June 19, 2012

Reflections on Eight Years of a Reader

I have kept journals for each of my children since I was pregnant with them.  Their journal is a place I record important times in their lives, funny stories I want to remember and advice I want to give them years later.  These pages are made up of moments I want them to remember, a picture of their childhood without all the snapshots, just my verbal descriptions.  

Occasionally when I write in these I skim back over past years and see where they have been and where they are now, even in their young lives you can begin to trace paths and see how each experience led to the next.  I was doing that recently when I came across an entry that stuck with me.  I wrote in Maria’s journal on January 22, 2004 when she was 4 years old.  

Today was a special day.  It was as if the light bulb just clicked and you truly got it.  I was so thankful to be a part of it - to be there to help and to see you read your first words and whole book.  Your first book was “Al” by Primary Phonics read on January 22, 2004.  I truly hope this develops into a passion for reading much like your father and I both have.  You love being read to and your excitement over reading yourself is contagious.  You are so proud of yourself as you should be - not many children read at the age of 4.  Thank you for sharing your life passion and learning with me - it truly is a gift I cherish and am so thankful for.  Love, Mommy.”

Part of why this entry struck me was the timing in relation to recent accomplishments in Maria’s life.  In February 2012 she took the ACT (College Entrance Exam) as a twelve year old.  As I drove her to the college where she took her test I was struck by the fact that just eight years ago I was witnessing her learning to read independently and praying for her to have a passion for reading.  

It was this very passion that led her to take the ACT in the first place, to experience a challenge in reading.  As I dropped her off in a classroom of juniors and seniors in high school and walked away I wondered if what she was doing was right for her.  I am not a fan of grade skipping and I am not a tiger parent, yet there I sat with my 12 year old daughter taking an exam to determine her college readiness.  

Of course I knew she was not taking it to try to get into a college and her reasons for taking the test were sound.  I am glad she had the initiative to do so and I was so proud of her for being brave enough to give it a try.  As  I sat at a coffee shop a few blocks away I wrote her a long letter about her journey that brought her to this point.  I shared some of what I hoped would follow which continued with the theme of lifelong passion for reading and being a lifelong learner.  I have no journal entry from this day because I wrote a letter and handed it to her when she got in the car after the exam.  

I asked her reactions to the test and she said “It was fun!”  Not what I expected, though I probably should have.  She said the math was hard because she had not even learned half of it yet and science was too time pressured but the rest of the test was fun.  As I drove away I was thinking about how much can change and how much stays the same in eight years.  Maria has always loved reading and she devours books of all types.  She has had a lot of freedom to read as often as she wants and if the 10,000 hours to become an expert rule has merit I am pretty confident she has achieved that level or is very close to the threshold :)

We recently attended ceremonies on the campuses of Northwestern University and Hamline University to celebrate her accomplishments on the ACT.  Taking that test and her results have opened many new doors and possibilities to her for her present and her future.  She has discovered some new things about herself and her potential and plans to use them well.  She is as excited and motivated as she was eight years ago when she first learned to read.  Her enthusiasm is at times contagious.  Now though my messages to her are a bit different.  

From my journal entry after we received her ACT scores.  

While it is true that your composite ACT score and all your subscores would get you into most colleges now, we would not encourage you to or let you go to college now :)  As I tell you all the time I am pro balanced life.  I want you to excel in school and do well but I also want you to enjoy swimming, youth group, and just having fun with your friends. I want you to keep your whole life in balance even as you pursue your passions and gifts....You are extremely self motivated and disciplined.  You set very high goals for yourself and work harder than almost anyone I know to achieve them.  Set your goals for a whole and balanced life where you still pursue your passions and talents becoming a lifelong learner and person who is happy with the whole of her life.”

I am very proud of Maria but not because of the results of a single test.  I am proud of her bravery, her discipline, her hard work, her passion and talent and her willingness to try new things.  I am proud of how she attacks a problem and faces new challenges.  Her test results show this more than anything else.  Her test results just confirm what we have known about her for a long time.  

Her journey of reading may seem incredible to some from learning to read to a perfect reading score in just eight years and it is quite an accomplishment!  When I reflect though I realize she was given freedom and encouragement and support to explore and pursue her passions and talents at the rate that was best for her individual personality and motivation.  She is very hard working and always willing to try new things and challenge herself.  

Each child has their own bend, talent, passion and motivation level.  As parents we need to encourage and support those passions in our children and give them the freedom to explore on their own and provide new challenges to help them rise to the next level when they seem to be leveling off or stagnating.  This is one of my favorite parts of home schooling.  Having the freedom to give my children freedom and room to grow and become who they want to be.

I have enjoyed walking this eight year reading journey with my daughter and I look forward to seeing what the next 6 years bring.  It will be fun and interesting to see where she decides to continue her journey when she takes the ACT to actually apply to colleges and heads out the door to one, if that is the path she chooses to follow.  A lot can change in six years but then again a lot can also stay the same :)  

Kiss those babies,