Our youngest child, Ben, is a forty-two-inch tall, five-year-old body of compressed nuclear energy and indefatigable humor. Reading lessons with this little lad are non-stop sessions of expressions like, “Be diligent, Benjamin,” and “Look at the book, Ben; what does this sound say?” The idea of teaching this young man to read in one hundred easy lessons is wishful thinking, at best. The child’s mind pinballs from one idea to the next with breakneck speed, and we’re staring at one piece of paper with a few words on it! We were learning the ar sound, today, for example. He liked that sound because it says, “AAAARRR! Like a pirate, Mom!” He even made his hand into a pirate hook to show me how awesome the sound was….
“Well, yes, Ben, but let’s see what other words we can make with that sound.”
“F-AR. Far. Oh, far, like I can see far,” as he makes an imaginary spyglass with his pudgy hands. Then he flips the imaginary telescope around and announces, “Now I can see you up close. I had the spyglass backwards. Now you’re not far, Mom.”
“Stay focused, Ben. Let’s sound out this word….”
“C-AR. Car. I’m going to hop in my car and drive far away.”
“Well, wait to do that after we’re done with your reading lesson, okay? What’s this word?”
It’s enough to make a mom (who has three other school-age children with whom she should be working) sigh with exhaustion and exasperation. I have caught myself doing that a few times, and we’re only six weeks into this school year. I’ve had to reprimand myself, and try smiling at Ben’s creative and agile mind, instead of squelching his naturally quick thinking skills. Granted, he’s not always thinking about things that are relevant to what we’re supposed to be studying, but what would life be like without his humor and liveliness? And, isn’t the fact that he’s understanding what he’s reading enough to interact with or react to it a positive sign that we’re making some progress in phonetic comprehension? Pinball reactions are better than a tilted educational machine that destroys his desire to learn.
What would our world be like if Thomas Edison’s curiosity and inquisitiveness—his pinball ideas—had been suffocated under the average expectations of his family or teachers? What would our hymnals be like if Charles Wesley had not been given latitude to pen his thoughts and spiritual lessons whenever they occurred to him? What would the Sistine Chapel look like if Michelangelo had not been given full rein to paint what was in his head at that moment, rather than what someone else demanded of him?
I realize that Ben may never turn out to be a great lyricist, painter, or inventor. He may not even get through his reading book in 150 easy lessons. But I certainly would be doing him a disservice by dampening his expressions of interest and eagerness for the sake of a few extra minutes of time each day. I would also miss out on some of the best comedy I’ve ever experienced in my life….
“She gave him a sock on his nose,” Ben haltingly read the other day, and then replied, “Well, I suppose if it was big enough, you could put a sock on it. It would make it hard to breathe, though.” Pinball lessons are good lessons!