For a lifelong reader, there is very little that equals the thrill of watching your child learn to read. It’s as if the world opens up to them. They discover a magic code in the air that is suddenly and permanently decipherable. They start to recognize words all around and, if you’re watching, you can see the wonder of it. You begin to realize just how much language surrounds us. Signs, t-shirts, instructions, advertising, labels. They start to read it all. And you become aware of something that you thought you knew—especially if you’re a writer—but it drills it home because this time it is your child and their world and everything is new.
Words, which we toss around like careless things too often, have weight.
And for the rest of their lives, the child that has learned to read will have influences beyond your control. Which is wonderful and freeing and frightening all at once.
Because the written word has power.
Spoken language, for most children, comes on so gradually that most parents hardly notice. There is a silent, babbling baby and then slowly there is a talking child. Reading is not the same. While speaking is a natural and organic part of human development, written language is study and will. A deliberate grasping for the unknown.
And so a child will ask what it means.
“What does that say?”
What is that line or squiggle? What meaning have those others—wiser or older or simply before—given to that particular mark? And the search begins.
For some children, reading comes very easily, for others it is a monumental task. But they work and struggle and learn. Some, from teachers; others from parents. Most are a combination of both. And then…
One day, a child picks up a paper or a book or cereal box and, without asking, the words flow. And they are understood. And the code has been broken.
They’re a reader, and the world has things to say to them.
If you’re a lover of the written word, as a reader or a writer, your heart thrills. Those squiggles that we toss around have weight they didn’t before. And you notice language surrounding you on every street corner and every nook and cranny of our world. Because your child can read those words now.
A different kind of code is broken for you, and the protective shield around your child begins to thin because they know the secret code that eluded them before.
And suddenly words have weight.
It’s fascinating and frightening. So utterly beautiful that it almost makes me cry. Because my son is a reader now.
And the world has things to say.