Then Early Bird came along and six weeks before his 3rd birthday he started reading. On his own. In one week he went from reading "bed" and "red" to over 40 consonant-vowel-consonant words. Two and a half weeks later he could read any CVC word presented to him, was working on consonant blends, and had several "sight" words memorized as well.
I started panicking. I wasn't ready yet to teach him. I knew what I was going to do with Builder Boy; I had a plan. But I didn't have a plan for Early Bird; I wasn't emotionally prepared to have an early learner. I found myself thinking over and over, "What am I going to do with him?" I could not think of anything else. I could make no plan; my confidence was gone. I started "borrowing guilt," as my father-in-law put it. I was worried about ruining this, of teaching him wrong, of pushing too much, of holding him back, of killing his joy in learning. I worried that he would become frustrated with a lack of knowledge and stop wanting to learn. I worried that he would just memorize words and be a fast sight reader but a terrible speller (like I am.) I didn't know if I should work with him to make sure he learned his phonics, but risk taking the joy out of learning for him, or if I should leave him to his own devices and risk him learning things wrong or getting frustrated and give up. He asked over and over to "do words," begging to start and pleading not to stop way past the time I felt used up. I was afraid to stop before he was ready, afraid of saying "no more!'' and possibly discouraging him.
I reached out to people in my life, looking for help. I asked for prayers for God's guidance and for peace of mind. But the people I asked could not understand why I was freaking out about something that they saw as being so good. I process things better when I can talk to someone; bounce off ideas and get advice that I would never think of. But no one in my life could help me. So I gathered my courage and started a thread on the Accelerated Learners board where I had been lurking, asking for help. And I got it. I got to hear from people who had dealt with the same emotions that I had. I learned that, yes, it is possible Early Bird would become a sight reader and a horrible speller and that other parents had dealt with it and I could, too. I learned that there was a possibility that he might give up and stop for a while but that that didn't mean he'll never learn again. And most of all I recognized my dependence on needing a plan, needing to know what to expect and what was going to happen. I learned that I needed to accept that I was not going to be able to control this and that I needed to let go of some things. It helped a lot and as I "talked" with people on the board my panic receded. I still have moments of "what do I do now?" But I am taking everything in stride now. I'm not making plans, I'm just doing what he wants to do (which is still a lot.)
A lot of the advice I received had a lot in common, so I have condensed what I learned from others into:
5 Steps for When You're Panicking:
Step 1) Breathe. This may or may not work for you. If you are holding your breath or forgetting to breathe then this is a very good idea. If you are like me breathing more means hyperventilating. But whether you need to breathe more or less, the main point is to take a moment (or lots of moments) to calm down, if you can.
Step 2) Pray. If you don't believe in God or personal prayer skip to step 3. For those of you who do pray remember that God gives us only what we can handle with His strength. Remember that God answers our prayers on His time, not ours. Remember that God doesn't always give us the answer we want, but the answer that is the best for us. Find someone else to pray for you. I would suggest keeping this to one or two people, and to someone who will understand why you're stressed.
Step 3) Find people who have gone through what you're going through. This helped me tremendously. I didn't get to the point where I felt like I could do this until I got feedback from parents who had been there, done that with early learners. I learned that, yes, my worries about things going wrong could happen but others have dealt with those issues, too. I learned that really good things could happen, too, and I had to make sure I wasn't blocking those things from happening. And I learned that I am not alone.
Step 4) Learn to let go of control and expectations. This step takes time; sometimes a lot of time. I think it took me at least a month, maybe more. It means changing a habit of thinking, a way of looking at things. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't have goals; it does means that you don't stress about the time-frame. This is done best with help from someone who knows you very well.
Step 5) Remember to play and have fun. When I received this advice I thought "well, duh! You don't need to tell me that." He was having a blast playing with letters and words and I wasn't forcing it on him. I remembered to play with other things, too. But in looking at what he was doing and where he was going I overlooked gaps. Sure, he's ready for some 1st grade material, but what about the pre-school skills like coloring, drawing, scissor skills? What about music, which he loves, but we don't do enough of? It took me 4 months to realize that there were gaps, but now that I know I am I have created a "pre-school" just for him so we can work on those things together and I can learn about other gaps that I hadn't anticipated.
I hope someday, when I have more experience, I will be able to help others the way that the wonderful parents over at the Well Trained Mind forum helped (and continue to help) me.
Thanks, you guys.