Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Adventures in reading

We are entering a new era in the Burmeister household: the age of reading.

That’s right. Our Kindergartener is learning to read, which means that my days of spelling out “Someone needs an N-A-P” are soon coming to an end.

Up until now Lily’s been using visual clues, assisting her in her pursuit of learning to read. When she’d see the McDonald’s arches, for example, she’d identify it then sound out the word.

However, it hasn’t been a perfect process. In fact, just recently we took a trip to the Oregon Zoo. On the way out to the car in the parking lot, Lily decided to play her own version of “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Instead, her version went, “Okay mom, don’t step on any of the yellow lines or the man going potty.”

Whodawa? I looked around frantically, trying to see if there was someone relieving himself, but instead I spotted a handicap parking space, and then it dawned on me: All her life (all five years!) she has mistakenly thought that those front parking spaces were set aside for men that have to use the facililties – and fast.

So part of the learning process at her school includes some parents coming into class and helping the students read their book of the week as many times as they can. And I have the privilege of being a parent helper. We read books like “I see bear. Hello. Hello.” And then we see a duck. And then we see a cat. You get the picture. And the more they practice, the more they start to get it. It’s brilliant, really.

But one day last week I was on my, oh, twenty-third read-through of “I see bear” and I decided to make noises to coincide with the pictures, just to break up the monotony for myself. I thought the five-year-old set would find it amusing as well. And most did, except for one certain boy.

The first time I made a growling sound when he read “bear” he simply stopped and looked directly at me for a second before starting to read again. When I meowed as he read “cat” he again stopped, looked at me a few seconds longer, then said, “You’re funny.”

Now normally, those two words would be a compliment to a woman such as me who spends the majority of the day looking for the funny in everything, but this litter guy didn’t say it like you’re-funny-ha-ha, but you’re-funny-and-need-to-spend-an-hour-a-week-with-a-seasoned-professional. We finished reading the book in silence (at least I was silent, he continued reading aloud) and I was put in my place by a five-year-old. It’s humbling – trust me.

But Lily is making progress, and she doesn’t seem to mind my sound effects at all. Nowadays, she goes around the house spelling out anything she sees. And she’s getting it. At least most of the time.

But this weekend she got a little hitch in her giddyup along the road to reading. A little black kitten showed up in our backyard and I saw it out the window while I was at the sink doing dishes. I know Lily loves kittens, so I told her to go out and see if it would let her hold it. She was out there for a few minutes before she yelled in the window, “Her name is ‘Anna.’”

“It is?” I asked, curious as to how she came about this information, and suspicious because Anna just happens to be one of her names-of-the-week. She has these names on rotation that every doll, stuffed animal and Barbie doll is given for a few days before she switches to another name, and this week’s name was Anna.

What were the odds? Not very good, I reasoned. “How do you know her name is Anna?” I asked through the window.

“It says it on her tag,” came the reply. Which was interesting, because I could see that the kitten didn’t have a tag. So we were on interesting territory: teaching a lesson on reading as well as lying.

“Lily,” I said warningly, in my you-better-be-telling-the-truth-or-there-will-be-consequences voice. “What does the tag say? Spell it for me.”

“It says,” she took a few minutes to make it appear that she was reading, but was in fact grabbing letters out of thin air. “It says A – S – S.”

In that moment I knew one of the following was true: (1) Lily still needs work on her reading, or (2) this kitten’s owners have a warped sense of humor.

I’m betting (and hoping, for the cat’s sake) that No. 1 is true. And so we’ll continue to say hello to a bear, a duck and a cat, complete with my sound effects.

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