ALI MCDONALD reflects on Learning to read

At roughly the same time every year, something miraculous happens in the city of Edinburgh and beyond. Our four and five year old children go through a wonderful rite of passage. So remarkable is this event, I can’t quite believe that we don’t formally celebrate it. What is it that I am describing? Our children in Primary one classes are learning to read.

My son Leo started school in August, and since then I have watched as this little miracle has unfolded. Those of you with children and grandchildren will recognise the steps: first the ‘phonic’ sounds of the letters are introduced, and then come the simple combination of these sounds into three letter words. The children blend the sounds together until – a bit like when an adult finds the answer to a tricky crossword clue – they find the word, say it correctly and look up to you for confirmation, generally with a smile. They are given simple books to read, and those simple words are brought together into sentences and stories. Bit by bit, longer words are introduced and increasingly more irregular words are added. A few months in, they are now well on the way to reading.

Most of us adults can read, and many of us rely on reading for enjoyment, for communication and for our livelihoods. It is so natural to many of us that you probably didn’t realise that you are reading right now! I cannot remember when I learned to read, and I forget that there was once a time when I could not read. I owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers and family members who patiently sat with me when I was Leo’s age. I would also like to thank the wider teaching establishment: the educational theorists, the teacher trainers, the people who look after, and run our schools, and the local councils who fund and coordinate them.

Next time you meet someone involved in this wonderful process, tell them that they are doing something tremendous. Give them encouragement and applaud their patience, focus and hard work. Take inspiration from them. If you think that learning a new skill, subject or language is going to be too difficult, it probably is much easier than learning to read for the first time!