My older one is eight. He still tenderly believes in Santa. He still tenderly believes in Magic Tree House (his favorite book series). He still tenderly believes, that one of his greatest friends – is a little magical gnome, who has been showering him with gifts, books, letters for years… who helped him discover the joy of reading.
Letters. We needed a boost for our reading efforts; my son finally reached the stage where the excitement and novelty of discovery was long passed, but reading was still not fluent enough to enjoy the books by himself. Lots of sight words, phonics, tons of reading with mom… my son really needed some magical push to leap on the other side and dive head over heels into the fantastic new world that knowing how to read opens up.
So, the treasure hunts came into the picture. Except searching for something that Mom hid, was prone for failure after a second try. Common, as soon as novelty of those would wear off too, I bet my son would just decide to forgo the silly trinket that is hidden, to avoid the tortuous reading ordeal. There has to be some magic way to keep the interest up!
Magic came to the rescue.
Not the A-B-C type of letters.
Real, old fashioned letters. Magical letters. Letters from a magic creature – in our case, a little gnome, with intense interest in everything my kids were learning about.
First the letters were very simple: five pieces of letter-sized paper; one huge red word per each sheet; each sheet scotch taped to one of the objects in the house, all in the wrong places: e.g. a word “fridge” scotch-taped to the TV; running to a TV my kid would discover the word “sofa”; on the sofa – the word “bed”; and so on… until he finds a prize. Nothing fancy: usually, a book and some stickers, or markers, or an educational game. Definitely something educational. But the whole adventure turned out to be absolutely magical.
Those treasure hunts quickly became the highlight of our learning: as my son’s reading abilities grew, so did the letters: now each piece of paper contained a simple sentence: Search under a bed. Open a fridge. Pick up a yellow pillow.
The progress was exponential. So the letters from our little gnome, progressed as well. Soon they contained a few sentences per page: encouraging, praising, inspirational. “ I love how you are writing your words.” “Solving math is hard!” “I like how colorful is your drawing!” “Very interesting sentences!”
At the next step the letters started having a story: first a small, later – larger, enhanced with pictures (thank you, internet!!! Couldn’t live without you!).
I insisted that my son keeps up a diary. Not necessarily personal, just free-writing. Our gnome instantly responded: now he was responding to his specific things my son was talking about. He was sharing stories about the places he traveled to (sometimes on a globe, sometimes magical, sometimes even in time)…
And today… I realized that it is getting too hard for our little gnome to find the time for a highly individual story for each kid. While some of the older letters from a gnome are getting a second moment of glory for my second beginner reader, they both needed something else. Our little gnome turned to classics. Right now his letters are sharing with my boys the stories of Emil of Lönneberga by Astrid Lindgren. I used to love these stories in my childhood, but they are such a rare find today, that I was convinced the gnome can be the solely storyteller of these for a while. These stories had a great success: my children were laughing so hard, that my older one even fell of the bed. He knocked down a few thick chapter books from his bedside table.. Apparently, he was piling them up for some early morning reading, that my son looking forward to, while everyone else was still in bed.
A rub, and a kiss later, he can’t wait for the next magical adventure, and I am truly grateful to our magical helper to help my kids over the bridge into their own reading adventures!