On the first day of my experience with SEAL, my volunteer group was led into a hectic cafeteria filled with excited kids and flustered adults. It was overwhelming, to say the least. Then, our volunteer coordinator hustled over to us with four kids in tow and I was assigned my reading buddy, a kid I’ll call “J.” Before I even had time to get nervous, I was rushing to keep up with J as he led us out of the cafeteria and into the classroom.

So began a long process of learning to understand his rushed, excited speech and keep his endlessly curious mind on task. After two or three weeks we fell into a pattern: he’d meet me with an arsenal of short, glossy, picture-filled nonfiction books and we’d take turns reading every other page. I quickly noticed something about J’s reading style. I’d point to a page and he’d read every word on it, always quickly and usually without faltering. He evidently had solid reading skills, but when I’d try to get him to read bigger chapter books with fewer pictures and more storyline, he always refused. I was a little disheartened by this news- when I was his age, I was all about the chapter books. I saw them as a marker of higher level reading, and wanted him to get into the more complex stuff. I didn’t want to upset him, though, so I decided I’d try to find ways to challenge him using the books he did like.

The books he liked were dinosaur books. Now, I was a Dinosaur Kid when I was his age and I’d just taken an intro Paleontology class, so I thought I might be able to teach him some stuff. But as soon as we opened a book and started reading, he was adding in fact after fact about these animals that weren’t anywhere in the book we had started. “Tyrannosaurus Rex lived in the Cretaceous period. Velociraptors can run at 25 miles an hour, and 40 when they’re hungry. T-Rex and Velociraptors both ate the herbivores like Triceratops and Edmontosaurus.” This kid is a dino knowledge machine, teaching me all these awesome facts that he just remembered from previous reading. He wouldn’t touch a chapter book, but he could retain and understand massive quantities of facts and figures that could have been test questions in my college course!

J taught me that being able to read big chapter books isn’t the only mark of high-level reading. He is such a bright kid with such an amazing and voracious interest in learning. He’s the kind of kid that may not want to focus on Hank the Cowdog or Junie B. Jones, but once you give him information on something he’s excited about, he’ll absorb it like a sponge! I’m so excited to be able to help him learn and learn with him!

– Emily Saunders, Pecan Springs Elementary volunteer

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