Swirling around on my social media feeds over the past few days is an article by Jessica Smock entitled “I Don’t Want My Son to Read in Kindergarten” as published in the Huffington Post. In it, she describes the intensity of modern day kindergarten curriculum and the push to get these 5-year-olds reading when, developmentally speaking, they may or may not be ready.
The Common Core academic standards, she reports, were created by people who have no experience in early childhood education or expertise.
*Big deep breath.*
Perhaps the long Labor Day weekend has me a little too relaxed, and with this relaxation, I become a little loose-lipped. But here goes nothing…
I like her article. I like it a lot. And I think it one of the many necessary steps to take for us to start examining the how and why we are educating these young children as we are.
But I think a whole lot more.
I think we’re talking not just about looking at who is setting standards for our education and what we should do with all this research we have about how young minds work but how we, as parents and adults, need to participate in a culture shift.
Which is crazy hard. It doesn’t happen overnight.
I’m talking, specifically, about parents who compete, who humble-brag. Parents who somehow think that their child’s ability to read is a direct reflection of them. Parents who hang onto their child’s reading ability as a way to rate themselves, their child, and, yes, everyone else’s kid, too.
It’s weird. I have two children of my own. I have two nephews (with whom I’m very close). I’ve worked in schools (and been around parents as well as students) for years. And somehow, when children are in that 4, 5, 6, 7 age-range, parents just love to sit around and chat about what book little Susie is devouring right now and how Johnny just advanced another level in his reading. Should your darling little Millie not be on-level or your very sweet Andrew be struggling, it can be a difficult conversation to overhear, much less participate in.
In all my experience, at least with the younger children, it is almost always about the reading. Rarely do I hear parents comparing their children elsewhere.
“My Mary could pump and swing by herself since she was two and a half!” Nope, don’t hear it.
“The art teacher told me the other day that Stephen’s fine motor when he draws is something she has never seen the likes of!” Na-uh. Don’t hear that, either.
“Do you see how Nancy can keep a beat? I’m trying to find her harder music to really challenge her.” Yeah, no, this would never happen.
These developmental milestones, with a little opportunity and a touch of guidance, tend to work themselves out, without fanfare and without judgement. If Mark can’t skip yet, generally speaking, it isn’t a big deal. So why do we make such a fuss over reading?
Mark will learn to skip. His older sister and his Movement Teacher are showing him how, and he’ll get there. So, too, will these children learn how to grip a pencil, pump the swings, kick a ball, hop on one foot, snap their fingers, clap to a beat, and yes, learn to read.
If we don’t seem to mind too much of our child takes a smidge longer to tie his shoes, then why do we fret so much about the reading? I know why. Because reading is HUGE. Because there is always Velcro. Because if you never learn to ride a bike, it might be a little strange, but you can still, by and large, function. Reading? Reading is everything.
But still . . .
Let’s just take a look at my two children.
My son knew all his letters and sounds well before kindergarten, but putting them together and actually reading took more time. He resisted reading instruction, preferring to be read to or to head outside to play in the yard.
Likewise, my daughter, too, knew all her letters and sounds before kindergarten. And in fact, somehow, around the age of 4, she started to read. I didn’t teach her, nor did her Pre-K teacher. To this day, she is an excellent speller – it just comes naturally for her – and her little brain, at 4 years old, figured out how all these letters are strung together into words.
I wrung my hands over my son. When he was in the 2nd grade, his younger sister (in Pre-K) was about as good a reader as he was. And not only did he struggle, he didn’t seem super interested, either, except when it came to Garfield. He had dedicated teachers. His father and I read both with him and to him nightly. Guess what? He got there, no problem.
Ten years later, they’re both readers. They both can extract meaningful passages from text and do well on those terrible reading comprehension portions of standardized tests. If you were to chat with them without knowing their reading history, you would never know who was reluctant and who was self-taught at 4-years-old.
Oh, did I mention?
When my son was 5 months old, he was crawling across the floor, and by 9 months, walking. He was into everything.
Daughter? Never properly crawled, but crab-walked at about 15 months. Walked (finally) at 18 months. I took her into the pediatrician twice, convinced something was wrong. Her doctor calmly told me that she was still “within range” and since she was making progress and seemingly healthy in every way, I should try not to worry.
Ten plus years later, both are (thankfully) able-bodied, physically active teens. Can you tell who walked at a younger age? NOPE. Does it even matter? NOT AT ALL.
Of course, of course, I always would suggest you listen to your child’s teacher. Sometimes a kiddo just isn’t progressing at the expected pace and rhythm that a teacher wants to see, in which case help can be found, adjustments made, suggestions provided.
Most of the time, kiddos in school with supportive parents are inching along just fine – in their gross motor skills, in their ability to add, and in their reading. Comparing a young child, smack dab in the middle of his early childhood years, to another is, really, useless. The spectrum of “normal” is vast during this time, and bragging over natural successes or worrying over perceived delays isn’t productive. For you – or anyone.
Easier said than done, I am well aware.
But, oh! How I wish we could drive a culture shift with parents to understand this. Maybe, when we’re waiting to pick up kids from a birthday party, exchange ideas about good books, swap funny family read-alouds, provide the link to a killer blog for parents of young readers, maybe? And not discuss reading levels or the length of their child’s chapter book.
Support, not judge. Encourage, not rank. Understand that, in the end, they’ll all be reading. They’ll all be ten or eighteen or twenty-six or forty-one and reading and not giving one whit if their reading took off when they were four or six-and-a-half.
Because, in the end, all we ever want is to . . .
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