Smooch is obsessed with letters right now. A few months ago, he started playing very close attention to his little alphabet puzzle. Then I got out an old ABC chart from my kindergarten days to hang in the playroom, and we started singing the song and pointing to the letters. Before we knew it, he was asking us to write letters on his papers when he colors. He’s an exuberant and gleeful dictator as he points to the spot he has in mind: “Geen O! Pup-pew S! Bwoo E, I, O, I, S! Wew-oh Y!”
I’m torn, y’all. On one hand, I’m so excited that he is interested in print. He points out signs everywhere we go, especially if he sees one of the letters he truly recognizes (O, S, Y, sometimes E and I) and he listens eagerly when we tell him what the signs really say. I’m a lifelong reader, and it’s important to me to foster that same love of literacy in my boy. My husband struggled with reading as a kid (though, clearly, he’s managing quite well as an adult) and he just wants Smooch to have an easier time of learning the skills he’ll need. The part of me that’s excited about this wants to give him lots of opportunities to expand on this interest – songs, books, posters, doing his own ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ – and chances to show off a little bit for our friends and family. (What can I say. I’m a mom.)
On the other hand, I don’t want to push him. I don’t him to feel like I’m forcing him to do alphabet stuff all day long so that he eventually hates the thought. I don’t want to be some kind of loony stage mom making him perform a song and dance for all the neighbors, you know?
It’s hard for me to know, partly because he still doesn’t speak in complete sentences and he can’t tell me how he feels about it. I can’t sit down for a heart-to-heart, “Hey, Smooch? Do you want to work on your alphabet with me? Do you like doing this stuff?” and hear him answer, “Sure, Mommy, I’d love to,” or “No thanks, Mom, I’d rather play with my trains today.” All I can do is what I’ve been doing – I watch him, I try to read his mood and his interest level. My gut feeling is that we’re doing the right thing for the time being. It’s not a real intense, “schoolwork” kind of thing. It’s playful and fun, it’s broken up throughout the day, and I think he does honestly love it. I could probably stand to scale back a little on encouraging him to “show me the O” – especially in front of company.
This, I think, is the dance of parenting as kids get older. You take a few steps forward, urging them on toward something they seem to want or that you know they need. You take a few steps back, if they seem overwhelmed or frustrated or if it’s going to fast. You dip and sway together, feeling out the moves that will get you both across the floor. For now, we’re doing the Alphabet Hop.