My youngest daughter Georgina could not read properly until she was eight, and fortunately, she went to a school where she was not pressured to. So we took it nice and easy. Her father read to her every night, because though she could not read, she loved stories.
We still have a whole library of her Fairies books. He would read to her every night, snuggled up in bed with his youngest child under the pink fairy duvet, reading about Ballet Fairy, Pumpkin Fairy, Horse Fairy, you name it, there was a book written about it, and we have the book.
Later, she progressed to Jacqueline Wilson, and he continued to read to her every night, about bitchy girls and teenage heartthrobs and difficult boyfriends. He read almost every single book that Jacqueline Wilson wrote, and I was touched when I went to his office two days ago to see a hardback copy of Candy Floss sitting on his bookshelf, totally out of place. It had been four years since he read the last Jacqueline Wilson to his youngest child.
Many schools demand that children must be able to read at a ridiculously young age, and parents stress over it. I don't think it is right that children are put under needless pressure at such a young age. Reading, and learning, should be fun, pleasurable and a lifelong passion. Some critics would say that we are lucky, we have the money, thus we can afford to be cavalier about our child not being able to read until she was ready to. What if we had no money for progressive private schools, what if she had been a child in the school system that forces her to achieve awful, outdated targets?
We would simply remove her from a school and kept her at home. And no, I am not making grand but meaningless statements here. We have lived though the difficult consequences of our choice. In the past, in the UK, we had to remove our children a certain Catholic school because we were not married or the kids were vaccinated. It would have been easier to walk into a Registry Office to register a marriage or to walk into a doctor's clinic to vaccinate our children.
But we have always chosen to stick to our ideologies. This is something we passionately believe in: we are 100% committed to giving our children a joyful, carefree childhood, even though sticking to our ideologies caused difficulties. But nonetheless, we think it is important to defend the quality of our children's childhood - they only have one, and once lost, those years will never come back again in this lifetime.
I am not saying that early reading is bad for your child, but pressure on young children is. What I am advocating is: do not be afraid of taking the road less travelled. In taking that road, Georgina had precious years of being read to by her beloved father, a priceless legacy, because instead of hurrying her, her went with her flow. In her sweet time, she grows. Beautiful and strong, with love and joy in her heart. She had not known ugliness.
In later years, Georgina would say, "I could read since I was four. I was only pretending."
It didn't matter whether she could or could not read when she was four. Today, at 15, she regularly achieves high grades. Unsurprisingly, however, English Language remains one of her weaker subject, despite being a native English speaker. She still comes up with howlers.
A few months ago, as we were heading to the airport to pick her older brother Kit up, she commented, "I hope the storm stays away until the plane lands, or the turbans will get Kit."
"Yeah, turbans. The whatnots in the air that makes planes go bump in the sky," she explained confidently. 'Surely you know what turbans are?"
She may not know how to pronounce and hence spell 'turbulence' according to the dictates of the English Language, but she has such a deep love for learning. She asks questions all the time ("Why are there isotopes in the world if the heavy ones are less stable?") and is always reaching out, searching, exploring. Fearlessly. She has a huge hunger for knowledge, and for life.
Her inability to read early did not handicap her at all. It just made her into a different child.
This reminded me of an article I read a few days ago, about a man who was turned down for a job as an office boy because he did not have a computer. Rather than panicking about not having one, he simply used the last $10 in his pocket to buy a crate of tomatoes, which he sold knocking door-to-door. By sheer hard work, his tomato business grew into a sizeable retailer. He engaged a service of a broker to plan his finances, and his broker was surprised that the successful businessman did not have email. "You don't have an email, and yet have succeeded in building an empire. Can you imagine what position you could have if you had an email?" To which the successful businessman replied, "Yes, an office boy."
Whether it is true of fictitious, it highlights a very important message: there is more than one path. Choose the one that works for your child, and this is often the one that makes her happy.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com