Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, 28 October 2011

Getting there in our own time

So, the new reading test in primary schools is apparently a 'waste of money' and experts are 'deeply concerned' about it, so much so that the UK Literacy Association and others have written an open letter to the Education Secretary to express their fears. (

I can't help but feel concerned also at children as young as six being assessed for their reading abilities before they've had the chance to develop them. 

Because, here's the thing. Why are we quite happy to accept that children will learn to walk or talk at different times, but that once they hit 'school age' they are expected to keep to some kind of predetermined timetable?

I'd like to share with you a photo.

A very ordinary scene, but one which fills me with joy. This is my son reading a book at breakfast, something he has chosen to do every morning for the last few weeks, and something that at one point I wasn't sure would ever happen. Not the time of day, obviously, but the fact that he is choosing to read a book and is enjoying it.

Home educated from the age of 5 his learning to read was entirely down to me. Unfortunately, unlike both his older and younger sisters, books didn't hold much of an appeal. Running at breakneck speed and playing with mud were much more the activities of choice!

But, heh, that was OK. I'd done my research. I knew that typically boys were much more active and would come to reading later. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. In the meantime he grew up in literate environment (well, it's hard not to, really, isn't it!). There were trips to the library, bedtime stories, shopping lists, signs to read, words on computer games that really needed to be deciphered. I bought a reading scheme. The Peter and Jane Ladybird books, chosen through the highly scientific method of 'Oh, I remember those and now I'm feeling all nostalgic!'. They were used a little, for a few weeks, before they lost their appeal. Apparently it was much more important to get back to Civilization IV on the PC and understand how to discuss trade terms with Mansa Musa :)

As the months and years went by I found that I could see how his reading was progressing, but whereas his younger sister had whizzed through the stages at the speed of light, he was crawling through at the speed of treacle. I tried to remain positive, but it wasn't easy. Not easy to resist comparing him with what his reading ability 'should be' and certainly not easy to resist 'encouraging' him.

But, you see, I was so afraid of putting him off books for life. Of turning reading into a chore, into something with targets and achievement expectations. His older brother was at school until the age of 8 and I could remember the battles over the reading homework. He has never enjoyed books and, although I can't say for sure it was due to those early pressures, it's hard not to assume a link.

Fortunately, in a family of four children there's always something else for me to be concerned with so I didn't have a chance to become fixated on the reading issue and it just trotted along. I kept filling the house with books, magazines, shop catalogues and the like and eventually I noticed evidence of someone other than girls reading. Encyclopedias were turning up in strange places. The sports pages of the paper disappeared. The books in the bathroom (a great idea!) were moved and changed and it wasn't me doing it.

And now, here we are, with a fully fledged book reader! How cool is that!

Given that he's 12 the books he's choosing to read would I'm sure be considered 'too young' for him, but I think I've seen enough evidence over the years to trust the process and I'm not going to start interfering now.

And, apart from throwing opportunities in the way, I've not had a great deal to do with it. Seems his learning to read wasn't ever down to me after all. It was just something that he was going to do in his own time. I am so happy that he's had the freedom to become a reader at his own pace, never having felt pressurised to perform, never having to feel he was slow or behind.

Now, I know that this approach in its entirety isn't going to work in school. I realise that having everyone in a class reading at different levels, and some hardly at all, is not going to make teaching the National Curriculum very easy. I appreciate that a lot of school work is based on everyone being able to read the instructions and churn out written material for OFSTED and Parents' Evenings. But I can't help but feel sad that the tick box culture is alive and kicking and threatening to make it so much harder for our children to develop an enjoyment of books. Is there no way we can perhaps start seriously considering the idea of adjusting the education system to suit children, instead of the other way around?


  1. Absolutely right Jane. My youngest HEd child didn't read a book until she was 13! She's applying to uni now. Would that have been the case through school? Doubt it, she would have been written off as unintelligent and a slow learner! She's neither! Like you, I feel for all those kids in school who need a different approach to their reading. Or maybe a different approach to their learning - you'd think in this image rich day they'd move these kids' learning away from heavy dependency on print! x

  2. Jane - this is awesome. I am sharing on facebook. I think you should permit yourself to post it on west... and peter... groups. It would really help some newbies.

    I would like to add a link to Lord Lucas's blog. Countless fascinating testimonials just like yours, all showing the wonderful unique experiences of children learning to read at different ages:

    Paula x

  3. Thank-you, both of you. I can't tell you how much pleasure it gives me to see J curled up with a book. I didn't know Lord Lucas had a blog, I'll go and have a look now.


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