The Wonder of Words

One of my best childhood memories is the day I learned to read. My mom taught me a lot of pre-reading skills, and then I went to a private preschool where the emphasis was on reading when the child was ready. I was ready, so they taught me to read.

I’m sure there were intermediate steps between learning phonetic sounds and actually reading a book, but my memory is of the day my teacher sat down with me one-on-one with a little book called “Max the Cat.” It was just a simple phonics reader, with most of the words containing the short vowel “a” sound, but as I slowly sounded out the words on the page I began to marvel: I am READING this book!

I could have exploded out of sheer joy and excitement. I felt like the ability to finally understand what words said on paper meant I could do just about anything. My teacher let me take the book home to show my parents, and my mom put it on the coffee table in the living room. I recall going over to touch it reverently, “This is a book I have read MYSELF.” I was proud of myself, but more than that I was thrilled that finally the secret was unlocked!

Of course there were other days and other reading lessons, but I sort of never lost that sense of awe and appreciation for the privilege of being able to read. There were times in college, when my reading assignments went well over 1,000 pages a week (of dense stuff like Kant and the like) that I may not have felt quite as much free-wheeling joy from the exercise, but I always marveled at the way reading opens so many worlds and ideas to the reader.

When I think about what an amazing gift literacy is, I’m so thankful to live in a time and place that afforded me the opportunity to learn and read as much and as widely as I wish. As with so many tasks we do day in and day out, reading can be something we take for granted, but sometimes it’s helpful to remember how things felt to us as kids when they were new and exciting – there is a lot of value to seeing the everyday world as a place of wonder.

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How about y’all? Do you remember the first time you really read and understood something? Was it a big moment of revelation for you, or more like a process of understanding?

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