Viewing Early Literacy Through a “Reading” Lens

A few weeks ago, I took our girls to a “reading to furry friends” event at our local library. Going into it, I figured our kindergartener, who is just starting to read independently, would enjoy picking out a book she’s familiar with and reading it to the dogs. And I assumed the 3.5-year-old would just be along for the ride, as she usually is…

But then, the roles were reversed. Our kindergartener got stage fright and didn’t want to read, and the 3.5-year-old confidently grabbed a Frog and Toad book, sat down next to a dog, opened up the book, and started to read without hesitation. And read she did, getting most of the words and turning the pages appropriately!

Now, before you think she’s one of the youngest independent readers ever… She’s listened to all of the Frog and Toad books on Audible so many times that she has them all memorized almost word for word (check out this post for a little insight into her obsession!). And until just this this week, I always wrote off the incredible reading work that she’s doing by saying, “Oh, it’s no big deal. She’s not reading those books— she’s memorized them!” And that was truly my attitude.

But I know better, and I was reminded of that this week when I was flipping through some passages from Kathy Collins’s and Matt Glover’s book I Am Reading: Nurturing Young Children’s Meaning Making and Joyful Engagement with Any Book (2015). In the very first chapter, Collins and Glover address how adults view the reading that our youngest did last week through 3 lenses: the “cute” lens, the “no big deal” lens, and the “reading” lens. And, I suddenly realized that by writing off how joyfully our youngest has engaged with Frog and Toad, I’ve written off the incredible reading learning that she is showing!

Collins and Glover write, “Robust and well-rounded reading is the interplay among the abilities to decode print, read it with fluency, and make meaning of it all. Reading is the elegant orchestration of macro and micro skills and strategies. The act of reading is swaddled in purpose, schema, response, and so many other things. And developing an identity as a reader and the motivation to read involves so much more than reading levels, word counts, fluency rates, and assessments” (pages 4-5).

So that reading that my 3.5-year-old did to her furry friend last week? It WAS a big deal. No, she’s certainly not decoding those words. But she understands the story, she connects with the characters, she “reads” the pictures, she uses expression in her voice, she’s holds books correctly and with care… And she sees herself as a reader! That’s what reading as a young child SHOULD be about!

I’m signing off for a week to spend my girls’ spring breaks with them. If you leave me a question or send me an email, give me some grace if I don’t respond till I get back!

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