There is so much talk in our educational system about reading and writing and performing ever earlier. Children are considered behind if they cannot read by six and are made to feel lacking as early as four years of age. In Steiner Waldorf education this is not the case and children of seven are only just learning their letters and numbers. This is also the case in many other European countries where formal schooling begins at seven when the first seven years of early childhood are completed.
Before seven years, the child’s only work should ideally be to play unless the child him/herself shows an interest in intellectual learning.
I have been thinking about why my eldest daughter still doesn’t read or write fluently at ten and a half. Every now and then I wonder if I should have her tested for dyslexia. It runs in the family – my father was most probably dyslexic and my sister and all her children have it.
But something in me says wait.
She has a great sense of balance, picks things up easily if they interest her, has a great memory, can read music and has no trouble picking up an instrument and finding tunes. She is so bright and able in so many areas, I have come to the conclusion that she may be delaying learning to read as a form of protection.
When we learn to read, a whole new world of learning opens to us. We can take ourselves out of our own lives and escape into a book, we can inform ourselves and we become independent in a new way. But once we can read, it is difficult to switch off from the steady stream of information coming towards us. Everywhere we look, there are words – billboards, adverts, magazines, newspapers with horrific headlines and once we can read our brain wants to make sense of everything we see – there is no filter. Our childhood innocence can be taken from us.
I remember when my children were much younger and we lived in our former house, that I dreaded the day when they would be able to read the headlines on the sandwich board outside our local newsagent which we always passed on our way to the park. There was always something horrifying to report – these things sadly sell papers. Luckily, where we live now, this isn’t an issue and the girls still can’t read or have chosen not to.
My youngest at eight has no interest in learning to read either. Several children in her class almost taught themselves and many still cannot read as there is no pressure to do so in Waldorf education for some years and even then, children can learn about interesting topics without actually reading themselves . There isn’t an overemphasis on reading and writing the way there is in mainstream schools; it is just part of what they do.
It is only since the third grade (at 9 years) that parents have been encouraged to read 10 minutes a day at home with their children. During the the nine year change my daughter did not have any inclination to learn to read. She made slow progress and her energies were mainly tied up in her emotional life. Since turning ten, I can see she has made considerable progress in her reading and is more interested in writing, but she is still very unlikely to take up a book to read by herself.
I think she is protecting herself from what is out there – by not reading she is delaying finding out about things for which she is not emotionally ready and cannot understand or make sense of. I think her sister will follow in the same way.
I feel so grateful that we are in a school where my highly sensitive chidlren can make their individual progress without pressure or being made to feel stupid.
My children love to play imaginatively and be active outdoors. They do not yet have the impulse to sit and read or escape into a book. Of course we sit and read together and my youngest will spend time looking at picture books. We love books here, so I do feel sure that one day my eldest will feel the pull to read books on her own. When the time is right, I believe it will flow easily.
I loved reading as a child and was encouraged intellectually. It is hard for me to trust sometimes but I remind myself that sometimes we can only embrace something when we are truely ready for it. I will patiently wait for that day and in the meantime encourage her in our ten minute evening reading sessions.
” You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink”
I wrote this for parents whose children may also be late readers but are bright, imaginative and creative and most likely highly sensitive. Keep encouraging them and trusting. With love.