Advantages of reading late for a highly sensitive child – my thoughts.


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. 


5 thoughts on “Advantages of reading late for a highly sensitive child – my thoughts.

  1. What an interesting perspective you have! It is certainly not one that I have read a lot about, in terms of personal anecdotes. The idea of protecting the self is a new one to me, but it makes good sense. You have a keen eye for observation. My daughter often says that she wishes she could stop reading everything around her, and it is easy to protect her living where we do. She has taken her time on her reading journey–she is by no means insatiable, but she does enjoy reading aloud to me during our school time. I saw something recently where the person felt there would be real irreparable harm to a child who did not learn to read early. I think that opinion is all too common.


    • Hi Brandy! That is why I wrote this because there is so little out there about children reading late and there is a lot of stigma about children not being able to read early on. There is also plenty of information and proof that children who read later, like those in Waldorf schools will catch up by 11 years of age with the children who started reading at five. We all get to read in the end with enough encouragement and practise (unless there is a severe learning disability). I have in the past felt my daughter was being lazy about it, being so unwilling to learn to read and at other times that she is dyslexic, but over time my instinct says she isn’t and the school confirm this. So I have come to the conclusion she isn’t ready. She has taken her time with all the stages in her life. She rode a bike at eight and a half when she felt it was safe to do so and I think reading will be the same. I know children who suddenly read fluently at 12 years when they enter a new stage in their development. I will continue to trust she knows what is best for her. Not easy to do, but that is probably our greatest teaching from our children. The letting go and trusting!


  2. Lovely post and sometimes it is hard to trust your instincts when there is so much pressure on parents to x when really our gut instinct is to do y, my personal view, is we teach reading too young in this country, children can learn so much without reading, unless they really want too. I do struggle with a system when 30 years ago children went to school at the term after their 5th birthday and we were always told not to do phonics etc with them and now they are doing the same stuff at 3 and 4 and wonder why so many struggle 😦 It is great that your daughters are in a school that supports them and I know lots of children who are home educated, they are now avid readers but didn’t learn till they were 8 plus. Had never thought about that a late reader might be protecting themselves from the world that reading can open up.


    • Thanks Helen for your support with this. Parents do feel under pressure for their children to be performing, rather than just to enjoy learning. My friends six year old is considered very behind in her reading and has been made to feel bad about it, so her mum has to spend time with her at home to catch up, when she should really be playing – there is enough time surely to learn at school! All the educational experts say to delay reading unless the child wants to and schools like those in Finland and other European countries don’t start until 7 years when most of the children are ready to read. Ho hum. I feel lucky not to be in the current state system as i know it would damage my children’s confidence. This is why there is so much more home educating going on too I imagine. One size does not fit all! We need to trust our children know what is best for them as well as encourage them with their learning.


      • I think the earlier starting age, early phonics and all the testing, pressure to achieve academically is making people consider home ed more, as you say one size doesn’t fit all but we have a system of standardised tests to conform too. Reading is important as you get older but the the younger ones can learn so much without reading, through doing and exploring, being read too etc.


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