My mom made a wise investment when I was young and she stirred up something that I hope lasts for generations to come. She made the time to introduce me to the ingredients of language. And because she made it a priority to read to me often, she prepared me for my future.
When I was young, she was a stay-at-home mom who spent a considerable amount of time in the kitchen. I spent my earliest days there with her. My mom valued working hard to take care of our family, but she also valued communication and language development. She often narrated her actions as she worked and described to me what the things in my environment were. While she did her tasks in the kitchen, she also presented language to me as if it had a recipe made up of letters, words, and sentences. I clearly recall that it was her who taught me when I was a preschooler the concept of letters representing sounds; letters coming together as a group of sounds that are words; words representing objects that made up my world. I sat at the kitchen table and watched her enthusiastically point to each letter of the alphabet as she told me the sound that it represented. It was at the kitchen table where she spelled out my name for me and sounded out each letter that went into who I was. She didn’t name it at the time, but I now realize that the recipe she shared with me in the kitchen when I was young was called: Success.
One day, when I was around three years old, I was sitting in the tub in the bathroom attached to the kitchen. There was a bottle of Joy soap in front of me. I stared at the label. It started with the letter J. In my head, I heard my mom’s voice making a ja sound. Ja – that sounded the same as when she pointed at the first letter of my name. I pointed at the bottle and shouted to my mom, “It’s a J! It’s a J for Julie!” My mom came into the bathroom and explained that it was a J, that it makes a ja sound for Julie; but that it’s also a J for Joy: ja—oy. She explained that lots of words could use my letter J because they needed a ja sound, just like I did. I felt enlightened as my mom had handed me the key that unlocked the language code. I began to comprehend the building blocks of language when my mom helped me realize that everything in life – even a bottle of soap – could be defined by letters that are strung together. That was the start of my journey into devouring every letter, word, sentence, magazine, and book around me.
Having my mom read to me was a regular part of her routine when I was young. I sensed that it was something she felt she needed to do – like baking and doing dishes – but unlike her other chores, it was something she seemed to thoroughly enjoy doing. Her reading voice was so lyrical and engaging that it lured me into the world that existed behind the text. I loved going through the stories, poems, and articles with her that were found in our set of Childcraft – the 1970 “How and Why Library” encyclopedias for children. As my mom and I journeyed through the pages together I was taken on magical carousel rides, to gumdrop gardens, to the Old Woman’s shoe, to Mary Cassatt’s bath, to the Seven Wonders of the World, and to Mars. I journeyed through the Holy Land as my Mom read parts of a children’s Bible to me. I traveled through the 19th century American Midwest when I curled up next to her on the couch and she read books from The Little House series.
My mom gave me the keys to new places and ideas and instilled in me the message that I had access to every bit of knowledge that existed by simply reaching for a book. As I learned to read on my own, my mom took me on frequent trips to the bookmobile that stopped at the small village a couple miles down the road from our house and to the public library in town. Those trips were among the best of my childhood as I excitedly anticipated where I would be taken via the books that I would check out. My mom’s support of my reading success provided me with a passport to everywhere. I loved that a string of words on a bunch a pages could build a new world to visit inside of my head.
When my mom read to me she also ignited my imagination. I wanted to be able to someday string words together on a page to build places for other people to visit. I’m the writer that I am today, and have the ability to take other people to the places that exist in my mind, because of my mom’s passion for language and her willingness to read to me when I was young.
Once I started school, I did very well as a student. I believe it’s because of the time my mom invested in me long before I ever entered a classroom. When I became a mother, I wanted both of my children to be successful in school. So I did the language nurturing things that my mom did with me when I was young. I narrated everything I did in front of my children and once they started talking they enjoyed narrating everything they did, too. They learned at a very early age that language represented the world around them and they developed a passion for learning as much as they possibly could because acquiring knowledge seemed so natural and fun. I incorporated the building blocks of language into their playtime, and before they were two years old, both of my kids were playfully pointing out the letters they saw around them. Because I talked to them constantly, my children developed large vocabularies by the time they were three. I read to them daily from the time they were infants. When they were preschool age they were reading to me and writing their own books. I read to my kids well into middle school simply because the three of us enjoyed spending time together each day curled up in front of a book that transported us to another place, explored a new idea, or gave us a reason to laugh.
My daughter and son both did very well in school and I believe it’s because I used my mom’s recipe to make successful children. Language development and reading were such a vital part of my kids’ early childhood that I imagine they’ll hand my mom’s recipe for success down to their children, too. And those children will probably hand it down to their children . . .
I wish every parent understood the recipe for successful children and invested valuable time in preparing them for their future.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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