My Son's Fascination with Words

Toddler pointing to words in a book
Ippei Naoi/Moment Open/Getty Images

It seems that my son learned to talk and read at about the same time.  I had mentioned this when I wrote about my possibly gifted toddler. He didn't talk until he was two years old and shortly afterward, he started to read. It's as though some kind of language switch had been flipped on in his brain. He had apparently been absorbing language all the time he wasn't speaking, but things moved quickly once he started to talk.

When I imagined my life as a parent, I had fully expected to sit my son on my lap and read to him. That was actually one of my fantasies about being a mom. I had always loved to read and wanted to start my son on a path to that same love of reading. Unfortunately for me, my son hated to sit still on my lap while I read to him. I never got more than a page into a book before he'd squirm and wiggle. I had to put him down on the floor to keep him from falling off my lap! It really made me quite sad as I thought I had a child who would never know the joy of reading good book, of getting immersed in a great story that would carry him off to new and wonderful worlds.

That all changed once my son started making connections between language and print. He had already been obsessed with letters. It started with him tracing letters on lot prints on sidewalks and letters on license plates, but soon everywhere we went, he had to trace letters with his fingers.

Even when we went to a fast-food restaurant, we couldn't leave until my son traced the letters T-R-A-S-H on the trash container. Eventually my son became obsessed with words and the books that contained them.

It wasn't until that obsession with words showed up that my son would sit still on my lap and allow me to read to him.

Before that, he had zero interest in having stories read to him. (That didn't change in kindergarten, so you can imagine what life was like for him in that class.) Once he developed an obsession with words, he wanted me to be read to all the time. He still wasn't talking much, although I now knew he was capable, so he'd let me know he wanted me to read to him by bringing a book to me where I was sitting, handing me the book, and then turning with his back to me and lifting his arms. That was his way of asking to be picked up and put on my lap.

One day I was reading a book to my son about a fox. The first time I mentioned the fox, my son said, "Where fox?" Thinking he wanted to know what a fox looked like, I pointed to the picture of the fox in the book. My son asked again, "Where fox?" I pointed to the fox again. At that point, my son got angry. "Where FOX?  Where FOX?"  "WHERE FOX?"  I pointed to the word fox. He was happy. He hadn't wanted to know what the animal fox looked like. He wanted to know what the word fox looked like!


After that, he grabbed my finger and moved it to each word so I could speak it.  He wouldn't let me read to him in any other way. I was delighted that I was finally able to read to my son, but I can tell you that reading that way took a lot of fun out of the reading. For example, I often read the book "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" to him. If you are familiar with the book, you know it has a cute bouncy rhythm to it. That rhythm disappears when you read it this way: Chicka. Chicka. Boom. Boom.

I'm certain that what he was doing was teaching himself to read because it wasn't long before he began to read on his own.

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