Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reading before kindergarten?

A coworker of mine has a daughter in second grade who is reading Harry Potter. The other day he told me that Marie plowed through 130 pages over the weekend. This same little girl started reading books at age 4, or maybe it was 3. Every time my colleague talks about his early-reader, I can't help but worry, just a little, about Alice.

Alice is 4, actually almost 5, and she's not reading. Well, she can read her name. And she knows, "exit"; she yells it out every time we pass a sign on the freeway. She knows my name and her brother's. And when I say, "It's time for Sam to take an N-A-P," she knows I'm spelling out nap. She can practically read Goodnight Moon—because she has it memorized. She's starting to learn her sounds but when we jump to the next step of actually sounding out words or determining which letter a word begins with—she gets confused. "The word 'see' must start with the letter 'c' " she says. "Or why doesn't 'you' start with the letter 'u'?" I read to Alice every night and throughout the day on weekends. And I know she gets lots of books at school. But she's yet to grasp the overall concept of putting sounds together.

Sometimes when I hear others talk about their kids reading before kindergarten, I think, Their kids were naturally ready and Alice isn't. And I think that I shouldn't push her because I don't want to frustrate her and scare her off from learning. Other times, I can't help but think, Have I screwed up? I should have bought a book on phonics. And sometimes, I even introduce little lessons at breakfast time. I pick a letter of the day and then we come up with words that start with that letter.

A friend of mine has read many books about early reading such as Why Johnny Can't Read, Marva Collins' Way, How to Raise a Brighter Child, Give Your Child a Superior Mind, and Teach Your Child to Read in Just 10 Minutes a Day. She believes that all children are capable of learning to read at a young age. Her son is 1 years old and he can read the word "up." She believes that kids shouldn't learn the names of letters—just the sounds. "It's too confusing if they know the names of the letters," she says. She introduces the sounds in fun ways with songs and clapping.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've talked to parents who send their children to Waldorf Schools where academics are deemphacized in the early years. I've heard that a Waldorf student typically isn't reading until second grade. According to the Why Waldorf Works Web site, "There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the 'tiredness toward reading' that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on."

In public schools, kids tend to learn to read in kindergarten. At the private schools it varies—though most seem to say they teach at the individual child's level.

So where does this leave me? Confused as usual. And then the other day, while Alice was in swim class, I was talking to a mom about this very subject. Her point-of-view? "A child is ready to learn to read when she can skip." So of course, I asked Alice to skip. I wouldn't call what she did a skip—it was more like a hop-gallop-run.


  1. How funny that you should post this as a hot topic - at the same time your readers are posting comments (see comments 50 and 51 and of course some earlier ones) about this on the previous "switching schools" thread... it clearly is a hot topic indeed!

  2. "A friend of mine has read many books about early reading such as Why Johnny Can't Read, Marva Collins' Way, How to Raise a Brighter Child, Give Your Child a Superior Mind, and Teach Your Child to Read in Just 10 Minutes a Day. "

    Y'know, I tried the "Teach your child to read book:, 'cos one of my kid's friends was reading, and it was just miserable. Our kid was doing sorta OK in it, and enjoyed showing off when he could read a simple sentence, but I was getting really impatient with him (I suck as a techer that way). It was turning the bedtime reading ritual into an ordeal rather than a fun time. I stopped, at least for hte next 3 months, to wait to give me a bit more time to develop. I didn't want to force the issue and put him off reading for life.

    I guess I suck as a teacher.

  3. My mom was really into teaching me to read well before kindergarten --she says I learned at 3 (with "Why Johnny Can't Read"). Big whoop. It doesn't seem to have had any impact on my life or intellect at all. Not to call my mother an exaggerator, either, but I think there's a lot of "truthiness" in some of those parents' boasts about their amazing precocious miracle genius kids.

    My kids both started reading sometime in first grade -- even my son, who didn't start K till almost age 6. Then they took off, so they could rapidly read pretty much anything. Comprehending material that was over their heads was something else, but they could READ it.

    Regarding Waldorf's timetable, I think reading in second grade is early by their standards, based on what friends tell me. And they strive NOT to encourage reading, including being lukewarm on reading to kids. One Waldorf-enthusiast friend showed me the few Waldorf-approved read-aloud books she had when her kids were about K age. They seemed to be written in 1902, with snore-inducing plotlines about elves living under toadstools. I guess that's the way to discourage early reading. My friend was very in tune with that philosophy -- but then she had to move her kids to public school (Dixie School District in Marin) due to a divorce, when they were going into second and third grades. Then she had to spend thousands on tutoring to catch them up, which did give her a bit of pause. (Thanks to those friends and other Waldorfistas we know, Waldorf is the butt of much humor in my house. My kids think banning movies is child abuse, and they're baffled by the fact that older Waldorf students can read the Harry Potter books but are forbidden to see the movies.)

    Anyway, it seems pretty clear that barring a disability or clear-cut problem, kids learn at their own speed. Worrying about pushing it OR trying to delay it seems pointless and like a needless, stress-producing waste of energy.

  4. Oh, also, for one piece of amusing perspective:

    My friend has taught her dog, an Australian shepherd (very smart breed) to read commands and obey them. She holds up signs that say "sit," "down" and "turn," and the dog responds. Obviously the pup can tell the difference beween the look of the signs.

    That puts a little perspective on the 1-year-old who can supposedly read the word "up." (That mom should get slapped upside the head, IMHO, but karma will bite her somehow, I guarantee it.)

  5. But where I get confused is how much the public schools push the kids to learn how to read in K. I worry my "young 5" daughter, who seems ready in lots of ways for big kid school, will be frustrated if a lot of time is spent sitting around learning letters and numbers. she gets frustrated pretty easily these days when she can't grasp something right away. I don't know if it's age thing, a temperament thing, or what. And she also is pretty high energy. so like a lot of folks i'm wrestling with giving her an extra year in a preK setting.

  6. It could just be my veteran-parent perspective (or my exhaustion-provoked cynicism) kicking in -- I have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old -- but I have to admit that all of this hand-wringing about what kids can and can't do before they start kindergarten has me rolling my eyes a little bit.

    You and your hubby are smart people, and probably avid readers, right? Then the overwhelming odds are that your kids will be, too -- at least by the time they're in college.

    Seriously, people, take a deep breath and chill a little bit about this stuff. I'm not saying that I wasn't the same way, especially with my firstborn, but I've since decided that kids will be who they are meant to be, and that our nonstop parental fretting about all this developmental and academic stuff mostly gets in the way of that.

    My firstborn, for instance, is cautious in the extreme, a bit of a "rules nazi," and feels a LOT of anxiety if he thinks he's failed in any way. And I sort of blame my "must do everything right" mothering for some of that.

    With my second, I was soooo much more mellow about everything (maybe too much so -- she just informed my husband and I that we've been asleep on the job, and that her friends had to teach her to ride a bike without training wheels; guess we sort of forgot to do that ... ).

    Anyway, she might just be smarter than her big brother. She's certainly more free-spirited and creative and full of lust for life. And *she's* the one who will shut herself in her room and plough through Harry Potter and Marie Antoinette biographies, while my 7th grader whines for us to launder his jeans because he claims he doesn't know how to hit "start" on the washing machine, and who resists reading anything more strenuous than the sports section.

    Plus, many of us (at least those raised in the '70s, like I was) had sort of absentee parents who were off "finding themselves" and not teaching us to read before preschool or potty training us before our first birthdays. And mostly, we turned out to be productive members of society.

    I'm just sayin', a little benign neglect isn't necessarily a bad thing. Try to relax and *enjoy* your kids -- who, barring a serious developmental delay or learning disorder -- will be reading before you know it.

  7. Learning to read is like potty training: it is a process with benchmarks, not a goal that is achieved all at once. It takes many kids a few years to go from sitting on the potty the first time to being fully trained (no daytime accidents and dry at night), right? Whereas some kids get there very quickly.

    My daughter potty trained fast (the works, though there were a few accidents in preschool) whereas my son took longer with some aspects--though technically he was trained in the sense of being out of diapers. How do you count this? Was he potty trained or not?

    Similarly, my daughter, who understood phonics and letters and lots of simple words in K, suddenly took off reading at the beginning of first grade. As her teacher put it, a lightbulb went off and she combined all the reading strategies of phonics, context, and word recognition and was off and running. By second grade she was reading Lemony Snicket and third grade was devoted to the Harry Potter canon. She also writes beautifully and expressively.

    My son, on the other hand, learned phonetically, and his fluency with reading developed slowly but surely over time. No problems now in the third grade. He isn't quite at Harry Potter, but he loves the gross-out boys books by R. L. Stine and also reference books on many topics. When he reads aloud, he reads with expression and at a good pace.

    Yes, the public schools do focus on reading in K, but the real emphasis is on reading *fluently* by the end of second grade, because content really kicks in at third grade. Also, they have differentiated instruction for kids who are at different levels of reading. This means differentiated reading groups when that is the focus in the lower grades, and some more complex or extended assignments for better readers in the upper grades, all while staying in a mixed classroom for the majority of activities and topics. This has worked well for both my children.

    Kate, don't worry about it. All kids are different, and it sounds like Alice is doing great. The best things you can do as a parent in this area: show your own love of reading; read aloud to both your children every day; take them to the library; if it is fun, play those little word games of finding words that start with "S" or "T" etc. (this so reminds me of Sesame Street of my childhood). But keep it fun. Just like potty training, it won't work so well if you are all feeling pressured about it.

  8. I completely agree with the previous two posters. All of our kids will learn to read eventually, though they may be developmenatlly ready at different times. It's all fine. On occasion, a reading delay is due to an undiagnosed problem like dyslexia. This may not be diagnosed for a longer time if the child is redshirted and then attends one of the private schools where early mastery of reading is not emphasized.

  9. A lot of agreement here. My first daughter taught herself to read fluently at 4 and was the was the only reader in her K class. It wasn't awfully helpful to her and she got into a lot of lazy school habits that still haunt her. My second daughter pretty much started to read in first grade and took a few years to be completely fluent. But now that they're both in high school the second daughter is far outperforming the first. Shows me that you can't make a lot of judgments based on what they're doing when they are 4. It doesn't really matter.

  10. But your implication is that it DOES matter, that by reading early your daughter fell into bad habits that haunt her much later in her education. Do you think you could have stopped her from reading? and do you think she would have ended up at the level she is now, regardless? Thanks for the post.

  11. I have to agree with the recent post on the disadvantages of holding a non-reader back from kindergarten. I was thinking of holding my daughter back because she did not seem to be picking up her letters, including not being able to spell her name. The preschool teacher said that she was more than ready to go (which socially she was) and that when she was ready to read and spell her name, she would quickly do so (based on our mutual observations of her prior learning habits). So I went ahead and enrolled her into a SF public elementary school.

    She did in fact continue having problems with language in kindergarten. The problem persisted in first grade. Meetings where held with her parents, her teacher and the principal. By mid-year of first grade, the teacher felt that she had visual processing problem and suggested testing. She was found to be dyslexic and was assigned special assistance through the school district for this disability.

    Had I held her back, there would have been a delay in a year in identifying this problem. Already, the special assistance she is getting is moving her forward quickly (she is in 2nd grade). From my study on the subject, it seems that reading disabilities, if caught early, can be more easily corrected.

  12. there are obviously many different facets to this issue.

    i like what the poster said about the good side of "benign neglect" with regard to specific skills and when kids learn them. our generation does tend to push kids very hard, doesn't it? good to try another tack...or none at all. see what happens.

    my mom swears that my sister and i both learned to read at three. i do think she is prone to truthiness, but in this case i think i sort of remember it. you know what? both my sister and i became writers. (i'm a novelist and she's a journalist.) we also became weird, obsessed, voracious readers. but, then again, some of the most prolific authors have learning differences and reading issues (i have also noticed that many of the most articulate people have reading differences). so maybe the early reading is neither here nor there.

    i do remember very clearly what motivated both my sister and me to read, though: it was the desire to be able to amuse ourselves, seconded by the desire to escape from reality (though our reality was quite normal and pleasant). i have always hated having to depend on others for entertainment. i also think that kids who are attracted to art and who document their world artistically sometimes read early, because they begin to recognize whole words earlier than others (the way they might recognize that a green apple is actually green, yellow and red). my sister is the far better artist, but both of us drew incessantly, too.

    my daughter is an interesting case. she's really behind the curve on gross motor skills, but her fine motor skills are great, and thus she has always been a good writer. i just assumed that this would translate into early reading, but it hasn't really been the case. okay, she only turned 4 in september, and it is true that she can read and spell about 10 words and names, but i guess i thought it would be more organic. it's a very complex thing, massively influenced by their sense of whether they're being pressured or not. i think lulu knew i wanted her to learn to read, and resisted a bit because of that. (i couldn't help it. it's that persistent fantasy of being on an airplane reading my own book and drinking wine while my silent children sit by, utterly absorbed in harry potter or the new yorker or, hell, jackie collins -- whatever works).

    kim, who was reading soft-core porn bodice-rippers she stole from her friends' mothers at seven -- and look what happened!

  13. My son is 6, a late October birthday and he did a Pre-K year so he is presently in kindergarten. He is not reading, and though he shows many of the signs of readiness (including skipping!) he hasn't begun. For one thing, I am glad he is in kindergarten, and not first grade as he could have been, so he is more aligned with his peers. But mainly I know with Miles that he just doesn't do things until he is ready. He has a pattern of waiting, and then bursting (he didn't say "Mama" until 19 months but then had a huge language burst surprising us with his recitation of the alphabet and counting to 10 at 21 months). (Sometimes the surprise leaps are as good or better than the early achievements! Hey, when they do the stuff it's super cool, no matter when it's mastered.)

    I do have to keep my own sense of competitiveness in check about his reading as I feel an impatience and occasional worry as Kate describes. But I am also old enough (I ascribe my increasing mellowness to being in my mid-40's) to remind myself to take a step back and let it happen.

    I think the child's readiness is the biggest piece of the puzzle. COULD he read, ride a bike, ice skate, dive into the deep part of the pool? Sure. Is he READY to? Not so much. Sometimes we parents push and prod and usually I catch myself when I do it - and realize that my desire for him to achieve something is more about me than my son. There is a huge continuum of "normal" and as Leah noted, we just have to let them develop at their own rate.

    In terms of reading, I think Miles is still surveying the situation, as he does, taking it all in, making sense of it all and one day he'll jump all the way in.

    I wanted to share one other thing that is sort of related, and sparked a lot of parental anxiety in me. Miles got his first "report card" this week. There are 47 skills that are listed and the kid gets a check mark to show proficiency next to each one, or can get a mark for "needs more time to develop" or "area of strength".

    So Miles did great, fine, completely nooormal! He had 2 areas of strength, 3 areas for improvement, all others right on schedule. So the thing that was hard for me (aside from my secret desire that he should have a report card full of 'excels") was that 2 of the 3 things needing improvement are "Uses a descriptive vocabulary for objects or situations" and "Tells a complete story."

    Here's why this made my tummy hurt: Miles is in Spanish Immersion and this assessment is about his Spanish. Yet in English these are two skills he is exceptional in. This was hard for me, and is one of those ways that immersion can be hard for parents. We want them to shine and dazzle! What a sharp kid! What a delightful, intelligent, articulate kid! But as we persue a great new skill for him (Spanish) some of his strengths are not being noticed or utilized. In that way I think we don't let them be the best they can be. In learning the language, they are handicapped for the moment, hopefully to shine anew in the future. And that's hard to see.

  15. We actually have an early and pretty advanced reader (reading chapter books for 3rd graders at age 4), and while it's a really great thing (although it freaks us out sometimes), it also presents some problems as we consider kindergarten.

    What do kids like this do while everyone else in class is learning to read? He's already a bit unfocused (except with a book in his hand) and his PreK teacher has conveyed doubts that, reading aside, he'll be ready for kindergarten next year anyway. Do they become the problem kids--the troublemakers who can't sit still and are constantly disrupting the class? I heard alot about differentiation on all the tours I went on, but I have a hard time imagining how it really works. We actually applied only for immersion programs, in hopes that learning a new language would provide an additional challenge.

    SO, not to say "poor me, my kid reads too well!" (and I do believe that the emphasis on what kids are capable of before kindergarten is unfortunate--they go to school to learn, right? And aren't there trained teachers in the classroom whose job it is to teach them?), but there are definitely difficulties at either end of the reading ability spectrum.

    I like the earlier analogy to potty training--and of course my genius reader kid still wets the bed from time to time...

  16. My son is great at skipping but he is not reading -- I have no idea why those two things would be related, and, in our experience, they are not. Most early readers I've known taught themselves to read without any particular effort from their parents beyond what I'm sure we all do, reading regularly to their kids. I was an early reader, and my parents didn't do anything special. My brother was not an early reader. I don't think there is a magic way to get our kids to read before K. Sometimes I'm a bit frustrated that my son doesn't seem to care that he can't read, but then I remember all the cool things he does do and what a sweet, caring kid he is and I realize that I'm being silly. I'm sure he'll learn to read along with other kids, and if I try various techniques to get him reading earlier, I know he'll be on to me and he'll be even less interested in reading! I have been no more successful in life than my brother despite my early reading successes! Also, I'm not sure what issues with reading early readers are supposed to have later on, but I do not recall experiencing any.

    And I agree wholeheartedly w/ Caroline's dog analogy. I taught my dog (also an Aussie shepherd -- maybe we should have a "what can your dog do?" thread :)) hand commands in case he is out of earshot, but he certainly doesn't speak sign language! A one year-old who is able to recognize the word "up" (and only the word "up") isn't reading.

  17. I think Kim hit the nail on the head about reading because she needed to be able to amuse herself as a child.

    Boredom is something that we don't really let our kids experience any more. But it's SO important for them to have opportunities to be bored -- and to figure out, on their own, what to do about that.

    I was often bored as a kid because my parents were too into their own thing to bother keeping me entertained, and I dove into reading and writing as a result. Today, I'm a voracious reader and a professional writer (the "my husband and I" goof above notwithstanding -- I know it should be "my husband and *me*").

    With my first kid, I was determined to be a more hand-on mother than I had myself, and I micromanaged his early life to such an extent -- with scheduled playdates and mommy & me classes and on and on -- that to this day, being bored for him is nothing short of pure torture. Seriously, it's like the world is ending if he has an hour with nothing scheduled, and he has no idea how to remedy the situation short of turning on the TV or bugging us to take him shopping.

    (That said, he's a great kid, and I love him beyond words. He's just not good at filling his downtime. I think he's resisted reading for pleasure -- though he's a great reader and writer and scores well above grade level for both of those things -- because it's too active. He's become dependent on more passive forms of entertainment because I was constantly shoving things under his nose when he was little and didn't just let him be bored. At 12, he still think I am his personal entertainment committee.)

    By contrast, my second kid was (and is) often left to her own devices, and she's developed such a rich inner life as a result. She's perfectly happy to stay in her pajamas in her room all weekend, reading and doing art and creating little universes on her own or with her friends. If we schedule too much for her, she'll firmly put her foot down and insist on having her unstructured creative time.

    So I've learned that boredom is a great gift -- and something we deprive our kids of when we push them too much and do too much for them.

  18. boredom rocks!

    er...anyone know of a class that teaches kids how to be bored?

  19. This reminds me of a friend in my Moms' group, who read early and reeeelly expected her son to also, as both proof of his brilliance and her brilliant parenting (and isn't that what this is all about anyway?)

    Anyway when the boys were 3 she kept saying to her son "Kevin, how do you spell 'No'? How do you spell 'no'?" And he sometimes would respond "n-o" and sometimes wouldn't respond at all. But I don't think she was teaching him how to spell so much as she was teaching him what she wanted to hear to the question. "Kevin! Jump through the firey hoop!"

    One of my sisters does a lot of this stuff too (which drives me insane like only the opposite parenting of a sibling can.) She sent us each a little book of "First Year Milestones" about my niece and put "goes pee pee in the potty" at 7 months. Does that tell me my niece was on the path to being potty trained at 7 months? No, it tells me my sister is a little bit nutty to be hanging out in the bathroom holding her 7 month old on the potty waiting for her to pee. And the benefit of trying to potty train a child who can't even stand by herself is...what? Bragging rights I guess, although my little niece, now four, still doesn't have dry nights...

  20. Oh wow, this whole thread makes me super-tense -- even though my kids are ages 7 and 11. (And yes, they both read!) So why should it make me so uncomfortable?
    I think it's that it never stops, the comparing, the measuring up, the competitiveness. Who walks first, talks first, reads first, gets into the better college, gets the higher paying job, and so on. I'm not casting aspersions! I get it. It just bums me out.
    I have one child who has soared through school, and if she were my only child I'd probably be intolerably smug. Then I have a second child who is behind in EVERYTHING, but doesn't seem to notice or care. I don't know what to make of it, except they'll all read unless there's something seriously wrong and some will be great students, others really average, others below average, and there's not that much we can do about it as parents except watch it unfold. Now I am REALLY late going to pick my kids up from school and it's pouring. This blog is dangerous, Kate!

  21. Kids read when they are ready and should DEFINITELY not be forced to learn to read before they are ready. I read at age four. My daughter is five and just beginning to show interest. This is absolutely fine with me. I don't want to turn her off reading by forcing her. She's exhibiting all sorts of pre-reading behavior. She often asks how to spell something and then goes and writes the word down herself. She asks if certain words start with certain letters. She skips! (Cross-lateral body movements are directly related to writing, and crawling is related to talking, so why not skipping related to reading!)

  22. In public schools, kids tend to learn to read in kindergarten. At the private schools it varies—though most seem to say they teach at the individual child's level.
    Where are you getting this idea that public is one way and private is another? Public focuses on reading readiness in kindergarten (recognizing that, statistically speaking across all children everywhere, a fraction are reading at that age but that some indeed are reading.)

    The focus on the California state curriculum is on reading readiness in kindergarten, beginning reading in first with the goal that kids are solidly reading in third. That's across the state and, obviously, in SFUSD, too.

    California has some of the highest academic standards in the country - most privates say they follow the state standard.

    (Now a fair question is: are California standards TOO high?)

  23. Crawling is related to talking? Really? What about kids who never crawled but speak just fine???

  24. How Important is Crawling as a Developmental Milestone?
    See the link below:

    This discussion about crawling links to education got me remembering my own son who went straight from sitting to walking/running at 9 months. He never crawled and our pediatrician at the time said to try to get him to crawl a bit (he did, for a day, don't know if that was enough!)

    But fast forward my son definitely had trouble with writing and reversals through most of 3rd grade, when it finally corrected itself. He's still an awful speller (5th grade now). Like a lot of this thread, he wasn't an 'early' reader, but right on target developmentally (he is a younger, August birthday) and really went from zero to 60 once it all hit. He was not diagnosed as dyslexic, reads well, but certainly has a hard time sitting still.

    But then, this seems to be what a large portion of parents I know say about their elementary school aged boys.

  25. My oldest kid did not crawl at all -- and started walking well before 9 months. He also didn't talk until he was almost 3. (We did have him evaluated at the time; they said he was perfectly normal.) He's 12 now and talks (and reads and writes) just fine. In any case, scientifically speaking, I can entertain that not crawling and not talking are related, but not as cause and effect! How do you MAKE a baby crawl?

  26. My older, now 17, crawled early and vigorously, but talked late (we had him evaluated by specialists and all that blah-blah at age 3).

    My younger, now 13, never crawled at all but went directly from creeping to pulling up and cruising, and not till 14 months, causing panic and an MRI. She talked on schedule, though.

    Both are now highly literate, well-read bookworms, very verbal, and excellent writers (and musicians). My once-late-talking 11th-grader has somewhat erratic grades due to managing to "forget" any homework that he deems "busywork," but tied for top PSAT score in his school this year -- meaning his academic record is mixed but he's obviously intelligent. He got top grades through middle school, as has my

    I personally think all this stuff about correlating crawling with talking and reading with skipping is total hooey.

  27. I don't know, Caroline; one of the arguments for the perceptual motor skills programs for K-1s at various schools is that motor skills and writing/reading skills do correlate. Though, obviously, there are plenty of kids with physical disabilities due to CP or other causes who learn to read and write just fine! I think the human brain is an amazingly adaptive thing, really. And whether or not motor skills actually helps the kids read, I figure it is a good thing to get those wiggly bodies moving!

    Wanted to mention two other things:

    1) Someone mentioned the California standards. They are indeed very high standards, developed by teachers and practitioners in each discipline, including the arts, with benchmarks at every grade level. Prospective and current parents may find them an interesting read. I have found that teachers are really trying to teach to the standards, and that they work well. Problems include, of course, lack of resources in some of the areas.

    Then there is the question of "teaching to the test"--while I do support some measure of accountability and measurement of success, both individual and collective, that all becomes more problematic when higher stakes are a part of the testing. In our higher-performing school, this seems to be less of an issue. There is some test prep, i.e., teaching the kids how to actually take a vocab test, but none of the drill and kill horror stories sometimes mentioned about public schools. Not at all. What it does is disrupt class for a week or so.

    And again, the standards are really quite rigorous and we have been pleased with the breadth of knowledge being taught. Just to take art: There has been a great mix of individual creativity along with, for example, specific techniques in painting (different media, perspective, approaches to painting a face, a still life, etc.) combined with art history--Matisse, Grandma Moses, Picasso.

    2) On a positive note, I saw in the Chron today that the city will likely be providing SFUSD with about $30 million in set-aside rainy day money to help cover the anticipated state cuts. NOT that I think this should take away responsibility to deal honestly with the need to raise taxes in Sacramento, but this is good news. However, it seems likely that the "third third" of Prop H will remain frozen to cover the deficit as well (this does NOT include the wonderful arts, libraries and science funds already being spent, however--these will continue).

  28. I wouldn't be skeptical that being physically active would help a child's learning overall. But those notions that a specific physical motion correlates with a specific learning skill -- that seems pretty old-wife-ish to me, and doesn't jibe with my own experience either. (Though it's true that I am an old wife...)

    Re those California standards, they are pretty ambitious, aren't they? I'm not arguing with that. But you have to wonder if that's realistic with every kid.

    In kind of the same vein -- I always want to make the legislators who impose high-stakes testing actually TAKE the tests, with their results publicized.

  29. On the flip side, my oldest was a demon crawler, and a relatively late walker (14 months.) She had no trouble learning to read, but has learning difficulties in visual-spatial areas. And despite having been a great crawler, she had otherwise poor coordination and motor planning skills necessitating a lot of occupational therapy.

    I think a child's overall pattern of development is probably more important than whether he or she learns a specific skill by a certain age. I don't think there's any one all-important milestone that gives you the "uh-oh" or the "all clear."

    Also, none of my three kids read in kindergarten, and all 3 are excellent readers now. I think early reading is great for those kids it comes naturally to -- I definitely wouldn't discourage my kid if he or she started to read early. But reading later doesn't hurt your chances of becoming an excellent reader, as long as there is no underlying problem.

  30. Kate has presented two examples that differ from the "normal" development for reading. I can understand why this makes people uncomfortable, but I don't think it is fair to criticize people at either end of the spectrum. After all, this is San Francisco. If Kate's friend is teaching his or her kid how to read early and both parent and child enjoy it, what's the problem? I wish that I had the dedication/desire/motivation to teach my kids more; assuming that they are engaged. The same goes for the Waldorf school parents. Sending your child to one of these schools requires a tremendous amount of faith. We all have different ways of raising our children. And really the only thing that matters is that we give them time and love—how we do it is irrelevant.

  31. Michael Berube has a very touching essay about reading Harry Potter to his son with Down's syndrome. He makes the point that it is a pretty complex task to understand narrative and character. And this level of understanding is FAR more important at an early age, I tend to believe, than is the ability to recognize printed words.

    I suspect that kids who have begun to understand Harry Potter or similarly complex, drawn-out stories, are just a minor step away from reading.

    My wife and I have read chapter books (starting with Little House) to our daughter from the age of about 3. At first she didn't often get what was going on, but in time she came to look for long-term threads in the plot, and to appreciate the consistencies of characters.

    She was almost 7 before she started trying to read "real" (and non-memorized) books, but once she started there was no stopping her. Half a year later she's reading Roald Dahl books in less time than it would take us to read them to her. She's passionate about reading.

    I think this is due to the fact that she's been steeped in stories for as long as she can remember. She's also been exposed to books that have pushed her vocabulary development.

    Most importantly, there has never been anyone telling her that she SHOULD be reading, thereby turning that joyful act into a task that is expected of her.

    Read, read, read to your child. At some point between the ages of 4 and 8 or so, they'll get impatient with you, and take off on their own. The months that they're not reading are not (or need not be) wasted.

  32. My 10 year old and I still read together in bed, even though he is an avid reader on his own. It is a chance for us to unwind and have a bit of one on one time together (he is the youngest of 3). When I am too tired to keep reading, he will take over and read out loud to me. It is a good skill to practice and now he enjoys being the reader as much as being the audience.

  33. My husband has a little ritual of reading Sherlock Holmes (the short stories) to our daughter, who will be 14 (yes, fourteen) in March! Obviously she could read them to herself -- or to him -- just as well -- it's just a silly ritual. It's nice, too, because they have a touchy relationship sometimes and her teenage snittiness can make him feel rejected, so this is a pleasant bonding experience.

  34. All these mentions of reading to your kids, and the ever-popping up theme of Harry Potter reminded me of the orignal Wizard of Oz books. If you haven't ever read or considered them, give them a try. They aren't like the movie in that they are not scary. Frank Baum specifically set out to write books for children that wouldn't be scary; books to be unlike those of Hans Christian Anderson and Grimms. They are full of exciting, magical adventures, and often silly sweet things too (like the tree that grows lunch boxes in Ozma of Oz.) Fun for kids and adults. And a welcome distraction if you are sick of reading books like Captain Underpants aloud. (Or god forbid Mary Pope Osborne comes out with another Magic Treehouse book before Miles can read on his own.)

  35. Magic Tree House books were my secret weapon to get one of my kids reading on her own. They are repetetive and formulaic -- perfect for a beginning reader, but tedious and mind-numbing for a parent reading aloud. I told her she could read them on her own if she wanted but that I wouldn't read them to her. I read plenty of other things to her, but I refused to read any beginning-reader chapter book series to any of my kids (unless assisting them to read aloud of course.) "Baby Sitters Club Little Sister" series did the trick for one daughter, and the other only liked books that were funny ("Miss Small is Off the Wall" type wackiness.)

    My advice to parents of 4 and 5year olds -- skip reading Magic Tree House and other formulaic chapter books aloud. Let your children discover the pleasure of reading them on their own when their reading skills are up to it. That type of book can really pull your child from a beginning reader into reading fluency if there's a series they particularly glom onto.

    There's plenty of other better read-aloud material out there that your child couldn't possibly read for several years after they can comprehend the story aloud. Authors like Eleanor Estes, Ann M.Martin (The Doll People), and of course, those Berenstain Bears kept us pretty busy during the early reading years.

    Okay. Off my soapbox.

  36. In comparing public and private, you have to take into account the difference in age cut-offs.

    SFUSD kindergarteners admit 4 year olds. Private schools do not.

  37. And the private school kids typically are proficient in English and have involved parents who read to them. It's striking that they start reading 1-2 years in chronological age behind the public school kids.

  38. I disagree with Anne C. regarding the Magic Tree House books. We've been reading those to our child for a while now and we really enjoy reading them with her. She also listens to them on CD. I think the "formula" helps them to anticipate what's coming up and also helps them to see patterns and other details they might miss otherwise. They also introduce our child to interesting times and places that then turn into more in depth questions about history. At some point our child will learn to read and then read them all over again and I'm sure thoroughly enjoy them again.

    I also disagree that the Berenstain Bears books come anywhere near the Magic Tree House books in terms of quality. Those books are the ones I refuse to read to my child.

    Just my two cents!

  39. mom of early readerFebruary 15, 2008 at 1:40 PM

    When I could tell that my son was starting to recognize words, I began to get early reader books (big font, relatively easy words) for him, and when I read to him, I'd track the words with my fingers. Sometimes I'd pause, and he'd fill in the word I was pointing to. There's a book of Richard Scarry stories that he loved, and I found really useful. Eventually, he wanted to read too, and we'd alternate paragraphs and then pages. Just have fun and go at your child's pace.

  40. ^^Thanks!!


  41. I have heard all of it. My son is 4, and will be 5 in June. He has speech delay and i knew as soon as he starts learning how to read his speech will improve. this was true. Basically you need to work with your child and not get frusterated. Bounce off your childs learning skills. I pretty much said we are going to learn how to read. First I had to learn how to teach him to read and so i went to the library and checked out every book i could find on reading and looked up every websight on phonics. I wanted to understand how to teach him and teach him the right way before public school teaches him wrong or so I thought. Too make a long story short my son likes learning new words and just tonight i used refridgerator magnets and we learned 4 new words in minutes. If W.E. says we and B. says Buh then B.E. says be and son on and so forth with he, and me. there you go. I am giving him the concept.