Learning to read.

Do you remember learning to read? It’s weird but I don’t.

When I was small, kids in South Africa started school really late. I started big school the year I turned 7. I don’t know what it is like now, but I know that kids in England start formal education when they are 4. When do kids start school in SA now?

I learned to read at home with my dad before I hit big school, so I guess I can’t remember it because I never had any formal learning to read lessons. Perhaps starting school at age four is a bit young for some kids, but I think it would have suited me perfectly. I loved school and learning. 7 was way too late.

In my first year of big school I was so bored I was actually driven to delinquency, which is so unlike me, but there was not a thing for me to learn or do. I had already learned to read and write. I was in Botswana in my first year, and all races were allowed at school together, so many kids did not really speak English and the first year of school was about getting those kids up to speed in English, and teaching the rest how to read, write and add.

So my friend and I who could already do those things dreamed up ways to run away and even attempted a break-out once, and carried it through all the way to the playground, where we got caught.

I remember so well a typical day in my first year of school. The other kids would learn their letters and put them together on a board. Then the teacher would write them a sentence on a piece of paper and the kids would draw a picture about the sentence. We who could read were excused from all this, but we did not have alternative activities so we would help the other kids. My only concession to learning differently was that my teacher prescribed long reading books for me to finish at home each day, which the other kids did not get.

Then we moved to South Africa and things were very different. Only white kids at school until I was 11 (so no Sotho lessons, no Sotho singing concerts, no intercultural interactions at all). Class two brought maths cards and tons of reading homework and I was kept out of trouble.

Some kids benefit from waiting until they go to school, but I would have been better off at school at age four. Thankfully school picked up the pace otherwise I imagine I would still be a little hooligan plotting my escape.

Do you think kids should start school earlier or later? I think it depends on the kid, but I think age 6 going on 7 is a bit too old.


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