The magic of reading

2011-04-01 00:00

THERE is a magical moment that occurs around the middle of the year, every year in a Grade 1 class. I have been married to a Grade 1 teacher for 20 years and the thrill of that moment always enchants me. 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 my wife said to me: “Last week it all clicked into place for most of the children.” Perhaps it was the hype around the 2010 Football World Cup, which created a five-week winter holiday. Whatever the reason, various teachers thought that the children were more restless, and 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 which I studied 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 1 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.

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

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