I’m the youngest of six siblings. From my earliest memories my siblings and my role as the youngest has played a major role in my life. As I look back on my learning to read my older brothers and sisters first come to my mind. Part of my mind immediately wanted my memories to be of my parents reading to me, but I can only remember one instance. I don’t think that my mother or father were neglectful. We had plenty of children’s books and all learned to read at early ages. Maybe my path was unique to that of my siblings.
The setting for my first memory was all of us kids, the neighbors and their kids gathered in our family room. I recall being the youngest one of the bunch. School was starting back and I was heading to kindergarten. One of the neighbors was asking if I was excited and if I was ready to learn to read. I insisted that I already knew how to read. After hearing this, my siblings immediately started teasing me and calling me a “liar”. I started crying and ran downstairs to get a book and prove them wrong. The problem was that they were right. I couldn’t actually read.
I grabbed the book, “Ten Little Indians”. I had this book memorized and I of course planned to fake it. I went back upstairs and got everyone’s attention. I wanted to “read” to them. I distinctly remember getting about a page in before all the kids called my bluff. My siblings and the neighbor kids quickly started demanding that I read this or that. I went to bed humiliated.
My first real victory that I remember was while I was lying in bed. I shared a room with my much older brother and I was waiting for him to turn out the lights. I had been learning how to sound out letters and the vowel sounds. My brother had posters hanging on his side of the room. One of those posters was a chimp in a brightly colored sweater, holding a pencil, and sitting at a desk with an open notebook. The letters on the poster spelled out, “Genius at Work!” I remember using everything I knew to try to figure out what those letters actually said. When I figured it out I was ecstatic! I told my brother and he gave me a mix of “Congratulations.”, “How did I not already know?” and “Why didn’t I just ask?” This may sound like a small and underwhelming moment, but it’s when I knew that I had the ability. Not necessarily the ability to read, but the ability to learn to read.
Looking a little further down the road, I remember bringing home short books from school. I had to read them to an adult and have them sign a sheet once I had done each reading. I loved this! I was passing off books to my teacher and getting praise for how quickly I was able to advance. Not only was I getting accolades from my teacher, I was getting time with my siblings. For some reason, my sisters usually got the job of me reading to them, and they actually signed off my sheet. I think that I knew that they often felt it a chore, but I have fond memories of that time.
As far as learning to write, I have very little positive memories. I don’t have painful memories, but memories of indifference. My hand writing was generally acceptable for most teachers. Occasionally they did ask for improvement. I succeeded at learning cursive but still write just as quickly and neatly in print. Filling out those sheets of repeatedly writing the same letter was something I just wanted done in a hurry. My handwriting is merely adequate. I occasionally wish I had better penmanship, but I haven’t felt it has ever held me back.
I can defiantly see how both positive and negative experiences shaped my learning. In the end the negatives became wins and a way to find strength in my abilities. I never would have made it on my own. I had help all along the way. I should recognize my teachers, especially those in my early education. Looking back has given me a lot of things to think about. Maybe I’ll bring it up at the next family gathering!