Sprouting new words

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AMANDA made the transition from struggling, frustrated by her limited reading vocabulary, to reading rapidly, with excellent comprehension and with pleasure, in the garden. Amanda was 4. Juniper, two years older, had reading lessons that winter. Laura worked with her every day at the kitchen table. By Christmas, the lessons were finished, and Juniper was reading anything she wanted to read. She read a lot and greatly enjoyed it.

While Juniper was absorbed in ``The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,'' Amanda read simpler books aloud. We thought she had memorized the books, but Laura wondered about it and selected words at random from the book Amanda was reading. Amanda knew the words. She said, ``I can read. I listened when Mama was teaching Juniper. But I want to read chapter books, but they're too hard for me.'' She burst into tears.

I said, ``If you want to improve your reading vocabulary, so you can read more complex books, I'll help you.'' She did want to. Intensely. We have read to our daughters regularly since they were babies. They knew what a rich world is in books, and they were eager to read and enter that world on their own, beyond what we could read to them.

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Amanda and I worked together for a while most days. She started learning to write, and we worked on her reading vocabulary.

The snow in Whitney valley melted, and I had to go back to work irrigating the meadows, repairing fences, and planting our garden. Winters are long here. The season to work is short. I'm busy from daylight until dark most days. But Amanda and I continued her reading lessons while I worked in the garden. I spaded ground. She sat by me and read. Earthworms crawled out of the clods and made new ways down into the moist soil.

She spelled aloud, ``C-o-u-g-h.'' I said, ``Cough. That would be a hard one to sound out, because it's spelled oddly.''

She said, ``It should be spelled k-o-f. What is k-n-o-c-k-e-d?''

``Knocked.'' I raked seedbeds and planted seeds. Amanda moved closer to me and sat down in the grass on the ditchbank.

``W-e-l-l-i-n-g.''

``Can you sound it out?'' She studied it. ``Well-ling. Welling.''

I asked her to sound out only a few words, to be sure she was progressing in her ability. A lot of the time, I wasn't available to help her read. Then she sounded out words or sometimes asked for help from Juniper or Laura.

Those times together in the garden were for learning in a hurry, and Amanda was in a hurry. She knew there were shelves and shelves full of books, and she wanted access to what they contained. I didn't object to her being in a hurry. When she spelled out a word and then heard it and said it herself, she had it. She didn't have to ask for it again.

We exchanged boxes of books at the library every time we went to town.

``I-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-e-d.''

``Interested.''

Northeastern Oregon spring winds blew snowstorms down Whitney valley into the garden. If the snow came down heavily, we went in. ``Snow will melt on the pages, and the book will be wet.'' Radishes and peas and lettuce sprouted.

Peas grew and blossomed. I brought water down the ditch, into the garden. Amanda followed me, reading her book and spelling aloud the words she needed. I weeded the newly sprouted carrots while the water spread through the peas. Amanda sat on a rock beside me and read.

``R-e-c-o-g-n-i-z-e-d.''

``Recognized.''

We ate a lot of edible-pod peas before a severe frost took the peas and the potatoes in late July. We had carrots and kale and onions and garlic clear into the winter. By that winter, Amanda could read almost anything she wanted to read. Juniper was writing and illustrating books, binding them herself, and still reading voraciously.

Amanda started keeping a diary, with pictures and short sentences.

Late in December, I went out and shoveled down through two feet of snow, moved the hay aside, and harvested carrots and kale and onions. I covered the garden again and went into the house and washed the vegetables. ``Who wants carrots, or kale, or onions?''

Laura, Juniper, Amanda, and I sat close to the stove. We ate vegetables and read books.

Amanda said, ``S-i-m-u-l-t-a-n-e-o-u-s-l-y.''

I said, ``Simultaneously. Do you know what it means?''

``No.''

``At the same time.'' I thought about it. ``That's the first time you've needed help with a word for a long time.''

``I know.'' She smiled at me. She took another bite of carrot and chewed and read. So did I. Those carrots were incomparably sweet, crisp, and tender.

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