Katya has discovered the Magic Treehouse books and is as proud as a peacock. I had bought books 1-29 last summer while in the USA, hoping she would grow into them this year and eagerly devour the whole series. Since I have to purchase all the books they read (no library for young English readers here unless you're enrolled at the English-language schools--and we live too far from the schools to get guest library cards), I try to anticipate the girls' interests the two times a year we're in America. Our house feels like a bookstore or library; I'm glad that Natalia will get to use all these books, too! My private students all benefit from the books, as well. Someone is going to be sooooo darn lucky to inherit all these from us one day... A complete young girl's library, without having to lug it from the USA! (A note to other expat parents: Borders and Barnes & Noble will give you a 20% homeschooler discount when you buy books for your kids from them).
I've felt for a while that Katya was teetering on the edge of an ocean, dipping her toes in... but afraid to swim. Afraid to get all wet, and certainly not interested in riding the surf.
All that changed this week. Katya is now a bonafide reader.
I've heard from countless expat parents that this day would come... and that it would change everything. I've worried so much the past two years as the divide between Katya and her peers in America grew more and more pronounced; they were reading large chapter books and I could barely get her to memorize three-letter sight words. The more I tried to work with her, the more she dug in her heels in resistance. (This was particularly frustrating since I had taught a Russian friend of hers to read--and that girl was doing better than my own child!)
One mom that I particularly respect told me to just be patient, reminding me that those peers in America don't know how to read and write in RUSSIAN, and that Katya's brain has certainly been working hard all this time. She assured me that once Katya learned to read, really read, I wouldn't need to worry. I've done my best to create a home environment conducive to reading: lots of books available to take her down any path of interest; daily reading together; books on tape in the car; quality movies based on good books; fun board games that build English skills; and a bedroom with little nooks where she would want to curl up with a book.
That mom shared with me the experiences of their own older children, all who attended Russian schools through sixth grade. By reading voraciously, they learned spelling and grammar. Reading made the kids want to write, providing ample opportunity to hone their skills. Developing a broad vocabulary was also relatively effortless; their knowledge of Russian helped them to better analyze English and they remembered the words they read.
This all makes sense to me... I agreed, in principal... But until I saw Katya sprout wings this week and FLY, I was still uneasy.
WHAT A RELIEF.
While home sick for two weeks, Katya had been anticipating her class's big field trip that they went on this week. They were about to return to the Pioneer (Soviet Youth) camp they had visited for three days in the fall*; this time they would be studying medieval times, focusing on knights and castles. (The children built a castle in the snow, learned to play period music and do period dances, ate representative food, molded armor, studied tapestries and costumes, went through a series of "trials" to advance from page to knight. They all had a blast!).
Her excitement about the topic lead her to follow my lead when I suggested we read one of our books on knights: The Knight at Dawn. We started it at bedtime and read the first two chapters. Katya was so enthralled that she had to know more--and ended up finishing the whole book on her own that night! Sure, she stayed up (and has been staying up) much later than we'd like, but I DON'T CARE. I'm am THRILLED that she's so passionate about reading now! In the past week she has read four more of the books!
We're thankful that Chris has a quick business trip to New York City in a few weeks; he can bring back more books in the series for us!
*Last fall they immersed themselves in recreating the times of Prehistoric Man; the teachers helped them to explore the civilization in exciting hands-on ways. Katya's favorite activity was "hunting" in the forest. They learned to throw darts at balloons on trees. Inside the balloons were pictures of prehistoric animals and a number that indicated how many people in Katya's tribe that the animal could feed. She had to keep hunting until she met her tribe's needs. How cool is that???!!
Edited the next morning: Katya read another book last night! She loved Tonight on the Titanic, #17 in the series. She was so excited to tell us all about the sinking of ship afterwards. Oh--and I realized how many typos I'd missed! I wrote this entry sooo fast and didn't have time to check it. Just corrected it.