For my whole life I’’ve been embarrassingly hopeless at drawing. Even now my drawing is worse than an average seven year old’s. On the other hand, I’’ve almost always been good at reading.

I’’ve always put it down to natural ability – I have none when it comes to art, but quite a bit when it comes to language. Yet, recently I’’ve started to wonder whether this is the whole truth.

In fact, I now think that while talent has played a part, it is by no means the whole story. I’’ve summarised into three categories what went right for me in reading and wrong for me in drawing.

1. Learn the basics young

By the end of kindergarten (first year of school) I could read. I don’’t remember how it happened, I just know that I could. I suspect that having parents who were schoolteachers helped. But learning to read should be like learning to walk for most people – it might take time but one way or another you’’ll get there.

On the other hand, because art is not as fundamental, no one really taught me how to draw. Other kids had more natural ability than me and so soon I was falling behind.

2. Take advantage of your natural desire to improve

Even though I could read by the end of kindergarten, there were others in the class better than me. Our school used a wonderful series of books called Endeavour Reading to teach us: There were 20 levels – each with a main book and several supplementary books. By the end of kindergarten I was still at level one (a very short book about a dog called Digger). Other kids were already reading level two (called something like A weekend at Jim’’s). I was scared of this short book and was jealous of the others reading it.

In the school holidays between kindergarten and year one something magical happened. Dad had access to the Endeavour Series and somehow convinced me to read A weekend at Jim’s, no doubt helping me get through it. Soon, I had read all the supplementary little books of level two and moved to level three. All of a sudden the fear had gone and was replaced with excitement. I wanted to go from level to level and I loved how the books were getting longer and harder.

But with drawing I never learnt the basics, so never got to feel the excitement of improving. It was all fear and resentment. Other kids loved colouring in, painting, designing title pages etc for each new subject – I loathed doing this. I used to sometimes dream of going to a school where there was no art allowed.

3. Reach such proficiency that the task itself will bring you joy

By the time I was seven I was reading anything I could get my hands on. I soon discovered Enid Blyton’’s books and was enchanted right from the start. Blyton died before I was born but her books were the Harry Potter of their day – every child should read Enid Blyon’s books. They were so exciting, wondrous, delightful, magical– the possible adjectives are endless. From then till now I have listed reading alongside sport as my two favourite pastimes in the world.

But, as for drawing, I genuinely hate it. I can well understand how gifted, or even average people could gain pleasure from doing something artistic but I cannot. I can well see the irony: I possess in bucket loads the ignorant hatred of art that I so pity when I see expressed by others as a hatred of reading.

So what are the lessons from my experiences?

I think that if someone had sat me down in kindergarten and patiently showed me the basics of drawing, and then found a way to make improvement stimulating and enjoyable, things might have been different. I doubt I would ever have been an artist– because I am convinced my talent for art is near zero– but at least my current standard would be respectable.

On the other hand, if I had been unsettled in kindergarten and for whatever reason not learnt the basics of reading, who knows what would have happened. Or even if dad hadn’’t gotten involved in the holidays –I’’m sure I still would have ended up at a decent standard of reading but I doubt I would have developed as much of a love for it.

Make sure that your child learns to read as early as possible. I’’ll leave it to the experts to define when is too late but in my opinion if they’’re struggling at age six or seven it is absolutely crucial that you do everything you can to help them get across the line, because the plane is about to take-off and if they are not on it they are in trouble.

Once they can read, find a way to appeal to their natural desire to improve, and then watch as they form a love of reading, and kick on to success.

And as for art –here’’s a tip, if they draw people with necks as long as arms and with their arms coming out of their stomach, you’’ve got a problem! But, as I can attest, it’’s not the end of the world.

Continue to Elementary School Reading

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