Squiggles on a Page: The Magic of Reading

Child-readingThere is a magical moment that occurs around the middle of the year, every year, in a grade one class. I have been married to a first grade teacher for 20 years and the thrill of that moment enchants me every year. It’s the moment that squiggles on a page suddenly, out of the blue, morph into words, phrases and sentences. The gates are open, and the child tumbles through into the world of reading and writing.

Last year it happened rather late. Sometime in August (the South African school year begins in January) Jen said to me, “Last week it all clicked into place for most of the children.” Perhaps it was the hype around the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which created a five-week winter holiday. Whatever the reason, Jen thought that the children were more restless, less able to concentrate.

It is impossible for someone who has been reading for 50 years to imagine, let alone remember, what it was like not to be able to read; not to be able to make sense of the squiggles. The Greek alphabet and a Greek New Testament when I was at university were, I guess, a similar challenge. But I had mental tools and written language experience by then to guide me through what was, well, Greek to me. For a child, the slate is clean; there are no links, no associations; only the frustration of knowing there is something there but not being able to find it. It must be something like looking at one of those busy patterns and waiting for a face or picture to emerge. I’ve seen crowds standing outside shop windows staring at those pictures. I confess; I’ve joined the crowds to no avail. Nothing has ever emerged for me. I stand there like a grade one child staring at squiggles, longing for a teacher to make it work for me.

Of course reading and writing skills are subjects of a vast treasure of sociological and developmental research beyond my ken. My wife would be able to tell me something of how it works, but I am content simply to watch from the sidelines, captivated by the enchantment of it all.

ReadingManiacsFor some children it’s an easy transition; others struggle. Some have their own difficulties to overcome; others have external pressures but, in each one, God’s creative grace is at work. Hush, be still; a miracle is about to happen.


Related posts:
Odds ‘N Ends  “Mom I know LOTS of words”



Filed under General Writing, Odds & Ends

6 responses to “Squiggles on a Page: The Magic of Reading

  1. maryct70

    Wonderful post Ian. It sounds like your wife is a devoted teacher, and blessed by the fact that she gets to witness this transition every year.
    Thanks for the mention too! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics | Wondering Preacher

  3. Hi Ian. You have no idea how timely this is! I have some young relatives staying with me for a while…who are behind in reading. I am homeschooling them along with my boys now and really focusing on reading…because I know all that it can unlock for them. They can sound out words, but only at a level where it is still all labor and no magic.

    I’ve been praying that in their short time here, God will help me get them to a place where they can experience the JOY of reading. This was so encouraging. Thanks!


    • Thanks Chrystal, I’m very glad. It’s been waiting to be written since August, so now we know why!
      I would send Jen to you, but I kinda need her here!! I know she would say, “Cut as much of the ‘labor’ as possible and create the ‘magic’!”
      One of the things she tells parents is for you and the child to read together, then any time he’s ready he taps your arm and carries on by himself. If he struggles with a word, say it for him, and carry on with him until he taps your arm again. Don’t make him sound out words when you are reading. You can go back and do that if you need to.
      There is a time for sounding out and working hard, but the most imortant at this stage is to let them enjoy the story and experienc the fun of reading . If you break up the story with hard work, the story fades and the magic has gone.
      It’s all so easy when you are telling someone else what to do!!!! 🙂


      • Anyone who still delights in the miracle of a child learning to read after twenty years and countless students must be a real gem.

        I fancied myself a good teacher when my first son could read well at age four. I have since learned it is not normal for a three year old to be intrinsically motivated to learn to read! Ah well….every child is different. That is one of the advantages of being able to teach one on one at home–tailoring the approach and the focus to meet individual needs.


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