TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 10, 2016 – Every parent dreams of having a child who excels at reading, right?
Although she wouldn’t elect to have the opposite, Tris MacWilliam Yates has had to face more than one challenge with her daughter Hannah, who has read at almost double her age-group’s comprehension level since kindergarten. Having to sate her daughter’s reading appetite is only one part–the real challenge is how to accommodate a 10-year-old who can read high-school level books while having not even entered adolescence yet. Typical 10-year-old activities include selling Girl Scout cookies, building outdoor forts and having pillow fights at sleep-over dates, while high school kids are getting ready to drive cars, go to the prom and start applying to college. Macwilliam Yates shared some of her ups and downs with us about keep her daughter book-bound.
Sheryl Kay: When did you first get the sense that Hannah was actually reading?
Tris MacWilliam Yates: I started reading to Hannah at bedtime every night when she was a newborn as a bonding activity as well as a way to wind down the day. When she was in preschool, I started to notice that she would say some of the words before I would read them. I blew it off, wondering if maybe she had memorized the story from having read the book multiple times. But then I noticed when we’d open a new book she would see the same words and say them even though we had not read that book yet. Immediately I thought “She’s a genius! She obviously gets that from me!” I talked to her preschool teacher to see if the other children were doing this as well. Sure enough she told me that the other kids were just looking at pictures and pointing at colors and shapes. She had also noticed that Hannah seemed to be reading some of the words from the book during circle time.
SK: Then what happened?
TMY: I decided to pay attention to which words she was reading and created a list, noting how easily she recognized those words going forward . At 4 years old she could easily read about 18 words. By the time she was 5 years old, the list had more than doubled. Halfway through her kindergarten year her teacher called me in for a conference to discuss Hannah’s reading ability. She told me by the end of kindergarten a child should be reading at a certain level in order to move on to first grade. Hannah was already reading at twice that level. This has continued to happen year after year. Whatever reading level she is supposed to be at, she typically doubles that.
SK: A lot of parents would think it would be great to have a child so advanced in reading, so why is it a challenge?
TMY: It is great to have a child so advanced in reading. But you’re right, there are many challenges like providing her with new books and keeping her engaged in reading while finding books that have content that are appropriate her age group. I’ve found that many high school level books cover very mature topics like drug use, skipping school, dating et cetera. Even though she might be reading at a high school level, she’s still only 10 years old.
SK: So how do you deal with it?
TMY: At first I would try to read each book before she would. That got to be very time-consuming because this child devours books like I devour chocolate. Eventually she left me in the dust. Then, while in third grade, she came home from school with a chapter book titled “Warriors” by Erin Hunter that she had checked out of the school library. It was part of a very large series of children’s books about clans of wild cats who have battles in the woods and hunt for survival. I looked up the series and read the reviews. They were originally written for children in sixth and seventh grades, but the content wasn’t overly mature, no sex talk, sarcasm, vulgar language or cursing, and the leaders of the clans were males and females who were equally respected regardless of gender. BINGO! We began building our own library of these books, which Hannah absolutely loved. There are over 65 books in the collection. Over the next year she would rarely pick up a book that wasn’t part of this series. I began to worry that she was becoming too hooked on them and might miss out on other genres of books, so I started searching the Internet for highly rated children’s books for advanced readers. I found the Barnes & Noble website had a nice long list of the latest and greatest children’s books and the Oprah Winfrey book club had a children’s book list of “Must Reads” as well. Both served as great resources for the kind of quality books that Hannah likes to read and also get Mom’s seal of approval. I also continue to ask teachers for their recommendations as well as other parents. I’m constantly on the lookout for new series of books that I can introduce her to that are appropriate for a now fifth-grader who reads at a 10th-grade level. I recently purchased the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling for her and thought it would keep her busy for at least a week since some of them are really novels. However she surprised me and read them all in about four days. Her book habit has probably cost about $400-$500 a year since she began reading completely independently in second grade.
SK: Why not just take the books out of the library?
TMY: Initially we checked out a lot of books from our library, but once she began reading on her own she realized how cool it was to reread her books and discover new things she didn’t pick up the first time. Checking out the same books over and over is what led me to start buying most of her books.
SK: From Hannah’s perspective, does she feel different because of her reading ability?
TMY: I think Hannah does feel different, but in a good way. I’ve tried to always let her know what a special gift it is to be able to read a book and see a movie in your head without having to sit in front of the television or take a trip to a foreign land or travel back in time without leaving her bedroom. She is always happy to share the beauty and magic of reading with other kids. She actually started a Warriors book club at school and lends books to her classmates so they can read them and then join in role-playing during recess.
SK: Tell us about the good parts of having a child with advanced reading capabilities.
TMY: She is rarely bored. I can reward her good grades and accomplishments with books and she is thrilled to receive them. Definitely better than giving her ice cream or candy. And she has an advanced vocabulary and is great to play Trivial Pursuit with. Other parents are shocked to hear that I have put her on book restriction when necessary and saw amazing results.
SK: What advice can you give to parents who are faced with a similar situation?
TMY: To have an advanced reader is great, but it will require some creativity and maybe a small fortune to keep them engaged in reading. When buying them new books you don’t want to accidentally expose them to mature material before it’s time, so try to be aware of what your children are reading. Also, at birthdays and holidays, if family or friends ask you what your child wants as a gift, suggest book store gift cards. They are very popular around my house. One more very important word of advice I can give is try to spend as much time as you can reading with your child. It’s worth the time investment in the long run.