Homeschooling Heidi

“Can we have another chapter of Heidi, please Mum?” begs Sophie. It’s the third time I’ve been asked that question today.

“If you make me a cup of coffee and get the book ready, I’ll be there in a minute.”

The girls rush off. They can’t wait for another installment of this story. I can’t wait either.

I was ten years old the last time I read Heidi. I’ve forgotten most of the details but I do have one vivid memory. I remember reading the book in bed and crying and crying. I hoped my mother wouldn’t appear in my bedroom. How would I explain my red eyes and the wet pillow? Why was I crying? I can’t remember. There must be a sad bit somewhere that really touched my tender heart.

I have my coffee mug balanced on the arm of the sofa. Gemma-Rose is snuggled up next to me. Sophie is gently moving back and forth in the rocking chair. I begin…
We are at the point where Clara’s grandmother comes to stay with the family in Frankfurt. She asks Heidi to be brought to her:

Go and fetch the child and bring her to my room; I have some pretty books with me that I should like to give her.”

“That is just the misfortune,” said Fraulein Rottenmeier with a despairing gesture, “what use are books to her? She has not been able to learn her A B C even, all the long time she has been here; it is quite impossible to get the least idea of it into her head, and that the tutor himself will tell you; if he had not the patience of an angel he would have given up teaching her long ago.”

“That is very strange,” said Frau Sesemann, “she does not look to me like a child who would be unable to learn her alphabet. However, bring her now to me, she can at least amuse herself with the pictures in the books.”

Heidi comes to the grandmother’s room and the grandmother asks:
“Now I want you to tell me something. How are you getting on in your school-time; do you like your lessons, and have you learnt a great deal?”

“O no!” replied Heidi, sighing, “but I knew beforehand that it was not possible to learn.”

“What is it you think impossible to learn?”

“Why, to read, it is too difficult.”

“You don’t say so! and who told you that?”

“Peter told me, and he knew all about it, for he had tried and tried and could not learn it.”

“Peter must be a very odd boy then! But listen, Heidi, we must not always go by what Peter says, we must try for ourselves. I am certain that you did not give all your attention to the tutor when he was trying to teach you your letters.”

“It’s of no use,” said Heidi in the tone of one who was ready to endure what could not be cured.

“Listen to what I have to say,” continued the grandmother. “You have not been able to learn your alphabet because you believed what Peter said; but now you must believe what I tell you–and I tell you that you can learn to read in a very little while, as many other children do, who are made like you and not like Peter. And now hear what comes after–you see that picture with the shepherd and the animals–well, as soon as you are able to read you shall have that book for your own, and then you will know all about the sheep and the goats, and what the shepherd did, and the wonderful things that happened to him, just as if someone were telling you the whole tale. You will like to hear about all that, won’t you?”

Heidi had listened with eager attention to the grandmother’s words and now with a sigh exclaimed, “Oh, if only I could read now!”

Later in the same chapter, there is this wonderful part:

It was about a week after this that the tutor asked Frau Sesemann’s permission for an interview with her, as he wished to inform her of a remarkable thing that had come to pass. So she invited him to her room, and as he entered she held out her hand in greeting, and pushing a chair towards him, “I am pleased to see you,” she said, “pray sit down and tell me what brings you here; nothing bad, no complaints, I hope?”

“Quite the reverse,” began the tutor. “Something has happened that I had given up hoping for, and which no one, knowing what has gone before, could have guessed, for, according to all expectations, that which has taken place could only be looked upon as a miracle, and yet it really has come to pass and in the most extraordinary manner, quite contrary to all that one could anticipate–”

“Has the child Heidi really learnt to read at last?” put in Frau Sesemann.

The tutor looked at the lady in speechless astonishment. At last he spoke again. “It is indeed truly marvellous, not only because she never seemed able to learn her A B C even after all my full explanations, and after spending unusual pains upon her, but because now she has learnt it so rapidly, just after I had made up my mind to make no further attempts at the impossible but to put the letters as they were before her without any dissertation on their origin and meaning, and now she has as you might say learnt her letters overnight, and started at once to read correctly, quite unlike most beginners. And it is almost as astonishing to me that you should have guessed such an unlikely thing.”

“Many unlikely things happen in life,” said Frau Sesemann with a pleased smile. “Two things coming together may produce a happy result, as for instance, a fresh zeal for learning and a new method of teaching, and neither does any harm. We can but rejoice that the child has made such a good start and hope for her future progress.”

I doubt very much if I ever took much notice of this part of the story when I was a ten year old child. Maybe I hurried over it, not much interested in Heidi’s reading achievement. But now that I am a homeschooling mother, these words leapt off the page and claimed my attention.

How many of us get to the point where we start to lose confidence that our child will ever learn to read? And aren’t we as excited as the tutor when everything falls into place and our child discovers she can do what we thought she’d never achieve? Yes, reading comes quickly when a child believes she is able to learn, and when she really wants to read. Confidence and desire… Aren’t these at the root of all learning?

I read chapter after chapter of the book today, and now I think I know why I cried and cried in my bed while reading Heidi as a child. When Heidi was reunited with her grandfather up on the mountain, I had a huge lump in my throat. I glanced over at Sophie and Gemma-Rose. Sophie’s chair had stopped rocking. Both girls were listening intently. Would they dissolve into tears? Would I? I paused and took a quick sip of my coffee and collected myself. A few more pauses, a few more sips of coffee and I made it to the end of the chapter. I sighed. The girls sighed. It’s such a heart-warming and satisfying story.

“Will you read us Heidi Grows Up next, please Mum?” asks Gemma-Rose.

“And then you could read Heidi’s Children,” adds Sophie.

I think about it. I could suggest the girls read the books themselves as they are quite capable of doing that. However, it is such fun to share books together. I love watching the girls’ faces as they listen to the tales, and then discussing all the interesting details later. And I have never read these two books. It might be my opportunity to enjoy the stories too.

After reading Heidi, I realise that little pearls of homeschooling wisdom can be found in the most unexpected of places. What might I discover while I am reading the sequels to my girls? I can’t wait to find out.

Heidi: free ebook from ManyBooks
Heidi: free audio book from Books Should Be Free

Heidi was written by Johanna Spyri but Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children were written by Charles Tritten, Johanna Spyri’s translator.

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  1. Reply

    I don't recall ever reading Heidi! What a literary lapse. I now think I should do so.

    I think it's such a blessing that you and the girls enjoy reading books together!

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, you really must read Heidi! Even better, you could read it out loud to your grandchildren, maybe Bunny? I bet you would all have a wonderful time snuggled up on the sofa sharing this book together!

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