When did YOU learn to read? (You don’t know, do you? It certainly doesn’t matter, does it?)

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 . . .

Keep Reading,


Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com


  1. I love this! You are such a wise one, Front Porch Librarian! A reading specialist at my daughter’s school described learning to read similar to learning to walk. You don’t leave your child in her crib until she’s ready to walk, you introduce and expose her to things (crawling, tummy time, jumpy contraptions, whatever…) and when they’re ready, lo and behold they walk, which can be at 10 months or 18 months. If I’m still reading piles of Fancy Nancy and Angelina Ballerina picture books, but tiptoeing through early readers with my daughter in the 2nd grade, so be it.

    1. Yep, yep, yep. It is amazing to me how many parents, through the years, have said things to me like, “sniff, they grow up so quickly!!” and THEN, they push, push, push the reading on their child. It’s ok to let them be children. They really do grow up in good time, and, for many parents, sooner than later. Further, the pushing to read can sometimes detract from the pure pleasure of it all. Kids who are forced (or worse – bribed) to read tend not to authentically love reading. Do we want children who score well on tests when they are in elementary school? Or do we want children who LOVE to read, see it as a viable hobby, and will continue to read (and grow and learn) into adulthood?
      Clearly, this is a hot-button issue with me and one that, I think, isn’t discussed enough.
      Thanks for reading the post — and for commenting!

  2. I truly wish mother’s and educators would be more supportive of one another, and not feel the need to compete and compare. Not only can it be hurtful to each other, it does not set a good example for our children. Speaking as a mother of a dyslexic child, these seemingly harmless comments and conversations can be extremely damaging. I cannot describe the pain I felt for my child as he would come home crying because he was not able to read chapter books, when all of his friends were able to. They would compare books they would be picking out in the scholastic magazine in class. Innocent right. They learn from us, they listen and watch. My son is doing quite well now, but he still sees a tutor and has to work harder than most. I try to get him to focus on all of the other wonderful gifts he has-wit, empathy, drive, determination. I also remind him that he has other skills in which he excels, some of which are not measured on standardized tests or valued in conventional school curriculum. Thank you for your post and insight, it really spoke to me.

    1. Your son also has resilience, a trait that will serve him well in the years ahead. My son also rates on the dyslexic scale – his diagnosis is “mild,” but felt, too, when moms did the comparison talk it was so uninformed. Would they chat, in front of me, about who is the fastest runner if he had an injured leg? Some of the chatter isn’t intended to be cruel – but can still unintentionally hurt. Culturally speaking, I think we’d do so much better if we helped, supported, and shared. It just feels good to be on both the giving and receiving end…AND it makes sense. Just because your child can read at 4 years old (for example) doesn’t mean you are a “good” parent, necessarily. Nor does it ensure a lifetime of success. Thanks so much for reading!
      P.S. A video that helped us (there are many good ones out there) is The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.

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