reading magic - read, talk, play, laugh, have fun

A sprinkle of this, a pinch of that, and poof! It’s reading — magic!

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

My children were early readers. Both began reading real books well before their fourth birthdays. Of course, the timing, whether early or late, matters little now that they are adults. What matters is that they are readers who read competently and confidently for a range of purposes including for information and pleasure. They are readers by choice as well as purpose.

The ability to read is something that most of us take for granted. Many have no recollection of learning to read, only of being able to do so all of a sudden, as if we just could, by magic.

But, as with any spell, there are certain essential ingredients that make the magic happen and others that inhibit the process. Creating readers of choice and not just purpose is the real magic. Creating non-readers is the effect of a spell in reverse, of a bad mix of ingredients, that sadly occurs all too often.

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

My children were readers of choice long before they could read anything for themselves. I wouldn’t say I set out to “teach” them to read. In fact, I didn’t at all. I set out to encourage in them a love of books and writing. Their learning to read was a by-product of sharing the love of words, language and reading.

The magic ingredients for developing readers:

  • Talk
  • Play
  • Read
  • Write
  • Love
  • Fun

I loved having time with my children. Being with them, watching them grow and develop was special, the best and most magical of days. They taught me as much or more about love, life and learning as they learned from me.

Talk

From their earliest days I talked to them, explained things to them — what was happening, what we were doing, and how things worked. I pointed things out and told them what it was called, what it was doing, what it was used for, or how it worked. When we were out and about, I’d point out signs and explain how I knew to stop or where to go. I avoided “baby” talk and always used appropriate everyday language.

Play

We played and had fun together, using our imaginations to create our own games. Sometimes we played simple board games and completed jigsaw puzzles. Whatever we played, talk always accompanied it.

Nor and Bec reading the family book

Reading to Bec at about 12 months old.

Read

I read to them, every day, not just one but many books. As I read, we discussed details in the illustrations and made predictions about the stories, sharing our thoughts. If a word was presented in a large or colourful font, I’d point to it as I read it. We’d laugh at the funny stories and cry at the sad and discuss all the story events. When they could read, they’d read to me, and we took turns reading together until they were early teens.

Write

When they first started to talk, I made books with pictures and words from their growing vocabulary. I labelled items in their rooms; for example, bed, shelf, window, door.

I made books about things we did with photographs and text. A book about our family made for my daughter’s first birthday was one of the favourites when cousins came to visit too.

The environment

I provided my children with an environment rich in language, books and opportunities for thinking. I’d read and write with them and to them, and they’d see me reading and writing for myself as well.

When son Rob was little, I didn’t yet know what I now know about the development of language, reading, and thinking. He taught me much that was later confirmed by my studies.

Rob reading to his toys at age two

Rob, aged two, reading to some of his toys.

When he was only two, Rob would line up his toys on the couch, sit in the middle, and “read” to them. He would almost recite the stories from beginning to end. He already knew that the words in a book remain the same each time they are read — an important concept for beginning readers to grasp. When he was only three, he’d jump into bed beside me in the early morning after Hub had gone to work, prise my eyes open, and read to me! Magic!

Daughter Bec was born twelve years after Rob. Meanwhile, I had returned to college and studied the development of reading and language. I was amazed to find that we had unwittingly created the essential mix of ingredients for his learning to occur

Naturally, armed with experience as well as understanding, I did things pretty much the same for Bec — talking, reading, writing, playing, having fun and enjoying time together.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

When she was five, Bec was invited to participate in a study of children who learned to read before starting school. Of the children (maybe half a dozen) involved in the study, Bec was the only one the researcher considered to be really reading. She was reading fluently, with comprehension and at a higher level than the other children.

Some of the children were able to recognise isolated words, but not read them in continuous text. Others had been taught letters and sounds using flashcards and stopped to ‘sound’ out every word. They hadn’t become real readers.

Bec was not subjected to reading “lessons” as the other children had been. She was immersed in an environment that encouraged a love of learning, language and literacy.  The other parents had a need for their children to read as if their value as parents depended on it.

While I had an expectation that Bec would read, I was confident that she would come to it in her own time. My credibility as a parent was not tied to her ability. Having said that, both children (adults) are now very successful in their chosen fields, so I must have done something right. Or perhaps we were just lucky that we chanced upon the magic mix of ingredients.

I do wish that all parents would include a sprinkle of language and a pinch of reading mixed with love and fun into their children’s lives every day. It would contribute greatly toward eradicating illiteracy.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills: magic

What got me thinking about reading, and magic in particular, is the challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic. It can be a supernatural force, a moment or idea, or use it as a verb. Go where the prompt leads.

The ability to be transported into other realms is pure magic. The ability to share this magic with others is bliss.

Mem Fox has more to say about that in her lovely book for parents Reading Magica book I always include when selecting gifts for first-time parents.

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Here is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it.

A Sprinkle of This and a Pinch of That

“Whatcha doin?”

“Makin’ a spell.”

“What sorta spell?”

“A magic spell.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure.”

“Whadda I do?”

“Put stuff in the pot.”

“What sorta stuff?”

“Gotta read the recipe.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ya gotta read it.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll help. Look, it says …”

Mum stopped at the door to the kitchen. “Wha— What are you doing?”

“Nothin’,” mumbled the older.

“Makin’ magic spells,” grinned the younger, covered in flour from head to toe.

“What sort of magic spell?” asked Mum, wishing for her own magic spell.

“Take us to outa space.”

“Can I come too?”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

97 thoughts on “A sprinkle of this, a pinch of that, and poof! It’s reading — magic!

  1. Jules

    I have always loved children. So I guess when it was time for a profession I was gently pushed into education. But I worked with young children – and all the things you spoke of work well in a preschool setting as well as at home.

    Then fast forward to the Grands… I was a primary caregiver for them early in their lives and books, play, magic with imagination was always the order of the day. Just this week with schedules not quite fitting I had my Little Miss most of this week. She’s fallen in deep like with the movie The Wizard of Oz….which I just happen to have a good collection of books of the same name by Baum and other authors making the tale simple, pop-up or in other modified form.

    One of our tasks this week was to find costume parts for Dorothy – As Little Miss wants to be that little girl for Halloween. We found a ‘Toto’ (at a charity shop…washed and dried him) and it was a joy for me to see her reading one of the simple word books to ‘Toto’. 🙂

    I must admit I forgot about playing the game you gave me about placement concepts. Maybe we did go over some of those concepts while watching the Monarch caterpillars grow – over and under leaves, etc.

    We did have a fun week with I hope a magical time. If I get a copy of a good photo of her all dressed up – I’ll email it to you. Cheers, Jules

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing all your experiences, Jules. I enjoyed reading them. It’s so nice to share warm memories.
      Little Miss must have had a wonderful time with Gran this week. I would dearly love to see a photo of her all dressed up, and one of her reading to Toto, too. How cute. You really make her life special, creating so many wonderful memories.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Thursday 30th August 2018 – Norah Colvin, Janice Spina and Alethea Kehas #EarlyReading and #Inspiration | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Patricia Tilton

    Fascinating post! I was a reader, but I lost my confidence when I started school and we were put into three levels of reading groups. It was embarrassing. If you weren’t in the top group, you were teased. Glad that is a bygone era! I believe parents should begin reading to their babies before they’re born. It is such a natural and soothing rhythm for a baby. I’m in awe of our great grandchildren and what they are able to handle at such a young age. They love books.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Patricia. I’m sorry you lost your confidence in reading when you started school, but pleased you regained it later.
      I agree that parents should read to their unborn children too. I’m not sure that I ever did that, but both would have heard me reading to children at school. 🙂
      It is wonderful to have grandchildren and watch their development, isn’t it? Such joy!

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. dgkaye

    Clever flash Norah. I liked the stories about how your raised your kids to love reading and learning. The photo of your son with his furry friends lined up to listen is adorable. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Debby. I love that old faded photo too. I’m sorry I couldn’t find one of him with a lot more lined up. He used to do it often. Seeing the engagement with books gave me so much pleasure.

      Liked by 2 people

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  5. Annecdotist

    Oh, Norah, what a magical post! I’m so impressed that your instinct taught you what was later backed up for you in college. There’s a world of difference between your approach based on love and fun and that of “pushy parents” competing with each other on when their children learn to read. You sum it up beautifully here
    The other parents had a need for their children to read as if their value as parents depended on it.
    While I had an expectation that Bec would read, I was confident that she would come to it in her own time. My credibility as a parent was not tied to her ability.
    I also enjoyed the video and can see why you’re such a fan of Mem Fox – and I’m sure you’re equally a role model for younger teachers.
    Great flash also – I imagine lots of parents must feel that ambivalence around children’s exploration and developments that make them harder to “manage”.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I wasn’t a pushy parent but I gave them lots of opportunities to learn and to make their own choices. I figured the more they knew about the better their choices would be. (Almost the opposite from my upbringing. I didn’t want theirs to be like mine.)
      I’m so pleased you enjoyed Mem’s video. I am a huge fan. She is such a little dynamo. Her love of literacy and children is contagious.
      I have to say that I had to stop and take a breath many times as a parent. I know I didn’t do so often enough, but I worked hard at it. It didn’t come naturally as I had learned from seeing the opposite modelled. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Susan. It was great. I was able to see the world again through their eyes and ask their questions. Such joy.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed my story. 🙂

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      Reply
  6. Jacqui Murray

    What a wonderful post. It is true, too–there is no greater gift for a child than reading. When my kids come visit (adults of 32 and 30), they always want a ‘reading hour’. I think this is as much about the love of reading as the childhood memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jacqui. I love your story about the ‘reading hour’. How delightful. It’s so satisfying to see our children share a love of reading, and of family traditions.

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  7. Colline

    What you say about reading is so true Norah. If you take the time to read with your child they cannot help but develop a love of reading. Now I am happy to see my teen daughters enjoying books of their choice during their spare time.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is wonderful to share a love of reading with your children, isn’t it? Though mine like to read different things from me. I kept shelves of books thinking one day my children would read them, but they never will. I think it’s time to share them with someone else (the books, not the children). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. TanGental

    I’m not sure what are the top ten joys of being parent but being able to read to them and with them is in the top three for me. There’s something truly, yep, magical in their rapt attention to a story that you are pulling from a page of words and they are making the link between that story and those words. Neither of mine read as much as I did but they both absorb stories in the many ways available to them today – podcast, audio books etc, as well as Netflix or whatever – and that’s fine since they can enjoy the story which, after all is what reading is about.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your love of reading, Geoff. I totally agree that reading with children has got to be close to the top of all parenting joys. But then seeing children grow into happy successful adults who are able to live independently and choose how they access stories is also good. I enjoy my ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts and movies too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Miriam Hurdle

    Wonderful post that ties in with your flash fiction. My classmate wrote her dissertation on How The Print Rich Environment Affect Children’s Love of Reading. It was almost 1,000 pages with lots of statistics. Only one professor was thrilled to be her Dissertation Chair-person. Mine was only 150 pages. She had a lot to say about the print-rich environment as you talked about in this post. Very good point, Norah.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words about my story, Miriam, and for sharing the information about your classmate’s dissertation. Our environment is rich in print. We just need to point it out to our little ones who are so eager to find out how the world works. I don’t think I’d be keen on 1 000 pages full of statistics. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Miriam Hurdle

        I understand about that 1000 pages. I think it’s sitting on the shelf collecting dust. I’m eagerly waiting to see my granddaughter’s learning progress since I’m so far away from the little ones. 🙂

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                    1. Miriam Hurdle

                      Yes, it is. We’ll have a lot of excitement. I tried to teach her to say “ma,” but as a teacher, I know that’s not the baby’s first initial sound. She laughed so hard when I said “mmmmmm a.”

                      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sue Vincent

    My eldest was reading long before school, as was I. He delighted in teaching his little brother to read too and, by the time he was three, he was reading simple books. Both boys then had a love of reading which not only stood them in good stead on its own, but gave them a wider vocabulary and general knowledge than expected for their age, and an automatic grasp of spelling and grammar. The only downside, as I remember all too well from my own schooldays, is that reading sessions at school were awfully boring with the books provided…

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Miriam Hurdle

      Yes, Sue, I had one bright student in my class. When the family moved, the child went to another school district in 3rd grade. The parent called me one day and said the teacher complained that her son was “disruptive and easily distracted.” She said he hid her hands in the desk to play with something. I knew right away what happened, so I told the parent that her child was bored, nothing was challenging to him in the classroom, so he found something else to engage in. 🙂 I’m sorry to say that many teachers don’t know how to teach.

      Liked by 1 person

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        1. Miriam Hurdle

          You’re right, Sue. Good teachers should understand that. When I started teaching, I taught kindergarten. None of the children knew the alphabet, but one child did. I used a separate curriculum for her. Her mom was so appreciative. This child was assessed as a Gifted child.. When she graduated from college, she brought me a college sweatshirt as a present. 🙂 🙂

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          1. Sue Vincent

            I agree… though getting my eldest to actually sleep instead of reading by whatever light he could find at night was problematic. 🙂 As it turned out, between his love of books and the loss of much of his sight when he suffered the brain injury, I am glad he read so many of my books when he was younger and able to do so.

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            1. Norah Post author

              My two never wanted to sleep either – said it was a waste of time! I tend to think that more now that my time is getting shorter, didn’t worry about it too much back then when time seemed infinite.
              I can understand how knowing those books were read and treasured would be a small comfort. Best wishes to you both.

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            1. Miriam Hurdle

              The old reading series allowed for different reading groups with different levels. I left the classroom for 10 years to go into administration, and retired 8 years ago. I know they are not doing reading groups any more. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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    2. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Sue. It is wonderful when children come to reading in their own way and time, as both yours and mine did. They then own the process and it is joyous for them. As you indicate, the wider vocabulary and more extensive knowledge of the world contributes greatly to the ability to learn, both in and out of school. Reading is the best way to develop knowledge of our language, including spelling and grammar. I understand what you mean about reading sessions being boring. Texts written to “teach” reading generally are quite boring, for anyone, whether they can read them or not. Children need a diet of good literature and are just as adept at learning to read from them as from any other material, probably more adept. The ‘readers’ only make it easy for publishers to make money. I don’t recall my son complaining about reading sessions in particular, but I do recall his year one teacher asking me, with some surprise, at the end of the year after all the students had been tested by the support teacher, “Did you know Robert could read?” I certainly did, but what does that say about her if she didn’t? He had dutifully brought home the ‘home readers’ all year. It’s a good thing he had lots of other material to read. The readers weren’t very exciting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Sue Vincent

        Janet, John and Pat the dog… okay, the dog was fine as my great grandparents had red setters… but from there to raiding the family bookshelves was a big leap in style. I was allowed to read any of the books ,on the principle that if I was too young for them, I would be protected by the family’s taste and my own ignorance, and if I could formlate a question, I was entitled to an age-appropriate answer. It served me, and later my sons, well. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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        1. Norah Post author

          What a clever family and a wonderful gift to hand down through the generations. A teacher’s job would be much easier if there were more families like yours.

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  11. Charli Mills

    Oh, I enjoyed listening to Mem explain her book and how her editor got her to write it like she was gossiping with her reader! Most certainly you got the magic right with your children and understood what Mem knows — create that rich language environment. The poor mum in your story needs a few magic tricks, although she’s also providing for an environment of learning through experimentation.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed listening to Mem talk about her book. I think she has a lot to offer us as writers, as well as parents and teachers. All those books that have special meaning for us include a sprinkle of the magic that’s just right.
      I think you’re right about that mum, but those kids are off to a great beginning with futures that could take them anywhere. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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