own. It's amazing if one just lets children unfold when they are ready, especially boys. I'm reading the Wise Enchanter by Shelley Davidow, a journey through the alphabet. My son doesn't want me to put the book down. Have you read it? Great book.


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