Friday, February 15, 2013


I wrote the below post at the end of 2012. Now seems an appropriate time to document and share it...

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On December 27, Wesley independently spelled his first word. Without my assistance in sounding the word out, he collected the letters for LOG and delivered them with his truck.

On December 29, Wesley read his first word PEG by sounding it out phonetically. It is so exciting to see the next phase of reading click into place. 

I hear him walking around the house, talking to himself now, sounding out words in the same way he used to walk around emphasizing first sounds of words when he was learning that. It's pretty adorable.

Of course, I played it really cool. We play spelling letters a lot. As in, there are constantly trucks delivering letters to various creatures in my house.

Until last Friday, though, Wes would never want to try and sound out a word, or wouldn't let me put together a word without his having chosen the word, moved each letter meticulously with his trucks, and placed them at the delivery spot. He has a specific way he likes things done. Though he doesn't want to play on his own, he often doesn't want anyone else to move the letters or delivery trucks. We often are just support trucks who tag along or carry letters if his truck is too full. 

It frequently takes 40 minutes to deliver one word. The words are generally of his choosing, and often not "beginner" or phonetically simple words. I know they say you "shouldn't" correct spelling early on, but when he's asking how to spell it...cement isn't sement (it's just a word with /C/ pretending to act like a /S/). At least that's how we're doing it now in this context.

After hours of playing one day, I took one of his guys (Dark) and grabbed a few letters without Wes noticing. Then Dark flagged down the big flatbed who was delivering letters, and asked for help figuring out what word was in front of him. I wasn't sure if Wes would reject the invitation to play or think it sounded interesting. Kevin (the playmobile driver), hopped down the ladder and sounded out "PEG". Thank you, Kevin, for your assistance. Then we went on to deliver the other letters per usual.

Deliver letters in an awesome bucket truck rigged by Daddy
Since then, the resistance has broken and we mix spelling words we know with other trucks delivering extra words. He's read MUD, RAN, LEG, and maybe a couple others. Good fun.

I am very cautious in the early stages of any new skill. We play and I try to let Wesley lead, to express his knowledge when and how he wants to, and to keep it private for a long time if he wants.

I have respected his truck method and would check and see if he wanted to read words occasionally. For the past months, I've played and occasionally seen if he wanted to play different games with the letters. We have played many different ones, though first and last sound truck delivery, and word spelling have been the primary activities for awhile.

Having his little guys do the reading clearly took any pressure off of Wes and made it more fun. Also, some barrier with blending sounds was clearly broken last week when we were sounding and spelling out soooo many words.I try not to test him very frequently, and then mostly so I can grasp what's most relevant and fun for him.

I feel myself hesitating over publishing this post. and I may not right now. Because if I do, I know, it will be hard for others not to ask after the skill, not to want to see it for themselves, or have him talk about it. The same was true when he learned his colors or his letter sounds. I like to protect his privacy of knowledge, especially in the infancy of any new concept. I have to watch myself, too, because I often want to share it with others, because it is exciting.

I told Casey that Wesley read a word, but asked him not to mention it yet, not to make a big deal. I don't want Wes to learn for others or for approval, but rather, to continue exploring knowledge as he does, for the intrinsic gratification of learning.

We have a tendency to test children. We all grew up in a culture of testing. So, we do it. Also, it is insatiably cute and one does get a feeling of awe in hearing a little kid say, in that sweet little kid voice, what he or she knows. But I can see Wes cringe or just respond with silence in the face of such testing, whether from myself or others.

Similar cringing looks and silences appear under the pressure of praise. "Oh I'm so proud of you!" "Oh I'm so impressed" "Wow aren't you smart, look what you can do". I am trying to wean myself from  such knee-jerk "good job" reactions, but it is easy for me to resist in a context like this--when a skill feels so tender, fresh, and delicate. It is in moments like these that we see the momentum of inwardly motivated learning.

I try to create a safe space for playing and learning and growing in its own fun form. Knowledge demonstrates itself. Our method of demonstration usually involves trucks and letters, but it's purpose is for fun and practice and expansion of knowledge, rather than for the demonstration.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, Those boys are lucky to have a natural teacher as a mom. Your sensitivity to him/them (because we all learn differently) will form how he/they feel about themselves. As long as learning stays play, it is okay. Working for someone else's approval or praise is never play. I don't think it hurts to praise, but if it is the main currency of motivation, then it undermines intention and one's ability to move in the world.

    So I will watch my praise, but not until I say, "Good Job, Mom!"