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.