The Literacy of Children

I am not a parent. I am not a guardian of anyone. It is not my job to care for any young, growing people.

However, I honestly believe that literacy is the single most important thing in my life.

It’s hard for me, when I know that I don’t have to time to commit to help, I am someone who will soon enough, be forgotten.

I’m sitting at a table, and I’m helping a child read a book, and I can see the habits of guess-and-check: “I don’t know this word, but I can see the pictures, so I’ll guess.” “Maybe that word is this”, and I ask “what sound does that letter make?” and I don’t get answers. I say “sound it out” and I get silence. I hear a sibling say “They only can spell it because they already know it.”

I’m not here for long, so maybe it’s just being nervous around someone new. Maybe it’s just being shy.

I really, really hope so.


5 thoughts on “The Literacy of Children

  1. You were sitting with a child trying to help them read. You are a saint. I could stop there but… It sounds like you are afraid this kid will never learn to read… I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Some people know how to read and hate books. I have a friend who didn’t really read until they were in their 20’s because they couldn’t read well. Got them hooked on some RPG video games and the reading started sticking. Now they love novels πŸ™‚

    How old is this child? Also, I can’t spell anything in Chinese. Or sound anything out. Or say anything except a couple phrases. So what? I could learn. “Nǐ hǎo!” (thanks Google!)

    If it helps, think of it like learning a new song. You can’t just grab a random person off the street and say “It’s A, G, F#, C”. You have to see if they know what chords and notes are. If not, you have to show them first.

    An A chord is made by putting your fingers on these strings on these frets in this order. Each string on each fret is a different note. Together they make up this chord.

    The word snake is made by putting your tongue and lips in these positions in this order. Each puff of breath on each position is a different letter. Together they make up this word.

    See? No different. So they can’t read yet. So what? Help them with sounds first. Some simple words. “Cat”. The C goes “Ca”. The a goes “AH”. The t goes “tuh”. “CAT”. Now, see “Bat”? You already know what a and t are. How about the B? B’s go “Buh”. Can you sound out the rest?

    I wish every parent were so devoted to reading as you are πŸ™‚ You say you don’t have time to commit, but there you were. Anytime spent helps, even if it’s only a few minutes.


    • Yeah, it’s the building blocks. Know what each letter does and put them together. It is literally a new language.

      I guess, mostly it’s just that…there’s a lot of shame associated with not knowing stuff in our culture; especially things that we’re “meant” to know. reading becomes second-nature to many who learn it early. We see letters and we automatically put them together. It becomes “easy” because it’s something that we don’t necessarily *tell* ourselves to do. It’s like breathing. You see letters, you read the word.

      When you skip that step of knowing, people are quick to imply that it is some kind of personal failing. Things are said like “It’s easy” and “You’re stupid”.

      I think that those things can be incredibly difficult to overcome when learning, especially when the student is older than when “most” other students learned to read.

      There is a difference, I think, between teaching children to read and teaching adults to read, because most adults wish to learn. It is something they see as a beneficial skill, and they are actively pursuing it. A child is learning to read, because they are being told to (most likely). An adult learning to read has already dealt with the shame dealt by society. A child is most likely still learning how to deal with such things.

      It’s hard to admit you must start from the beginning when your peers and society at large tells you that you should be farther than that. Reading is one of the things that doesn’t often respond well to taking shortcuts.

      You do make me feel better though. Thanks for the encouragement. πŸ™‚


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