I forwent my usual chance to sleep in this morning in order to accomplish an extremely rare bit of handywork. Normally I'll avoid all work around the house, be it repair, yard work, cleaning, or even picking up after myself. But the front bay window installation was finally finished earlier this week, leaving behind some bare trim and a sheet of plywood under the overhang. And that means painting.
I love to paint. When I was pregnant and the kids' rooms needed to be painted and decorated, it just about killed me to be excluded from slapping paint on the walls. Others probably wouldn't be so cautious, but the books said not to spend a lot of time breathing in the fumes, so I fussed over it from afar. Painting is like magic to me -- handling liquid color directly, like a distillation of perception itself.
Whenever I watch a movie about an artist, and they show the tubes of pigment, or the pure primary colors piled on the palette, I wonder why anyone would ever mix them, or try to make a painting look like it wasn't painted. The oils themselves are so sensuous and rich. Maybe that's why I like so much twentieth century art, including abstract art -- the paint forms a thick texture on the canvas, like a relief map, demanding to be recognized as a material that's been applied.
My painting wasn't very exciting today -- white on white. But the kids came outside with me, and I gave them old brushes and a bucket of water, and let them "paint" on the driveway. They liked it so much that both demanded to do it again this afternoon, and Cady Gray astounded me by painting her first name. Sure, she balked after the Y in "CADY" and tried to erase it with her foot, saying "No, it's Cady Gray!" But I didn't know she could spell her name.
A few weeks short of age three, she can form all her letters except K, R, S, and X (for some reason -- I can understand the complexities of the other three). Two days ago when we were coloring together and turned to a new page with a bumblebee drawing, I asked her to read the caption. "The queen rules many bees," she read without hesitation. How do these kids do it? What switch gets thrown in their mind that allows them to translate groups of letters into vocabulary? They know their phonics, but Cady Gray (unlike Archer) rarely sounds words out; she's clearly using the "whole word" system, to the point where if she doesn't know a word, she'll guess by (a) context; (b) first letter; and (c) approximate length.
I suspect I learned the same way -- at any rate, I don't remember a lot of combining letter sounds, but I do remember recognizing words. I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bed sometime between the ages of 3 and 5 with my older brother, reading a "Dick and Jane" style reader he used in first or second grade, and completing the whole thing without errors, much to my parents' pride. I could read well before age 6, I know, because the kindergarten teacher at Bright School kept me and Lynne Pierce in at recess for reading enrichment -- the first time I got that feeling of being singled out for academic achievement, and not the last. In fact, it's probably part cause and part symptom of the academic identity that's been my major personal drive throughout life.
Do you remember learning to read? When did it happen? And how did it happen? Do you have any sense of the process you used, whether Sesame Street phonics or Electric Company word recognition?