When in doubt, sound it out – or just take a wild guess

My son is starting to be able to put the sounds letters make together to form words. This is a joyous, proud, and maddening time for his parents. It is hard to hold a single emotion from one moment to the next when our budding little reader is playing with the intellectual Flubber commonly referred to as sounding it out.

We are certain the boy is a genius when he correctly reads a word we thought beyond his knowledge of the pot-hole-laced rules of English pronunciation. In the next instant, we become convinced that Kindergarten is nothing more than a pipe dream for this daft child who just sounded out the letters of a simple syllable, then blended them to form a word completely foreign to the sounds he just uttered.

In our hearts we know that he is neither genius nor daft. He’s a kid who is on solid academic footing when he is focused. He is also a kid who is four. Consequently, he is often tempted by disinterest in thinking a problem through when it is more convenient to take a wild guess and move on to playtime.

This laziness is as natural as it is maddening. Without it, parenting would probably get to be too easy; parents would go around bumping their swelled heads into each other as they waited a minute for their gifted children to become doctors specializing in the treatment of concussions.

My son and I were looking at a group of portraits of people he did not know. Beneath each, the person’s name was spelled out. My son wanted to know who they were, so I asked him to sound out one of the names. The one I chose was Mary.

He began, “Maa, aah, ra, ee.”

“Now put it all together,” I said.

“Mary,” he replied without hesitation.

“Good job!” I had thought that the Y at the end might give him some trouble, since Ys have been known to make various sounds in different situations. But he tore right through it, making me just a tiny bit proud. We moved on to the name Adam. I thought this one would be easy after Mary.

“Aah, da, aah, ma,” he read.

I was already counting this one as a win and trying to find the next name we would try. “What’s it say, when you put it together?” I asked, almost as an afterthought.

“Henry!”

That high-pitched noise bystanders heard next was made by the hot air of parental conceit rushing out of my head through my ear holes.

Adam and Eve Currier and Ives lithograph

Eve laments the time wasted in trying to sound out the hard-to-read and easily tempted Adam. If she had only followed her instincts and gone with Henry, things certainly would have turned out better. (Image: Currier & Ives)

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6 comments on “When in doubt, sound it out – or just take a wild guess

  1. Papa Angst says:

    It’s incredible to watch kids acquire the language, isn’t it? Though the fits and starts can send me, too, from prideful to worried pretty quick. Great post.

  2. yearstricken says:

    Maybe when he saw “Adam,” it reminded him of Henry Adams, author of what else but “The Education of Henry Adams.”

  3. seldombites says:

    That reminds me of my 8 year old son who sails blithely through words like ‘condemn’ and ‘paranormal’, only to get completely stuck on ‘topic’.

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