In the last post about The Power of Story by my mom, Joan Wink, I shared that I’d originally intended to try and convey the whole of the book in a single post. What was I thinking?! The more I read, the more ideas about what to write about I scribbled in my journal. One of the stories that leapt out was of Wyatt’s (my son and Mom’s grandson) path to reading.
This journey taught Mom and me that there is no single path to literacy. This has enriched our understandings about literacy, kids, and schooling ever since.
To provide some context to the story, I read to the kids aloud for hours a day since birth. We read aloud at least 2-3 hours a day reading for years and years. (Sometimes we read more—the kids were quiet, we were cuddled-up sitting down, and I was so tired!) These times are some of my very-favorite life moments.
According to literacy research, Wyatt should have started reading spontaneously sometime before Kindergarten. He did not. Throughout Kindergarten, then First grade, and then into Second, we continued to read aloud, and Wyatt continued to not learn to read. Mom and I spent hours talking about what might be happening. None of this made sense. What I did know, and this was not from any literacy research that I’d read, was that whatever was happening was part of Wyatt’s path. It was sheer mother’s intuition and had nothing to do with being in education. Thankfully, I trusted this, as you will discover.
Mom includes Wyatt and my journey in The Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited, 2018, p. 24-37).
Hell has officially frozen over. This is what I muttered to myself as I stood in line about to purchase my first pack of Pokémon cards for Wyatt. Pokémon intuitively appalls me. Wyatt’s peers have been collecting the cards for years, but I refused to by any for Wyatt.
“Mom, you and all the girls’ moms are the only ones who don’t allow Pokémon,” Wyatt told me earlier one day. I remained unmoved.
“Then one day, one of Wyatt’s friends came over to play. He brought his binder full of Pokémon cards to show Wyatt. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, no. How quickly can I get them away from those cards and onto the trampoline?” Except that Wyatt spent the next two hours reading those cards. He and his friend sat on the living room floor going over every letter and word in detail. As I dried dishes in the next room, I became aware of Wyatt’s efforts to read all of those cards. Wyatt usually shies away from any attempt at individual reading. Now he sat poring over letters and words, trying to make meaning.
“He’s reading!” I thought to myself. The next day I purchased Pokémon cards.
“I continued to read with Wyatt and his brother and sister. Our stories grew more and more complex, and Wyatt used extremely complex oral language.
He loved the complex action stories, with hints of the super natural; for example, I have read aloud the J. R. R. Tolkien series and Redwall series, the entire Harry Potter series (four times!), umpteen Norse, Celtic, and Southwestern myths and legends to all three kids, but still Wyatt’s teachers told me they would have to intervene to help him begin to read. I agonized and reflected: Could it be that these stories were too intimidating for Wyatt to try to read by himself? Were the books simply too big, the print too dense, the visual clues too infrequent?”
At this point, Mom suggested that perhaps the Captain Underpants series might be more approachable to him. I was aghast. We read Tolkien, Jacques, and C.S. Lewis. We did not read some weird little dude running around in his tidy whiteys! But, I was desperate and Mom sent Wyatt a box of Captain Underpants books and forbade me from interfering. Wyatt descended gleefully into the graphic novels whose primary focus are the sounds of bodily functions.
“BENCHMARK #3: PULLING WYATT OUT OF A SCRIPTED READING PROGRAM
‘Mom, I’m so stupid. I’m just so stupid. I don’t understand any of this stuff.’ Wyatt threw his head down on his folded arms at the kitchen table and cried.
‘What are you working on there, Wyatt?’ I asked. I sat down beside him to look at the worksheets of homework spread out i front of him. Black and white dittos filled with line after line of words broken down into incomprehensible parts. Slashes, dots, and hyphens turned words into a trail of shrapnel. “Wyatt, I don’t understand how to do any of this either, honey. Not a thing. You’re NOT stupid. This reading homework is stupid.’
The next day I pulled Wyatt out of school to homeschool him for the remainder of the year.”
Wyatt was mid-way through 2nd grade. I had no idea what I was going to do. None. This was not an academic decision, this was a mom’s decision following her intuition. Mostly, I read aloud to him. We certainly did nothing academic. I knew anything even remotely like a reading program would be the kiss of death forever for his love of books and stories. So, whatever Wyatt wanted me to read, I read aloud, us cuddled-up together.
Two days ago, I walked through Wyatt’s room and discovered him lying on his bed reading aloud to himself. On my way through, I realized that he was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I feigned casual nonchalance and kept walking until I was out of his room and on the other side of the door…when I immediately and silently started jumping up and down pumping “Yes! Yes! Yes!” into the air with my fist. Remember, this was the kid who couldn’t read two months ago.
As I walked up the stairs, different scenes from the past flashed through my mind—of the countless times I’d encouraged Wyatt to read, to be met with stony silent tears; of the previous couple of years of complete and total refusal to try to read; of my awareness during that time that if I asked him to read, the entire mood of our time would change, would go from one of togetherness, happiness, and enthusiasm, to one of sadness; of the inevitable feelings of failure on both of our parts. And tears, always there were agonized tears involved, whenever Wyatt was asked to read.
Those memories floated back to me again that night when Wyatt and I cuddled in bed together; he was reading aloud to me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Oh, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll just read this. You don’t have to read anything tonight. Here we go.” He read to me, page after page, complete with inflection and enthusiasm. He drank in the storyline, adventure, humor, and mystery.
I discovered that Wyatt is definitely a sight word reader. He is like his mommy, sounding words out, and phonics only serve to confuse us both. Wyatt sees a word the first time, learns it, and from then on knows that word. I’ve learned when he’s reading aloud and stumbles on a word, if I just say it aloud immediately, he’ll look at the word, read it, and move on. the next time we encounter that word, it will flow fluently from his lips. If I encourage him to sound it out, disaster follows; he gets very frustrated; the soft, warm, fun mood of our reading disappears; and he doesn’t commit that word to memory for the next time it’s read.
What do I attribute his newfound literacy to?…Well, obviously, the hours and hours and hours spent reading aloud, everything from children’s books to adult fiction, greatly influences the rapidity with which he now gains reading fluency. Some of this event, I do believe, it also just part of his inherent nature Wyatt never crawled. He sat for nine months, then one day stood up and started running, almost identical to his literacy journey.
Ultimately, though, it took me being ready to throw my beliefs about what we should be reading out the window, and being open to books that captured Wyatt’s fancy that he would read independently…namely…Tra la la!…that weird little fellow in his BVDs, Captain Underpants. Wyatt was so busy giggling at the delightfully disgusting adventures of these characters, with the words actually readable to him in small sections, that he completely forgot that he couldn’t read—in fact, he hated to read. Instead, he remained captured and engaged, reading about one deliriously appalling thing after another, giggling and exclaiming “Eeeeeeewwwwwww” happily throughout.
Now, he’s reading about Harry Potter flying about on his broom high above the Quidditch field, in search of the golden snitch. And along with Harry, Wyatt, too has learned to fly.”
Many years have passed since this journey. The power of story lives in Wyatt. He continues to be a voracious reader. Wyatt is a college student at Adams State University, with a major in Wildlife Biology and minors in Programming and Computer Science and Adventure Leadership. Wyatt loves rock climbing and just qualified for the National Competition.
Wyatt embodies all of the qualifies of the heroes he loves to read about. Wyatt teaches his grammie and mom, who adore him, a lot about literacy—and life.
Today is Wyatt’s 22nd birthday.