Grade Expectations: Reading Isn’t The Only Measure Of Early Childhood Education Success

child readingGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

When our babies become toddlers, one of the very first tricks that we teach them is how to sing the ABC’s. You can pretend that it isn’t a “trick,” that you’re trying to help them learn. That would be a lie. They aren’t actually learning their alphabet at 18 months, my friends, and we all know it. But for whatever reason, learning to sing the ABC’s is a huge milestone, an accomplishment that parents like to show off to their friends and family.

After that, once they hit pre-school, the new push is learning how to read. We start with their name, helping them familiarize themselves with the letters they’ll be seeing most often. We quickly push them into sight words and small books. At this point, the pressure becomes intense. Parents start resorting to serious reading schedules, just to make sure that their little one isn’t falling behind.

I have to admit that I’ve been right there with most parents, pushing the alphabet and concentrating on reading as if it were the only educational goal for my 4-year-old. I’ve heard so many of those, “When did your’s start reading?” conversations between other mothers, I feel like the pressure is on to keep my daughter performing at her grade level.

Then, during our nightly story time, my daughter completely switched gears on me. She didn’t want to practice writing her letters. She wanted to write numbers instead. She didn’t want to read a bunch of books. She wanted to come up with funny rhyming words. And she didn’t want to hear a thing about her site words, she just wanted to arrange the letters into patterns.

I’ve known from a really early age that my daughter showed more of an aptitude for math and patterns and building. She’s always been a sorter. She’s the kid who takes things apart and attempts to put them back together. We call her, “Our Little Engineer,” for a reason. Yet here I was, pretending that learning to read was somehow more important than any other skill she might possess. Here I was, steering her towards my own interests instead of paying attention to her own.

Last night, my daughter and I skipped story time. Instead, we talked about addition and subtraction. I realize that might not sound like the most exciting experience ever, but my daughter loved it. We added and subtracted every group of things we could get our hands on. “We have eight superheroes, but three had to fly away to fight a bad guy, how many superheroes are left?” “We have nine Littlest Pet Shops playing in the treehouse, the seven more join in. How many are there now?”

With every problem, my little girl squealed and counted and beamed with pride at her answer. We had already worked on problems with single-digit answers. Now we were expanding, and my daughter loved the challenge. Then, we started on multiple numbers. “We have three fairies, two princesses and one pony. How many are there all together?”

Last night, my daughter didn’t get one step closer to that all-important “reading” milestone. She didn’t work on single letter. We didn’t even read a book. And yet, she probably learned more and had more fun learning that she had in weeks.

It took last night to remind me that reading will come at it’s own pace. It’s not the only important milestone out there. It’s not the only measure of early childhood education. More than that, it might not be where my daughter’s current interests lie. The best thing I can do for her is make learning, any kind of learning, fun and exciting. That will serve her best in the long run.

(Photo: Melanie DeFazio/Shutterstock)

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  • Justme

    Yes, you are correct that there is much more to a child’s early education than just reading. But it’s not just the ability to read that is important in children – it’s the ability to comprehend and synthesize WHAT they are reading and then apply that knowledge onto other things.

    For example….exactly what you have done with your daughter already; learning how to understand a complex word problem and figure out the necessary information to solve the problem.

    I teach middle school and come from a long line of educators – I just don’t buy into the parenting competitions of “when my child did this, that or the other.” Especially when it comes to education at an early age. This is the time in your daughter’s life when learning is FUN and you SHOULD be focusing on a more organic and child-led approach to education. They will have all the time in the world for the “learn to achieve” mentality later in life.

  • Diana Marsh

    I have to remind myself of that constantly as I have a smart little 7 year old to whom reading is not important. He can ride/tell you about/take apart/rebuild anything that has wheels and a motor, but can not read the instructions to do so.

    I know it will come but the waiting is hard for an academically driven parent. I remind myself that forcing him in that direction is like forcing my older very academic child to play football.

  • C.J.

    My older daughter hated reading when she was little and still does. My younger one loves it. She learned to read at a much younger age than her sister. They are both get mostly A’s at school. I understand that reading is important but I think there is almost too much emphasis put on it today. I don’t remember having daily reading time when I was a kid. I don’t push my older one to read as long as she is at least at her grade level. She much prefers math and music. She spends more time developing those skills. She at least likes to write stories so she gets something out of that.

  • somethingobscure

    I really dislike how competitive parents can be with how early their kids did this or that. Either it’s personal bragging — everyone, come see how good I am at parenting! — or it’s caught up in the implication that early success means your kid is extra special/genius/destined for greatness/godlike. Creating a competition out of such things probably puts unnecessary pressure on kids and parents.

    I find this story really interesting and adorable. And you’re absolutely right, reading is not the only indicator of academic success. It’s very important for the sake of providing a foundation for education, but there are plenty of kids out there who are curious, smart, creative, and learning lots even if they aren’t early readers. My husband is a Harvard educated chemist, a rather brilliant scientist, and an exceptionally smart guy all around. I was shocked when he told me that he wasn’t really a competent reader until 2nd grade, and even then, it was never his forte in elementary school. He just learned things differently and was similar to your daughter in that he was more interested in patterns and numbers and building things. He eventually became a solid reader and did well in school. Now as an adult he’s an excellent writer and an avid reader. I think instilling a love of learning and encouraging your child’s strengths and interests is ultimately more important than ensuring they reach every educational specification right on schedule. All kids are different, and I love that you appreciate your daughter’s uniqueness.

  • zeisel

    My husband had dyslexia and went to speech therapy for a lisp when he was in elementary school. With that being said, he won several scholarships and grants for college and is now a successful Architect and avid reader of course! It doesn’t mean squat if your kid is lagging behind, what really matters is if they have the drive and ambition later on. Because of course they could end up not caring about their life and not wanting to achieve anything in the end. There is no blueprint OR crystal ball.

    Good book to read is ‘Nurture Shock’. It discusses how’ early of an age’ is not necessarily a predictor for a gifted child. That in the end, they can come out at the same level, once they’re at a certain age. I highly recommend the book, I can’t reiterate that well!

  • Tea

    I feel obligated to chime up in this one for other parent’s sake, but if your child is struggling with or seems to really dislike reading, you may want to have their eyes checked.

    My mother didn’t learn to read until sixth grade because of eye problems, and I didn’t learn braille at a young age because they didn’t catch mine. I loved listening to stories, but it took a long time for my parents to put two and two together in that I hated reading because my eyes wouldn’t track and I had double vision.

    It’s perfectly okay to not be the reading sort, and reading is by no means a mark of intelligence or success in early schooling, but sometimes it can help to find out why they may be avoiding it.

    • LindsayCross

      That’s great advice! Thank you so much for sharing!