When my daughter was born it was clear immediately that she was a very intense, focused and determined little person. “Oh she’s alert!” the midwives exclaimed. “Well of course, she’s always alert” I thought to myself. It didn’t occur to me that this wasn’t typical for her age. She was never that interested in eating or sleeping, they seemed like distractions from the real business of learning and growing up.
Her first task was to get moving which she achieved at 5.5 months, speedily crawling about our flat and nearby parks. Within a week of crawling she was cruising, she already had her sights set on walking and she said her first words almost immediately after walking and hasn’t stopped talking since. As soon as she achieved one milestone there was no pause for breath it was straight onto the next task.
By 18 months you could hold a conversation with her, she then turned her attention to fine motor skills and decided jigsaws were the thing. By age 2 we were doing jigsaws with up to 70 pieces in them, we told everyone to buy puzzles for Christmas but alas the jigsaw phase was done and they sat on the shelf. She spent intense periods of time focusing on one particular skill or interest and then as soon as it was mastered the interest was dropped and we were left wondering what next?
Around age 3 it was drawing, we drew around things, we rubbed patterns, we stamped, printed, coloured and drew and drew. Then there was dancing, we watched ballets and copied the steps, we played different music and moved to them, we constructed shows together with me carefully following her choreography.
There was the Minecraft phase which hit us around age 5, determined to master every aspect of this fascinating and complex game we played, read manuals, watched videos of other players, played with friends and even role-played Minecraft in real life. It wasn’t until she could create any idea from her imagination in the game that she was satisfied with her level of mastery. Along the way we explored the Great Fire of London, different styles of architecture, farming, geology and many other things.
The maths phase hit us around 5.5. It often starts very subtly, like a hint of what’s to come. From the back seat of the car she asked me “what does 3 and 3 and 3 make?” I answered and explained we called that “times or multiplying”. During the course of that conversation we worked our way through the 2 and 3 times table and only stopped because we reached our destination. A week later walking through town she explained all the number bonds to 10 and how they related to each other, just something she’d been pondering. She invented a game where we would challenge each other to sums to work out, she would try really hard to catch me out with a super hard one. Wanting more and more sums I asked her if I should get a book of them. Over the next few months on her request we worked our way through most of a Star Wars themed maths book. Until she’d had enough, or satisfied her desire for maths mastery for now anyway. She still tells me sums or writes them down occasionally, just as every now and then she’ll do a jigsaw but it’s not the same level of intensity anymore.
The interest in literacy and words has never really gone away but over time it has manifested itself in different ways. There have been periods of rhyming games, what else starts with B type games, one of the most annoying – the opposite game, phases of “what does that say?” Tracing letters on road signs, tracing letters in magazines, copying labels off bottles and packaging. We have made comics and she has dictated stories to me, we’ve read simple books guessing the last word on the line and novels like Narnia and Harry Potter. The novels spurred conversations about punctuation and italics as well as games like “stop, I’m going to find every Aslan on this page”.
There have been times when she has been quite determined to learn to read or write, for several months we worked diligently through some Jolly Phonics books and she invented all sorts of complicated fun games where I had to guess which word she had read by the actions she was doing. But these phases passed and I wondered when we would progress from reading single words to actual books.
Last summer whilst out she read the word ‘please’ on a sign. It might seem small to someone else, but familiar with her patterns I suspected then that this might be the start of a new phase, this was a word much harder than we usually came across in any phonics book so came from her own deductions. A few weeks later whilst on holiday she wrote a made up dictionary of her own language. We were reading the second Harry Potter book at the time, The Chamber of Secrets, and she was fascinated by Tom Riddle’s diary in the book with its magical powers. Over the next few weeks she made several copies of the diary each one containing plot spoilers and gradually the spellings within them improved. She made her own secret diary and picked out an audio copy of Jacqueline Wilson’s My Secret Diary in the library which we listened to in the car, in which Wilson reminisces about her own first attempts at being a writer; the big plans she had for each new book that she never finished, pouring over beautiful stationery at the corner shop and her own love of Anne Frank’s diary. “I’m going to be a writer” she declared. And yet still no advance on reading.
My daughter is 7 now, a few weeks ago she announced “I just want to read, I want to be able to read anything you can read, I want to do everything you can do, I just want to be an adult already!” This pretty much sums up her attitude since birth for me. “Why don’t you try then” I said and handed her a copy of Dr Seuss Hop on Pop, “just see how far you can get”. She took my challenge and over the next 3 nights almost completed the story. Exhilarated and proud she asked for more books, she has now read several Dr Seuss books and is spending lots of time pouring over them working out the tricky words and practicing them so she can read them fluidly with dramatic flair. Her goal is to be able to read anything and I know she’s well on the way to achieving it.