This probably won't surprise you, but I was an early reader. Not as early as my sister, who was reading fluently before she was 3 years old, but early enough that my nursery-school teacher would sometimes let me read the storytime book out loud to the class. So, yeah, I was pretty ahead of the game when it came to words. No brag, just fact. I've been a word nerd since way back.
As of this writing, The Boy is 5 and a quarter, well into his kindergarten year. He writes his name like a champ, and he occasionally asks us to spell out words and phrases so that he can label pictures he's drawn or post important announcements about toys he wants where we will be sure to see them. But the reading? He's not so into it.
Sometimes when we're reading together, I prod. Just a little. I point out letters and ask what sounds they make. I find short words, with no dirty tricks like a silent e, and I ask if he can figure them out. He sounds out each letter carefully and deliberately ... and then leaves them that way. "Cuh, cuh, cuh. Ah, ah, ah. Tuh, tuh, tuh. Cuh ah tuh!"
On the one hand, I'm not too stressed about it. I have always favored content over mechanics, and The Boy definitely has content in the bag. He is a book lover in a family of book lovers. We each have our little stack of reading material on the floor beside the bed, and every night he carefully selects his bedtime stories — the ones I will read to him and the ones he will browse through while Tad and I are reading our own nighttime selections before lights out. So I think we have a strong foundation on which to build.
Like so much else with parenting, though, there is the constant self-doubt. What am I supposed to tell him about hard and soft c? How do I explain "ph" so it makes sense to a 5-year-old? And for Christ's sake, will font designers just decide on lower-case a and g once and for all? What's that about? It's confounding to me, and I'm a former English teacher. I try to tell myself I will do fine, that eventually he will read. It's not rocket science, right? It's a basic skill! But that little voice pops up whenever I let my guard down. It's the same little voice, incidentally, that tells me he is deficient in some crucial nutrient because I don't insist that he eat peas, and the same one that tells me he will develop some rare Third World disease because I don't clean his fingernails well enough. I hate that voice, and I hear it way too often.
There's another voice, one I like, that tells me to relax and let him learn at his own pace. That voice reminds me that Waldorf doesn't teach reading until kids are almost 7. It gently points out that no kid who loves books as much as The Boy does will remain a non-reader forever. And most important, it says, simply, He's happy. He's got this. Don't pressure. Let it happen naturally.
I have friends whose similarly aged kids are already reading. One friend's daughter attends a magnet kindergarten for gifted students out on the West Coast. She has book reports due. Book reports! Before Voice One can speak up, Voice Two reminds me that one of the reasons we chose to home-school this year was because we wanted less written work and more free play and art. There will be plenty of time for book reports later, Voice Two says. Let him finger-paint and play with blocks.
Then, just as Voice One is gearing up with a really snarky comment about how cute it's going to be when he's the only finger-painting, illiterate teenager on the block, The Boy appears in the door to my office, holding a Lego contraption he's been building and talking animatedly about how he has a theory about what might make it better. His words. And I remember that this is the same child who snuggled into my lap when he was 2 and said, "Perhaps I love you."
You know what, Voice One? Take a hike. My kid and words get along just fine.