Claremont, Calif. — As one who believes that parents can and should be parateachers, especially in their children's early years, I am having trouble. I am running out of students.
As a parateacher, by which I mean a non-professional who tries to further the work of teachers at home, my specialty has been helping our children with their reading and writing. Arithmetic I have left alone, needing help in that field myself.
When our son and daughter were young, I was a faithful, always-ready parateachers. First I told them stories. Then I read aloud. Then I pointed out letters and words. Then I listened while they read to me. Then I helped them write simple sentences.
An appropriate number of years later our son and daughter had two children each. The oldest is now 12. She is the one who used to ask, or command, me to do what I did willingly, lovingly.
"Tell me a story, Gimp," she said at first. And I did, story after story.
Then, bringing me a children's book with large pictures, "Read me a story, Gimp," she said. and I did, pointing to the words as I read and calling attention to some of the details in the pictures.
And so I went through the various steps as she learned to read and later to write. But now, in sixth grade, she has long since ceased making use of me. Happily, she does well at school in reading and writing, almost as well as she does in swimming.
Our second grandchild is now eight and in third grade. I went through the same steps with him as I had with my granddaughter, but he is now able to read for himself. His father is helping him improve his writing and spelling, so I am no longer able to do anything with him but play catch with a Frisbee and a soft football. He is better at this than I am, both at throwing and at catching.
One day recently, though, he surprised me. "Tell me a story, Gramp," he said , as he had done years before. I was almost too shaken to think to anything, but finally I did. However he didn't listen as attentively as in the old days, and one story was enough.
"Let's play catch, Gramp," he said.
So all I have left for my parateaching is a grandson age five who is in kindergarten, and another grandson who is not quite three. The younger of these is a prospect for my storytelling, but will not be ready for about a year. The five-year-old is too busy with his space fiction toys and with the football and Frisbee to listen to stories or have anything read to him, at least by me.
Or so I thought until our latest visit with our son and his family, whom we had not seen for several months. In the evening, when the fiveyear-old had had his bath and was ready for bed, he came over to me, holding a book.
"Read to me, Grampa," he said. Apparently he had skipped the storytelling stage, at least with me. Perhaps his father had taken care of that.
So I took the book he handed me, we snuggled up close, and I read to him. What especially pleased me was that he had chosen one of my own books, "Strange Monsters of the Sea." Good taste, I thought.
The only thing that bothered me a little was that he seemed more interested in the pictures, beautifully drawn by Paul Galdone, than in his Grampa's words.
Maybe on our next visit he will ask to read to him again, perhaps from the same book. And this time my words will get more of his attention.
Anyhow, I still have that three-year-old grandson to tell stories to and read to and all the rest. But that will be my last change as a parateacher.
I look forward to it with a mixture of anticipation and sadness.