Wanting to Learn to Read and Write

By Zoe Z. •  Updated: 06/20/23 •  4 min read
pen and paper vintage photo by Joanna Kosinska

When I was about 4 years old, back in 1964 I was sitting next to my mom watching her write letters. She had a lot of pen pals she kept in touch with. This was before computers and the internet so there was no email.

My mom always wrote letters by hand, not even using a typewriter. She had this beautiful flowing handwriting. She had gone to school back in the 1940s when everyone learned perfect penmanship as part of their training along with Latin, so they knew the roots and origins of all the words in English, Spanish and French. Mom could spell perfectly without using a dictionary because she understood the roots of the words.

The Spark of Desire to Learn

I got a piece of paper and sat down next to mom and began making wavy lines across the paper from left to right like mommy. “See I’m writing too!” I said beaming up at my mom.

“No, you’re not,” she said blandly, “you’re just making squiggly lines on the paper.” My mom turned away with this snotty superior expression, adjusted her glasses on her large nose, and continued writing.

I smiled up at her again encouragingly and showed her my paper. But she just ignored me, gently pushing the paper I held aside and went back to writing her letters in her perfect cursive. She couldn’t take a hint. This would have been the perfect opportunity to teach me the alphabet.

When to start teaching your child the alphabet

Hey parents! When your kid imitates you, encourage them to learn what you are doing. They don’t have to do it perfectly, and it’s ok if they get bored and wander off after a few minutes. But find a way to include them. Allow them to do a few minutes at a time. If they get bored after a little while they can go play with something else. No pressure.

You could give them a toy lawn mower or a toy broom or whatever it is that has to do with the activity you are doing, and they could play with it. Or if they have the dexterity to do a little bit of the actual work you are engaged in, show them how to do it. Don’t just leave them in the lurch feeling powerless and left out of the loop.

Give a Child Confidence About Learning

I had a very patient stepfather for about 6 months when I was 7 years old. He bought me a toy fire engine that I would drive around using foot pedals on the sidewalk. When he fixed his car in our driveway, I would pretend to fix my fire engine. It was too small for me to really climb underneath it the way he was doing with the old wood panel station wagon. But I made do and I had fun pretending I was working on my engine while he worked on the real car. Sometimes he would have me hand him a tool so I would learn the name of the tools. He helped me feel confident that I could learn to do things when I got older.

Do Kids Learn to Fear Learning New Things?

Speaking of learning, my mom never learned to drive a car because her father had yelled at her the one time, he took her out for a driving lesson. She was in tears in the middle of traffic in Los Angeles. My mom was taught that everything had to be done perfectly the first time you tried. It is surprising she learned to do anything at all. Don’t make this mistake with your own kids or yourself.

Zoe Z.

Zoe Lives in Silicon Valley where she teaches Pilates and draws funny characters while hiding in her van down by the river.