Friday, February 15, 2008


John Holt on learning to read:

I remember the first time I discovered that a written word said something. The word was LAUNDRY. I was about four, perhaps a bit younger. Young enough so that nobody had yet started to teach me that words said things. We lived in New York City. In our walks through the streets, to the park or elsewhere, we passed many stores, with their signs. Most of these signs said nothing that would help a child know what they were saying; that is, the grocery signs were Gristede's, First National, A & P, the drugstore signs were Rexall's, Liggett's, and so on. But wherever there was a laundry, the sign over it said LAUNDRY. Ten, twenty, a hundred times, I must have seen that sign, and under it, in the window, the shirts and other clean clothing that told me that this was a place where things were washed. Then, one day, I realized that there was a connection between those letters over the store, and the shirts in the window, and what I knew the store was doing; that those letters over the store told me, and were there to tell me, that this place was a laundry, that they said "laundry."

That is all I can remember about teaching myself to read.

From How Children Learn (1967)
Related post
John Holt on learning and difficulty

comments: 1

Anonymous said...

Fascinating reminiscence. It reminds me of the scene in Helen Keller's autobiography where she describes finally making the connection between the water rushing over one hand and the signs that Annie Sullivan was making in the other.