When did you start to read? How did you learn?

By Carol / November 21, 2017 /

I don’t remember how I learned to read. What I do know is that I could read from earliest memory. Books were part of my life, from comics in the daily paper to Saturday-morning trips to the library, from word games to the Weekly Reader summer book club. I was lucky my parents immersed me in books. All kids aren’t so fortunate, particularly children in low-income families.

We had fun with this book, making faces to imitate all the emotions we read about.

The foundation for learning to read

  • Research shows that by age 5, a typical middle-income child recognizes 22 letters of the alphabet, compared to 9 letters for a child in a low-income family.
  • Homes of middle-income children have 13 age-appropriate books per child. Homes of low-income children average 1 book for every 300 children.
  • Children without much book experience, may not know capital from lower case letters. They may not know to start at the front and read to the back. Or to start at the top of the page.

Is it any surprise that these children aren’t well equipped to start kindergarten? Or to succeed later on? Research also shows that up until third grade, children learn to read. From third grade on, they read to learn.

I’ve read to my grandchildren at every opportunity since they were born, but I’ve always thought I should do more. This summer, I finally sought out a way to share my love of reading with more children. I found an avenue through the United Way of Central Iowa Book Buddy program.

Book Buddies are committed to helping children be reading ready when they make the big move to kindergarten.

Each week, we Book Buddies arrive a few minutes early to read the assigned book of the week and absorb the instructions for aspects of the book to focus on. The first week, for instance, we talked about the author and illustrator. The next week, we talked about upper and lower case letters. Last week, we explored long and short words. We also read the book. All in two, twenty-minute sessions with two children.

Most weeks, I’m reading one-on-one with the same two children. So we get to know each other. I read with my children on Tuesdays. Another volunteer reads the same book to the children on Thursdays. This volunteer focuses on another aspect the book. There’s always something new to discover in a good book, right? On Friday, the teacher gives the child his or her very own copy of the book to take home and encourages the child to talk about the book with others in the family. Already, they’re sharing their enthusiasm for reading.

I am so excited by these four-year-olds. They’re bundles of energy and curiosity. And, they are so smart. Unstoppable Kendrick pointed out capital letters before I asked him. A more shy girl, Mulkie is eager to look for the letters of her name in the books. They are having fun with the books, and that’s the whole point.

Working with these children, I’m optimistic they will be ready for kindergarten. I’m thrilled they will end the year with their own library of 24 books, stories they can enjoy again and again and share with others. I’m excited to be part of their journey toward loving books as much as I do.

How were you introduced to reading? What ways have you found to share reading with others?


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  1. Janet Givens on November 22, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for this, Carol, and god your support of reading programs for the very young. I too read with a young person, now in 4th grade, through my local elementary school and find it rewarding for so many reasons.

    In thinking about your post, I too can’t remember ever not reading. I have no memories over sounding out new words, only multiple memories of panic at needing to read aloud in first grade — and have my debilitating stutter exposed. Ah, those were the days. How nice to be older.

    • Carol on November 22, 2017 at 4:42 pm

      Learning to read must become so ingrained in us as we grow that it seems always to have been a part of us. A stutter would have been a challenge. I’m curious. Did reading out loud help overcome the problem over time or make it worse? And how did your teacher respond?

      One of the games my sisters and I played on road trips was spotting the letters of the alphabet on billboards. We could only count them if we acquired them in sequence so we had to pay attention to every billboard. Mom kept us focused on words. Dad played games with math.

      • Janet Givens on November 22, 2017 at 8:10 pm

        Oh yes, the alphabet game. I remember it well. My mom and I used car license plates too. But they did have to come in order, otherwise what’s the game? I came to appreciate antiQue stores particularly. As for the stutter: no, reading aloud did not help. Probably made it worse at the time. A demand vs capacity issue for me at age 6. Stuttering was a part of my life until my early 40s. My next memoir tackles how it stopped being so salient. And, I hope, to add to the general public’s understanding of this disorder.

        • Carol on November 23, 2017 at 9:55 am

          I don’t remember now where we picked up Q and Z, but that was the fun of the game. To be the first to spot one – when the time was right.

          I am interested to learn more about how you overcame stuttering, Janet. I’m sure your memoir will offer insight useful to many. And to those who are curious.

  2. Nan Johnson on November 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I was introduced to books and reading in the warm embrace of my mother. In my earliest memories I am snuggled against her while she read to us before bed.
    The OASIS program in St. Louis sounds similar to yours. It matches seniors with school-age kids who struggle with reading. After training, and with the parents, teacher, and the school on board, we spend one on one time with students, reading to them or having them read to us. My fifth grader and I are reading Gary Paulsen’s book The Road Trip together. He’s a fun kid and I look forward to reading with him every week. I plan on giving him the book to keep when we are finished with it.

    • Carol on November 22, 2017 at 4:36 pm

      What wonderful memories of you and your mother to have, Nan. It is amazing to me that I don’t have the same memory though it must have occurred countless times.

      Here in Des Moines, there are programs geared to other age levels. I did a trial run volunteering with a program this summer that matched people up with third graders. There is a unique bond that develops with a child, regardless of age, when we read together.

  3. Billie Wade on November 22, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Carol, thank you for this thought-provoking topic. I don’t recall when or how I learned to read. It must have been at school. I grew up in a low-income family, and I don’t recall having any books at home. I do recall that when I was a third grader, my teacher had me read books to fifth graders. That’s right, I read to kids older than me. I also recall volunteering at a library one summer to earn a Girl Scout badge. I have a special place in my heart for books, libraries, bookstores, and writers.

    • Carol on November 23, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Even then you had an affinity for the written word, Billie. School was a gateway for many, I expect. I attended a one-room country school for eight years and had experiences similar to yours. Our one teacher was always in need of help, so I gave spelling tests to older kids and also quizzed them with math flash cards. I received the benefit of extra drilling myself in the process. I’m glad you’re sharing your writing with others now through your essays. I learn something from every one.

  4. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on November 22, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    We were a Mennonite refugee family in Paraguay so books were a luxury. We had a German hymnal, a Bible and an illustrated Martyr’s Mirror. When I began school at age 7 in our village I got a beginner reader and learned the old German script (Gothisch). As soon as I was introduced to reading I couldn’t stop. I sang from the hymnal, memorized Bible verses and read the stories of the martyrs, looking in awe at the gory pictures. I was entranced by rhyming words and could lie in the hammock for hours making up my own poetry. My mother was annoyed, she needed a practical helper, not a rhymer of words. But my father undersood, as he was a reader too. From Canada we received a monthly church paper, The Mennonite Review, which had a children’s section in it with stories that continued. There was also a children’s editor and we could write to her. Getting that paper was a highlight. When we came to Canada I was 9 and had to learn to read in another language. My. goodness, even the cereal boxes had words on them! And you could win prizes! I thought I was in heaven!

    • Carol on November 22, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      What great learning-to-read experiences, Elfrieda. The Bible and hymnal were great reading material, Elfrieda, even if a challenge. The Martyr’s Mirror? Not so sure. 😉 I’d forgotten about reading cereal boxes. We read them, too. Sent away for many prizes. Cut out the masks they featured at Halloween. Worked all the puzzles: mazes, crosswords, find a word. Great fun. Thanks for reminding me of another way we learned to read.

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