literacy or bust

June 18th, 2010


I’ve written before about the struggles with raising a little boy and having high academic standards. The greatest struggle is that early academic excellence is measured in literacy and handwriting, while little boys would be the star students were it instead science and math. My own pupil listens with rapt attention to technical explanations of explosions and spends hours at his experiments mixing common ingredients from the backyard hoping at worst to happen upon a yet undiscovered geyser producing concoction, at best an explosion. My little mathematician steals our devices to sit in a corner of the house quietly laboring at math problem after math problem. And this very same child will sit for hours, even from the age of 10 months, building and engineering should you place him in front of a pile of blocks (now Legos). Not to mention he’s an accomplished electrical engineer having built his age in robots. But, alas, we struggle with handwriting and literacy. So literacy is the area where we focus the last hours and beginnings of each day.

In the last couple of months of school, Will became a reader *and* a writer! As though the floodgates of literacy opened wide. On the long journey to this point, flashcards were helpful. Will seemed to find cards with single words much more approachable than simple books with 3 word sentences. He later progressed to creating sentences with the flashcards that I at first made him read, but later learned to simply let him concoct. Knowing that the standard 100 sight words were limited in their practicality, I’d enhanced the deck by including words commonly encountered in our house like ninja, sushi and chipmunk. I could have guessed, but was slow to realize that it would be most motivating to learn to read and write the classics like poop and fart. Duh. Anyway, despite the low-pressure and solid basics (thanks to a phonetically centric alphabet introduction in preschool) Will has only really come to find reading and writing exciting in the past couple of months since his teacher sent home the final homework packet of the year – 35 worksheets, one for each of the site words exiting Kindergartners are supposed to have mastered. Most of these are words he’d already had in the bag, and the worksheets are generally terribly unmotivating. Public school at its most mediocre. The kid was supposed to trace the word, write the word, write the word in the appropriate blank in a sentence, cut the word out and paste it in its appropriate space on the page and then write his own sentence using that word. Technically I believe the kid is supposed to copy the industrially sterilized and benign sentence on the worksheet in the space provided at the bottom, but what fun is that? I ache with boredom just thinking about it. The change in enthusiasm when I told Will he could write whatever he wanted as long as it used the specified word was incredible. This tiny modification changed the spirit of the entire assignment. And most importantly, my child, Will, who sighs heavily when you ask him to write anything, excitedly raced through page after page of homework, actually figuring out how to spell the silly sentences he’d concocted. Yeah, this kid who’d previously feigned illiteracy was WRITING! Not just gimmees like a and I or even cat. This kid was writing “An elephant is fat. … I like hot cocoa but I am thirsty. … I am in my house. … I pooped today. … I like playing with Matthew. …” Most interesting and obvious to me was his amusement with and ability to just sling out those bodily functions! “You smell like fart!” He thought of it, laughed about it and then quickly jotted it onto his paper. No battle over how hard it was to write or how he didn’t know how to spell it. The kid just figured it out!

Okay, so I get that if I were a “good” mom, I wouldn’t be so excited that my son can read and write curse words. But come on, if he can read and write curse words, don’t you get it? The kid can read and write. Who cares that it started, like most good things, with a little potty humor? And you know, worst case he channels this fascination with parts and functions of the nether regions into a profitable and satisfying career as a proctologist. Amen.