​The One Milestone Every Parent Waits For

kids reading independently

I can think of some pretty great childhood milestones I’ve experienced in my years as a mom, but the one I observed last week eclipsed them all. I took photos of it. I wrote about it on Facebook. I texted my father-in-law about it. And then I sat down and blotted my mascara with a tissue, because I couldn’t stop welling up with tears over it.

It was the sight of my 9-year-old son utterly engrossed in a book. A long book, a book without pictures, a book he had chosen on his own and was already enthused about. I cannot think of any single moment — not even his first words, his wobbling first steps, or his brave expression on his first day of school — that has brought me quite so much pride and joy.

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My son first started expressing interest in chapter books when he was around 6 years old, and we ventured from picture-based stories into things like The Mouse and the Motorcycle and The Indian in the Cupboard. He wasn’t always super focused when I’d read to him at night, but he liked it, and eventually we delved into the Magic Treehouse series, which he really enjoyed.

More From The Stir: 25 Top Chapter Books to Read With Your Child at Bedtime

(Boy, I have to confess that I wasn’t a fan of those books. I know, I know, it’s not about me — but ugh, the stilted, repetitive writing style really got to me. Shut up, Jack. Shut up, Annie. I wish your mouths would start to spin, faster and faster, then everything about you would be still. Absolutely still.)

Last year he got absolutely obsessed with Calvin & Hobbes, which I thought was fantastic. He read pretty much every book Bill Waterson published, and I even bought him a stuffed tiger which he named Hobbes and carried everywhere he went for a while. But he never read chapter books on his own unless it was part of a school assignment or something we were working on at home.

You can make your kids work on learning projects that help their reading skills, but you can’t make them choose to pursue reading on their own. I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t know how you’d do such a thing. It seemed to me like something that would come with time ... or maybe it wouldn’t. I love reading and always have, but my husband rarely reads for pleasure.

Here’s what I think changed things for my boy: I started reading the Humphrey books to him around the time that school started in September. The series is told from the perspective of a classroom hamster, and they’re very cute and charming. I think they’re quite useful in terms of teaching kids about classroom challenges and social conflict, too, but most importantly, they’re fun. Riley loves the Humphrey stories, and every night when we read together, he gets fully absorbed in the action — laughing when Humprey does something silly, sympathizing when a student is faced with a problem, trying to guess what’s going to happen next.

His age and school grade level clearly played a part in his development with reading, but I truly believe it was a fictional hamster who taught him that reading can transport you to another world. Last week when we were in a bookstore picking out his next Humphrey book, he asked if I’d buy him another book that he would read on his own. I tried not to make a big deal of it and said of course I would.

A few days later, he started reading The Lightning Thief, and he excitedly told me all about it when he was done for the night. That’s when I took pictures, wrote messages, and quietly cried a little to myself, because I was so, so happy for him.

Reading is one of the biggest joys in my life, and while I can’t predict what his relationship with the written word will be as he gets older, I’m hopeful he also grows to love spending hours at a time with his nose stuck in a book. I’m so incredibly proud ... and I can’t wait to share books and talk about stories as he progresses.

Do your kids love to read? How did you feel when they first became independent readers?


Images via © iStock.com/Kontrec, Linda Sharps

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