“Hey, what homework do you have tonight, Son Son?” I asked Tiny Tot as we climbed into the car after a long day of preschool.
“I have words, Mommy. I’ll show you.” He grabbed his backpack, pulled out his bright orange Homework folder, and found what he was looking for–a small paper packet. “See, Mommy? I’ll show you. Bat, cat, hat, mat.”
Certain that the words he was reading had coinciding pictures of a bat, a cat, a hat, and a mat, I held out my hand. “Can Mommy see your packet for a second?”
He dutifully handed it over, beaming from ear to ear. To my surprise, however, there were no pictures. Only words resided on the page in which I viewed. Bat. Cat. Hat. Mat. Each word stood alone. I was floored, and asked him to repeat his list again, after handing back the packet.
Touching line by line, word by word, he read, “Bat. Cat. Hat. Mat.”
“Wow! You are so smart, did you know that?” I gushed. Still, in the back of my mind, I wondered if it was rote memorization of the order, and not the words themselves, that he was remembering.
My child–my beautiful Tiny Tot–to my knowledge, was not yet a reader. How could he be, when he hadn’t yet started Kindergarten?
Back when I was growing up, children entered Kindergarten with rudimentary knowledge of their ABCs and 123s. Even when I was teaching–a hundred, thousand years ago–when I observed a Kindergarten student being evaluated during End Year review, the standardized assessment asked for knowledge of the basics of a book (cover, title, picture, left-to-right knowledge), ABCs, 123s, understanding of the elements of a story, inferencing character emotions, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.
But reading skills? Sight Words? The actual ability to read a word by sight? Those were not expected skills of a six year-old, let alone a child who had not yet entered into grade school.
Once home, I sat down with Tiny, packet in hand. “Okay, let’s go over our words. We’ll start with the front page, and work to the sentence on the back page.”
What I expected of my child varied greatly from reality. My expectations were for my child to struggle, or not be able to sound out and assess what a word might be, or if I changed my order from the teacher’s order in class, the results would change. At first, it seemed that my expectations would be true.
“Bat. Cat. Hat. Mat,” my tiny human chirped, smiling and pointing to each word on the first page of the packet.
“Now start here,” I said, testing my premise. I pointed to the word cat.
“No, Mommy.” Tiny Tot informed me, “We have to start at the top.”
“Well, let’s start with this word here,” I insisted, tapping the word again. “Try this word.”
I needed to know if memorization or knowledge of the sight word existed. By testing his brain skills, and seeing where he was at, I would know what my child knew from his learning in school. From there, I could begin to teach a concept or word blend he hadn’t yet learned, or caught onto, from the group setting.
Tiny threw his own weight around by doing some tapping of his own. He pointed straight to the top word, and tapped out his own response, “Mommy, this is where we start. The teacher says we start here.”
Well, okay. I began to see that either memorization, or teacher insistence was happening. I relented on my need to see what he knew, and allowed the bat, cat, hat, mat order to occur again. Then I flipped the page.
The next page held at least fifteen words including rug, man, can, my, the, pig, cap, and Jan. About ninety percent of the words my tiny human sounded out of his own accord, with minimal help from his mommy. Cap and Jan were the hardest, therefore we worked on those words together, and I was allowed to see how my child was processing information through the sight words. His knowledge was, quite simply, impressing me.
I’m not hard to please, though.
Flipping the page again, we ran into our first sentence: the pig sat in the mud.
Now, … now I would know whether or not the ‘bat, cat, hat, mat’ was rote memorization. Would he struggle in reading the word “sat” when I pointed to it? It was the same ‘at’ blend, which might be difficult, seeing as it wasn’t part of the four. But if he can say, “cat,” then “sat” isn’t that much more of a reach.
Would this be his struggling point?
“Okay, first word, ‘Thhh … ,” I began, watching him with eager eyes.
“Thhhhe,” read Tiny.
“Pp ii … ,” I prompted, wondering if he would remember sounding out pig from the previous page.
“Piiiiig.” He stated, with only brief hesitation.
I pointed to the next word. It was the sight word that he had so readily chirped out in the car. This was the moment of truth. This was when I would know if my child was reading, instead of guessing.
“Sat.” Tiny said, then he looked to me with slight hesitation.
“Great job!” I beamed, and pointed to the next word. “Okay, next word, iii … .”
“in … the mud,” my precocious child said, finishing the end of the sentence.
We read the entire sentence three more times, then I filmed the entire event and sent it to Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, and all of FB. I was so proud!
… And slightly perturbed.
Tiny and I have worked on the alphabet. We have worked on a few sight words in the past, mostly a, is, in, the, and and. But somewhere between the end of Pre-K 4, summer, and the start of Pre-K 5, my son’s cognition ignited, and his zest for reading and learning occurred. Where was he when that finally happened?
Where was I during that time?
It’s a hard fact, and a difficult burden to bear as a mother. I wasn’t the person to instruct him in first perusal of these sight words. I wasn’t the person who created his assimilation or accommodation in the knowledge of learning to read.
I was present in helping guide with homework. I was present when it came to learning his ABCs. I was present in teaching the sounds of words. But, it wasn’t me who made the parts combine, or the one who helped the knowledge make sense.
It was his teacher.
I wasn’t his teacher for this lesson. I won’t be his primary teacher for education, for learning, and for life lessons from here on out. Now that he has started into this new realm of life, the school system, he will learn from outside sources, from peers, and from professionals.
Although I have begun to acknowledge this, it is a hard lesson to bear, and the first time I’ve had to face the fact that my child has learned huge concepts outside of me–his mom.
A lesson that, to this mother, is a difficult lesson to accept.