The other day a young lady came into the library to get library cards for her young children. What a great choice to make! The young mother had just moved back to the area, having grown up in the Far North and she had been a regular library visitor to our Melba Street location as a young person herself.

Sudbury Valley School

Sudbury Valley School

 When her four-year-old printed her own name on the card the mother noted that she did so backwards. I have observed this many times over the years. It seems a natural, if temporary, stage in the development of the brain. It is interesting to note that some languages are written from right to left.

I wonder sometimes if we, with all the best intentions, in hastening our children to read, do them a great disservice. In the Waldorf system of education (based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner) children are not introduced to the mechanics of reading and writing until aged seven. Before that they are encouraged to play and are introduced to the arts including music. Teachers read aloud to them. They are all, girls and boys, encouraged to learn handwork, progressively working their way through more complicated forms of sewing, knitting and crochet throughout the developing

Sudbury Valley School was established on a beautiful rural property near Concord, Massachusetts (not coincidentally the home of Henry David Thoreau over a century earlier) in the late 1960s on the democratic premise that each child is uniquely capable of determining when and what he or she wishes to learn. The school role has, over the years, consisted of children who have fallen through the cracks of other schools; problem children, we might say. Without exception each of those children has taught themselves to read, when they felt compelled to learn the skill. This compulsion could Summerhillarise at any age, for some not until they were ten, eleven or twelve. Interestingly, Sudbury Valley School has never had a case of dyslexia. Could it be that this learning disorder is a result of pushing children to read before they are ready, perhaps when their brains are still wired to write from right to left?

Sudbury Valley School, was itself inspired by the ground-breaking work of A. S. Neill with Summerhill School in England. Democratic Schools (sometimes called ‘free schools’) have, of late proliferated around the world, and include Tamariki School in Christchurch, one of the earliest ones established.

Read with your children. Begin with picture books and share the experience of stories. Inculcate in youngsters the love of reading by reading aloud with them. Enjoy this precious time you have together. Then, quite naturally, they will want to read, in their own unique time frame. Each child is capable of learning the skills of reading and writing, but only when they are ready. Read aloud with your children and your grandchildren, and perhaps you will be rewarded with the tables being turned and being read to yourselves by your children. This has been our experience.


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Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See

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