In Charge

12.19.2016 / PLAY

How’s the reading going? my friend asks while our kids are chattering away happily in the living room, smashing Play-Doh into tiny donuts, cookies, brownies for their bake shop.

I want to tell her it’s going So! Well!, that I’m really sensing progress, that Bee and I are a picture of patience as we curl up on the sofa with blankets and cashews every morning to tackle our reading lesson.

But that would be a lie.

It sometimes goes So! Well!, but others times, it goes how I’d imagine most reading lessons with a small child go:

Parent gets out reading curriculum. Kid wants to do something else. Parent cheerfully offers snacks. Kid acquiesces. Parent points out letter blends, punctuation marks. Kid gets distracted. Parent takes deep breaths.¬†Kid sounds out a few letters, gets stuck, grows frustrated. Parent offers help, kid wants to do it herself. Kid fidgets, grows frustrated because she’s getting it wrong – Why am I not a good enough reader? while parent fidgets, grows frustrated because she’s getting it wrong¬† – Why am I not a good enough teacher?

Parent ends the reading lesson with a head full of worries:
I know she’s ready. But how hard do I push?

It’s not going so well, I tell my friend as the littles serve us their clay pastry creations.

She laughs, fake-biting into her son’s Play-Doh cupcake. Remember potty-training?

I do.

Potty-training in these parts was rough. We’d tried it all: positive reinforcement (bribes), happy songs, routine breaks, pants-less weekends, new big girl underwear, even a 3-day potty-training “booty camp” where our lives revolved around the porcelain throne. Weeks later with little-to-no real and persistent success, I nearly shelved the idea altogether, my head full of familiar worries: I know she’s ready. But how hard do I push?

But then I realized the one method I hadn’t tried: The Hands-Off, Mom Method.

(This is Bee’s specialty.)

I’d borrowed a tiny potty and set it up in Bee’s bathroom. You’re in charge of your own pee now, OK? I’d said, positioning a step stool near the sink for simple hand-washing. Let me know how I can help.

She’d potty-trained herself by noon the next day.

Can I really do that with reading? I ask my friend as we’re collecting clay donut remnants from the coffee table.

I mean, it’s worth a shot, right? she says.

Thus began The Hands-Off, Mom Method: Reading Edition.

I shelved the big, thick intimidating reading curriculum and, instead, opted for a tiny set of Bob books Bee could hold and wield herself.

You’re in charge of your own reading now, OK? I’d said as I hand her the box set and her blanket, some cashews. Let me know how I can help.

She’d read her first page by noon the next day.

And now, here we are on our fourth set of Bob books, and Bee’s momentum has flown out the window.

Isn’t that the golden rule of parenting? That once you learn the game, once you feel you’ve mastered the technique, once you’ve memorized the playbook, the rules bend?

In the great sport of reading, Bob books were our first game-changer.
The Fire Kids Edition has been our second.

The “Hands-Off, Mom Method” requirement checklist:
-A ‘Read to Me’ feature on select books (here’s looking at you, Seuss) so Bee can dictate the pace of each page while following along with sight word prompts.
-Top educational apps for Bee to practice letter formation and sentence structure independently.
-A simple set of parental control options so I can manage usage limits, content access, and educational goals (books > apps!).
-A durable case and worry-free guarantee (if it gets damaged within two years, Amazon replaces it — no questions asked) so Bee can carry it around without me micro-managing its whereabouts.

Check, check, check, check.

Last weekend, I’m packing the van to visit our family a few hours north. We’ve got summer sausage, cheese in the cooler. Formula in the diaper bag. Coffee in the Thermos.

Want me to pack your tablet? I ask Bee as we fit our wool socks, toothpaste into a duffel bag. It might be nice for the car.

Mom, I got it, she says, proudly lugging a full backpack behind her. I’m in charge of my own reading now.

That she is.


This essay was sponsored by Amazon, a long-favored brand in our own household (all opinions are my own). Thanks for reading, and here’s to empowering these independent little ones we know and love.

  • Oh, potty training. Those were the days. What finally worked for us is setting a big date – no pull-ups after Christmas, right? No night pull-ups after you turn 4, right? And that was that. I’m not pushing on the reading, not yet, because he’s so verbal already, does small math, knows how to spell several words… I’m going to put him in charge of his own reading and see what happens. Thanks for the AWESOME idea! xoxo

    • oh i think the big date would’ve worked so well for bee, too! what a great idea! she’s forever measuring her days by milestones — will i get to feed my brother when i’m 5? will i get gum when i’m 5? will i drive when i’m 5, since they rhyme? ;)

      • I’m gathering trash for trash day: “What are you doing, Mom?” Gathering the trash. Soon this will be your chore. “When I’m 5, or 17?” When you’re 5, this will be a good chore. “I don’t want to do it until I’m 17!” LOL “When I’m 5” comes up a lot at our house, too. P.S. he already gets gum with the provision he spits it in the trash… we’ll see how he does…

      • Ha – you’re the coolest mom!

  • Yup. So on point. My first kid taught himself to read by devouring Smurf comic books. More power to us for letting go of the pressure and letting them do their thang. Not easy to do. Much love.

    • Oh what a LOVELY perspective, Crystal! Smurf comic books, who knew?! I’ll have to take a peek at those the next we visit our library!

  • I don’t have a child but I remember learning how to read picture books at 3 years old with a similar Mom Hands Off technique. My Mom would leave the pretty books lying where I could reach them, and when I figured out there were fun stories in books, I learned pretty fast!

    Mom continued the approach by letting me pick books I wanted at the library all by myself (super-important to me then!) and though she vetted their content, she never said they were too difficult for a kid my age to read. By 5-1/2 years old, I was on the classic Nancy Drew mysteries and having a ball. Hope Bee enjoys learning to read as much as I did!

    • Oh Daisy, your mother sounds so lovely! What a gift to have such a burden-free, interest-led introduction to reading!!! :)

  • Anne

    This is brilliant! We are entering potty training territory, and I think the Hands-Off, Mom Method will work well with our spunky little one. Thank you for sharing!

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