The pros and cons of literate children

The summer before the start of kindergarten a switch flipped in the brain of my then five-year-old. She went from “reading” memorized board books to reading actual books to herself in what seemed like an instant. While most of the effects of this were great, some were… unexpected.

Reading is important. Reading is the foundation of advanced knowledge. If you can read, you can teach yourself new things, you can read stories that define the human condition, you can choose your own adventure. I don’t think I will stir any controversy by saying that I am in favor of literacy.1

The summer before the start of kindergarten a switch flipped in the brain of my then five-year-old.2 She went from “reading” memorized board books to reading actual books to herself in what seemed like an instant. While most of the effects of this were great, some were… unexpected. As we approach the one year anniversary of me being the parent of a literate child, I thought I’d share some of my observations.

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Pro: My Kid Can Read Old Issues of X-Men

One of the joys of being a parent is sharing things you love with your children; reading is no exception. I’m excited for her to read the things that I love. I’m excited for her to figure out what she loves. She discusses the plots of books with such joy, it makes me melt.

Con: Have you read old issues of X-Men?

Before she could read the words, I could give my daughter reprints of old X-Men comics from the 1960s without worrying too much about the content. She’d see Iceman fight Frankenstein or Beast fight a robot—no big. Now that she reads the bubbles too, I have to remember that they didn’t always say the nicest things to Jean Grey.


Pro: She can read to herself in the car

The two hour drive to the grandparents was never particularly rough for my girls, especially when they were littler and they would just nap. As they got older, the naps faded and the girls would require some amusement; two hours can be an eternity to a kid. Now, the oldest can read to herself, and we will be confident that at least she won’t be bored.

Con: She now gets carsick

The very first lengthy car trip after the literacy bit flipped for my oldest daughter, she vomited in the car for the first time. She wasn’t reading a book in the car; she was now reading all the signs on the road. It was probably just a coincidence, but now we carry a bucket in the car.

Pro: She will wake up early and read to herself (and her sister)

My oldest has always woken up with the sun; she’s so excited to be awake and in the world. However, her parents enjoy occasionally sleeping in until 7:00 AM. Even before she would read the words, she would wake up before anyone else and immerse herself in a book. Now, she can read to herself and her sister, buying her parents a few more minutes of unconsciousness.

Con: She will take a book into the bathroom with her

The oldest has discovered that if she takes a book with her into the bathroom and closes the door, it will be a long time before someone bothers her with tedious requests like ”make your bed” or ”put on pants.” We’ve had to put a moratorium on reading in the bathroom if there is anywhere we need to be, say, before noon.

Also, she has learned that ”let me finish this chapter” is another great way to stall doing whatever it is her parents want her to do that she doesn’t want to do. Most of the time this request will be honored, but with a vigilant eye—often the subsequent chapter will be started ”accidentally” and the cycle starts anew.3

Pro: She can use an iPod

We have an old classic iPod up in the girls’ playroom filled with audiobooks and kids music. We do not care if it gets destroyed. Using a classic iPod is very difficult if you cannot read. She now can find the specific public domain audiobook she is looking for.4

Con: She can read your iPad

My wife Kat and I have to be more diligent about what we are reading when the girls are around. Now that the oldest can read, it is quite common for her to look over our shoulder without us noticing. Some content is not appropriate for a six year old, so I have to be mindful when I read something like a Stephen King novel or even a news story that is not age appropriate.

Pro: She is more aware of the context of the world around her

So much of the world is words: Street signs, road signs, flyers, T-shirts, displays on electronics. The guidepost through our day that we grown-ups don’t consciously register, she now can begin to comprehend.

Con: She now can read advertising

All those billboards, all those ads stuck in the median, signs in store windows—she can read them all. That filter that you and I use to block out the constant bombardment from marketers? She has no such filter yet.5 At the end of many of her books is a single-page ad for more books in the series—and she wants them all. After every book she wants me to take her to the ”coms” (as in, or something like that). Children’s book marketers, you know your audience well, and I hate you.

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As with all new things your kids learn, you release them more into the world. The minor annoyances listed above are nothing compared to the experiences available to my child now that she has started down the path of being literate human. I look forward to walking with her when she lets me.

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  1. This draft was written with the three-year-old “reading” Frog and Toad on my iPad next to me. 
  2. I’d like to take credit for it, but she more or less taught herself, spending hours in the morning staring at books before the rest of the house would wake. 
  3. It is very odd to hear yourself tell your child, “No. You aren’t allowed to read any more right now.” But alas, it must be done. 
  4. This is also great for playing video games. There is a ton of text in video games, especially tutorial levels. If you want younger kids to enjoy your game, design a wordless tutorial. 
  5. World’s Best Cup of Coffee 

Photo by: H is for Home

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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