A couple days ago, Donald and I stood in the dining room watching Charlotte race around the room and asking ourselves when the right time is to teach her to read. We both have always assumed that we would allow her to take the lead – but we thought she would be six- or seven- or eight-years-old when she started to give a damn about letters and sounds.
Instead she’s two and by sheer virtue of existing, our daughter has picked up the ability to identify the shape and phonetics of nearly every letter of the alphabet. I’ve always pointed out C to her because COME ON, HER NAME IS CHARLOTTE. But that’s it. She doesn’t even know the entire alphabet song simply because I haven’t felt it important enough to sing to her. She just…figured things out.
Yesterday, for example, when I was reading a story to her, Charlotte pointed at a word and said “THIS IS, THIS IS SHEEP!”
We have a lot of books about sheep, and quite frankly I felt a little skeptical that she could identify a full word when she can’t even wipe her own ass, so I picked up another book about sheep and asked her if she recognized any words. She didn’t understand what a word was, but she pointed to the word ‘sheep’ and said “I SEE, I SEE THE LETTER SHEEP!”
So there we have it. My kid has heard us read about sheep so many times that she has memorized the shape of the word “sheep” and she understands that the shape of those letters refers to something wooly that bleats. She isn’t reading the word, she’s just recognizing it’s shape.
Suddenly looking at her, she looked so much older than she is and I’m not certain that she or I are really ready for this. Once the written word is unlocked for her, there is no going back. She is only small and innocent and prone to unbridled creative play for a short while in her life…and I worry that learning to read at such a young age will make that while even shorter. (As I wrote that sentence, I was struck by a profound desire to tell me and my first-world problems to suck it, because really? I’m worried about how reading might influence her creative play? SOME KIDS DON’T EVEN HAVE FOOD! So obviously I feel a little conflicted about that concern.) It’s just…she’s two. I want her to enjoy this time playing while she can.
Then Charlotte dropped to all fours and crawled around pretending “I am a sheep, Momma! You are the momma sheep and I am the baby sheep! I am such a cute little baby sheep. Do you give me your milk?”
I knew in that moment that if we just listen to the cues of this precious, wonderful child then whatever age she is when the world of books is opened to her…it will be the right time.
*** In other education-related news, you should check this constellation kit out and tell me if you think it’s as cool as I think it is…or if I’m just a giant nerd, which is also entirely possible.
** Charlotte is two years and seven months old.