Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Jayn Reads - vintage article

This was written in 2007 for Connections E-zine when Jayn was 7. Since then Jayn, now 11, has become a near effortless reader, including reading unfamiliar complex material aloud when she wants to.

Jan 10, 2011 - This post needs some links!

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Granny is concerned that Jayn can’t read yet. She says that when Jayn can read, she wants to give her a present of the Nancy Drew books. With gratitude for her kindness and evident love, I nonetheless chuckle at her notion that creating a reward is a great way of pushing Jayn forward to what Granny erroneously believes must be my top priority, even while my willingness to read to Jayn any time she asks subverts her intention. Granny doesn’t get Unschooling. And now there is an upcoming movie to facilitate Jayn’s enjoyment of this character, Nancy Drew, even more easily.


There is no doubt that one day, in the fullness of time and at the right time, Jayn will become a reader. I have no doubt that she will slide into reading with the relatively effortless grace that so many other Unschoolers report of their children as they gain literacy with their parents’ support in their text filled environments.

Of course I will be happy for her, as a whole new world of ease will open up to her. I will be proud of her abilities and acceptant of her choices regardless of whether she becomes a great reader of literature, a researcher, a consumer of pop culture, a dabbler, or some idiosyncratic combination of all. She is already a story teller, so the ability to read and to write privately will expand her options there. But I’m in no hurry.

In keeping with my own increasing understanding of myself, believing someone has to take on being the “Black Hat Thinker” (see “Six Thinking Hats” by Eduard de Bono) I am always able to see the negatives of any situation. When I look at our life now, Jayn’s pre-literate life and activities, I can see that there are things that are likely to be lost once she can read for herself.

When I was young I was a huge reader of fiction. I am so still, time permitting. I have no recollection of not being able to read, but nor do I have any record of my age when I started. My grandmother had kept a box of my mother’s books from her childhood – delightfully quaint now but au-courant then schoolgirl novels with titles like “The Girls of Greycourt” and “The Dominant Fifth”; the entire collection of “Anne of Green Gables” books, as well as the lesser known “Emily of New Moon” trilogy; a few rare Australian novels written in the late 1940’s and earlier. I must have been about nine when Nan gave me these for my own and I made my first acquaintance with the bizarre gender confusion of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (“as good as a boy” indeed) and the idea of novels in a long series. I still love the English boarding school novel genre, especially as it has been reinvented by one J.K. Rowling in recent years.

"Potter" Coburns

Reading novels was an escape from my everyday life. Like many others report, I was so able to immerse myself in the world of whatever novel I was reading that I would easily become oblivious to the real world around me. There were several occasions when I read past my bus stop – but then I got to read on the backtracking journey so that was a bonus, provided I looked up in time to hail the approaching bus. I remember once in high school suddenly feeling the silence, looking up and realizing that I was alone in the vast grassy play ground. The bell had rung and everyone gone inside all unnoticed by me at some undetermined time before. Luckily the teacher took a humorous attitude to my tardiness.

However my avid reading, during every spare moment, was not so valued by my mother. I remember being forbidden to bring my book along on outings, because it was “rude” to read while visiting. I will add that these were visits to aging aunts or adult friends of my mother, not places with other children to play with – afternoons of unending heavy boredom, desperately scanning for bookshelves or magazines, finding dog-eared Reader’s Digests in the bathroom, anything printed to make the time go by faster. I suppose my mother’s fear was that her friends would be offended if I brought anything along that hinted that I found them uninteresting (as if I were part of the adult conversations anyway!), whereas I always felt like having a good book along was like insurance against a bad time.

Perhaps my mother resented the complete self-reliance that my reading created. I was perfectly happy alone, perfectly independent and without need.

When, in due course, Jayn can read for herself, she will enter a world where she too will have a level of skillful self-reliance that will remove some of her need of me, remove me from her service.

As a non-reader Jayn constantly seeks my assistance mediating the world of text that surrounds her. She uses me as a checker for her guesses about meaning, to explain and read descriptions, to check labels or box contents, to read stories, to type her dictation, to spell words for her hand written missives. If something goes wrong with her computer game, she needs me to translate the error message. Even in her solitary pursuits, such as fantasy doll play, drawings become an illustrated diary, but I am the repository of her verbal journaling. I make the title, date and time notations on the backs of the drawings for future reference.

Jayn is also in charge of when she wants translating to occur. Often she impatiently says to me, “don’t read the descriptions”, able simply to ignore intrusive text in a way that readers - who automatically scan and decode any text that falls under their eyes - just can’t. Her pragmatic need for help fosters the connection between us. We have so much intimacy as I learn about her thought processes by helping her with her writing and recording of her ideas and I follow her developing interests through reading web page URL’s for her or typing searches in the Google window.

On the other hand, reading may diminish some of the assured self-reliance that she currently has. For example in pursuing her latest fascination, cooking, Jayn has no need of recipes. She follows her own creativity adding condiments or making sauces. She enjoys experimenting with the heat levels of the pans on the stove noticing when eggs cook too quickly or bacon frizzles.

Without captions directing her attention to any particular part of a picture or photograph, Jayn notices surprising features and makes unexpected connections to other bits in her visual memory. Without instructions, Jayn confidently builds a world where magic matters as much as physics, a world which functions perfectly well. Her imagination is unbridled by being undirected. My sad little fear is that her free experimenting will be reduced by reading spurred awareness of the “correct way”.

Of course the wonderful worlds of literature and information will be even more available to her once she can read. At present her access to the great stories and histories are filtered by my memory or the creative realization of others in films or pictorial media. Every film she sees, every museum diorama will eventually function as a hook of familiarity when she comes to read the novel or seek out the rest of the story. I suspect that when her reading skill initially flowers she will immerse herself in it for a time, possibly to the exclusion of her more manual activities. Or not. What wonderful uncertainty.

Staging Sleeping Beauty's Wedding

Jayn’s march to reading is as inexorable as her journey to physical maturity, her increasing empathy, her growing awareness as her world widens, and her increasing understanding of social relationships.

Inexorable and inevitable, and surely it will be with joy that I must welcome the new skill and all it will open for Jayn. Every new stage of independence must be welcomed because my alternative would be fighting nature’s reality or diving into overwhelming sadness for what is past. Our children need us to celebrate their development with them, and I know that celebration is better than sorrow.

But it will just as surely be as bittersweet as the time when my little Jayn lost her charming baby mispronunciations in favor of proper words. I lock these sweet moments in my memory. Perhaps we all share similar pangs and shed gentle hidden tears as we realize that once again our babies have moved on in the process of releasing us from the center of their innocent world.

Without any pushing, independence will come at the right time for Jayn’s needs. Without any pushing, her only struggles will be with her own impatience - not any of mine. At the right time Jayn will launch herself into the world of independent discovery through solitary reading, and I will see less of her. I will have to wait to be invited into her private world that presently is a place that is always open to me. And I will treasure the memory of when I was as essential to her understanding as I hope to always be to her heart.

She will be a reader. But I’m in no hurry.

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3 comments:

Julie said...

I love this--beautiful! My 5yo son is mildly interested in letters, and I find myself collecting reading stories on my blog, I think to give me a framework for being supportive yet non-intrusive.

Robyn L. Coburn said...

Thank you, Julie. I'm glad you find it helpful. And my final prediction came true. Jayn now spends a lot of time reading within her computer games, and every now and then she laughs at something. I'm always hungry to learn what she finds so funny. She still asks me how to spell words periodically.

Wendy Priesnitz said...

And my 38-year-old daughter still asks me to edit her writing periodically. So the connection will continue. ;-)