Learning to Read

I am taking my inspiration today from one of the search engine terms used to arrive at my blog, if only because I’ve not actually written about it before, which is ‘earliest memories of reading’.

I don’t actually recall learning to read.  One day I couldn’t and then the next I could.  Of course I’m sure it wasn’t like that, but memory will often conflate things, won’t it?

I remember being called up to the teacher’s desk; she told me to stand up straight beside her, and gave me an open book and asked me to read.  I couldn’t and was sent back to my seat; only later did I notice that some children came away from her desk with a book in their hands, and I vaguely wondered what they had done to be given it, and wished I had been one of them.

Some days later, I have no idea how many, I was called up again for the same ritual.  This time I could decipher the words.

‘This is Janet.  This is John.’

I returned to my chair with the book, which I was allowed to take home.  It was as if a switch had been flicked, and it all fell immediately into place.  I read the book to the end on the first evening, and took it back the next day and asked for another one, but I had to wait because no-one else had finished theirs.

My next clear recollection is of reading the Thomas the Tank Engine books; the stories are lost in the mists of time, but I remember liking the smallness of the books themselves and the pomposity of the Fat Controller, and the idea that trains had faces and races.

I don’t recall learning to write either, but I do know that I could already do it fairly proficiently by the time I arrived in the Maryland school system to find that I didn’t do it the way they did it in America.

I had to relearn, writing on a sort of music stave, which was drawn by sweeping a  frame holding 5 sticks of chalk across the blackboard.  Capital letters filled the whole stave, small ‘t’, ‘l’, ‘k’, ‘h’, ‘b’,’d’ went as high as the third line, and other small letters filled the bottom space and no more.

At six, nearly seven, I thought it was a lot of fuss and bother, and all of it was far too loopy to be taken seriously.  But I did as I was told.

So a couple of years later when we returned to the UK, in the period there when italic writing was king, I had handwriting of pure loopiness, to go with my broad American accent and middling confusion over the spelling of certain key words.

At that age it doesn’t take long to shed an accent, nor a style of penmanship, so I decided I’d write the way that suited me, shedding the loops, but scorning the sharp pointyness of the then English fashion; and broadly speaking I’d say it’s usually legible.

In the age of the ubiquity of the keyboard will children still learn to write?

Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. So many different systems back then, and it probably hasn’t changed. My sister learned to read and write in one school by age 5 and then on changing schools had to learn ita ( the Initial Teaching Alphabet sixties experiment to teach reading!!)

  2. I recently read a news story about a proposal to stop teaching cursive writing in schools because it eats up too much time that could be better spent on math and science.


Do let me know what you think.......

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: