By: Timm Dowling
Few people can remember the exact moment when they first learned to read. Now I may not be able to tell you what I ate for breakfast this morning, but I do remember my first breakthrough with reading. I was lucky enough to attend a private school until fourth grade- St. Charles Borromeo, right here in Tacoma. As I think back to first grade, a few memories flash in my mind; my first girlfriend (whatever that meant), a role in the Christmas pageant (no lines, but it was a big deal), and a trip to the Principal’s office for reasons undisclosed (okay, rough housing at recess). More important than any of those recollections was Sister Margaret’s advice one faithful day when we were reading aloud in class.
“Let the words flow like a river, Timm.” I can honestly say this was the first time it clicked. I no longer viewed the words separately. I was not completely focused on the correct pronunciation but I linked the words together and by the end of the sentence a picture was painted in my mind. Holy cow, I can read!
Even though I had plenty of books for practice, the passion for reading had not yet ignited. I was an outdoors kid and sitting down to read never seemed appetizing. Bed time stories were enough to put me to sleep. However, by 3rd grade, Harry Potter mania was rising fast. My best friends were already on the third book in the series, so it was necessary for me to catch up to remain cool. Noticing this, my best friend began to call me after school and we would read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to each other over the phone. He was an experienced reader, having learned to read before kindergarten so I subconsciously picked up a few tips here and there (like how to pronounce Hermione).
I read through each of the Harry Potter books in three days or less. It wasn’t the first book I ever read, but it was the first book that captured my imagination to such a degree that I couldn’t put it down. Books over two hundred pages tend to intimidate younger readers, but JK Rowling found an enticingly magical formula. I ate it up like the thousands of other kids around the globe. I would get lost in these books. It was the first time I was engulfed in the story and could visualize the characters, hear their voices, and feel their emotions. I was transported to another world, lost in a tale of adventure, adversity and accomplishment. I went on to read all seven books, twice.
From that point on, I was no longer discouraged by the length of a book. I went on to read other series like Pendragon and Eragon. While I enjoyed fantasy and science-fiction in my free time, the constant practice it gave my mind made other genres enjoyable too. Comprehension and fulfillment translated into the classroom as I read and completed assignments for books like the Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and Fahrenheit 451. I have no doubt my reading skills translated into the writing skills that helped earn my degree in Communication. Today, at twenty four years of age I have amassed a pretty good collection of books and always have one in rotation- it’s a hobby I’ll enjoy the rest of my life.
There’s no doubt that the exposure to a high quality early education led to the success I have enjoyed. So many factors created opportunities for me. A sturdy home environment, tools that prepared me for school and incredible educators who enabled my passion for learning all contributed to my small, but significant, breakthrough which granted me the life I have today. United Way of Pierce County works hard to provide these same components to every child in our community through our focus on early childhood education and our programs such as Launch into Literacy. Help us ignite the passion for countless Pierce County children by hosting a book drive or donating to Launch into Literacy.