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January 13, 2011


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you are on the money, Jenn.


I like the theory except that for children who are reading already in Kindergarten (as my oldest was and my youngest at 4 is on the cusp!), what will they be doing while the others "catch up"? This is one of the biggest debates at our school, which is a relatively high SES. The parents of slower kids want the teachers to slow down. What that means for my son....BOREDOM.


this reminds me of some researcher i read about the other day, who claims that dyslexia is increasing because kids aren't allowed to learn to read in their own pace

gary rith

I think, Jenn, that your description is the original mandate for head start :)

gary rith

(btw, I don't know Jenn if I ever mentioned it, but I do not talk off the top of my head, and your ideas above are absolutely right on: before I retired to be an artist full-time I had gotten a masters in special ed plus then another as a reading specialist before teaching for several years :)


I think that is what Head Start is for, and it is available to anyone who needs it. The kids in the Head Start program I taught at were thrilled to be read to, one on one, or otherwise. They were thrilled for any attention.
From what I've seen in high SES, asking those parents children NOT to be taught to read in kindergarten would be an outrage. I'm all for helping those in low SES, but not by "dumbing down" those in high SES. It is like the new mentality of never having a winner, or offering incentives, because "it promotes unnecessary competition". The real world is about competition. What is wrong with rewarding kids for doing good work, and making the others want to do better?


THE LIBRARY! I'm a Youth Services Librarian, and the major goal of most Children's Departments in libraries across the US is to work on Early Literacy. See the Every Child Ready to Read program for a great example.

Busy Bee Suz

I think that is a great idea.
So much pressure for the little ones as soon as they start school.
My girls already loved reading when they started school, for the same reasons yours did; it was part of our daily fun.


Coming from a background of being a child care provider and homeschooler I couldn't agree more! There is too much pressure put on young children to perform to standards. Making reading an enjoyable comforting experience will encourage them to read and like it! I love the idea of bringing volunteers into the preschool and kindergarten classrooms to read to the kids, they would love it!


I agree with your ideas.

I, too, have wonderful memories of reading with my kids when they were small. They are young teenagers now, and we still love to read together (and snuggle - I hope that lasts).

In school, there is mandatory reading time for the last 30 minutes on alternate days. Teachers and administrators are expected to read too. It's wonderful.


The pre-K & PEPP programs in Poway is awesome and should be universal in the US. PEPP is for 4 yr olds and the Pre-K is mostly for early 5yr olds and the kiddos who are old enough to be in Kindergarten but maybe not totally ready for it academically or socially. That said, I am not sure when Kindergarten became something other than the grade where the kiddos really hone their social skills and the skills needed to participate in a classroom setting. To call this idea "dumbing down" assumes that the kids who can already read would be forced to eat paste and read Good Night Moon repeatedly. The volunteers would be key but there would be no reason they could not read books to kids at their reading level and above.

My daughter is 8 and a fabulous reader but to help with further reading fluency there is nothing better than reading to her out loud and taking turns. We are reading the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe now. Our family would probably be considered a Low SES, maybe is makes a difference that I come from a High SES? Who knows.


Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't believe Head Start is actually "available to anyone who needs it." When my daughter was that age there was none at all in our town, which has plenty of low SES families, and even today there is a limit on the number of spaces in the program.
I think it's sad that any child's first encounter with books would be as late as Kindergarten, but I can't think of a good solution to that specific problem.
But less pressure in Kindergarten certainly wouldn't hurt most kids. Those that already CAN or are ready to read should certainly not be stopped from doing so. I'm sure a good teacher would be able to accommodate them, for instance have the more able students read a recipe, rules to a game, have time to pursue some independent reading/assignments, etc. Just don't try to force it on the kids who may simply not be ready!

Mama Hen Em

I love to read and read to my kids from the day they were born. I also volunteered heavily in both kids Kindergarten classes as a reading helper. My observation, in this fairly wealthy school district that we live in, is this: I have seen kids who have had EVERY advantage; preschool, pre-k, families with plenty of money AND stay at home moms who SHOULD have the time, and their children cannot and do not read. One of my jobs for the teacher was sending home the reading books for parents to read with their child (leveled, so some the kids could read and some were just to be listened to). The parents were supposed to track the reading and I cannot even tell you how often notes would come back from them saying they just didn't have time because they had this activity and that activity. I just keep thinking that somehow, we as parents, are responsible more than anyone else for exposing our kids to reading. And just for the flip side, one of my siblings is very, very low income single parent who works 50 hour weeks and yet she still makes time to read to and with all three of her children. Who are all amazing students who love books. But them our mom filled our home with books, so maybe it simply gets passed down? Perhaps priorities aren't what they should be? Just my simple rambling thoughts! Great topic and discussion :)


I agree completely. I wish they would just let kindergaten be kindergarten. Making that year have higher academic standards means it's harder for the young five year olds and more parents (especially of high SES of course) don't put them in until they're six.
Then of course those older high SES six yr olds are in class with the younger low SES five year olds, and teachers have to teach a wider span of learners than ever before. And it just creates a cycle where kindergarteners are older and older, and expected to learn more and more. Pretty soon we'll all start school when the kids are 7, but they'll have to read in the first two months.
We STRUGGLED with our two kindergarteners last year. They hated it. Even though they've been read to all their lives, all of the sudden reading equaled WORK and HARD and thus NOT FUN. That was just the attitude prevalent at school. And because of the reading standards they needed to meet, they worked on reading for the great majority of their half day of school. To the exclusion of science and art and even math. Variety is the spice of life but was not what they had in kindergarten.
Anyway, now- how to do get the country to buy off on this?

green girl in wisconsin

Did you hear the report on NPR the other day--about language and income level? I think it ran Monday--check it out--astonishing finds about how much of a difference it made. More money = more vocabulary, which would naturally lead to greater literacy skills. They found women of higher socioeconomic status talked more to their children, their children were more immersed in language.

Slow Panic

I'm still reading out loud to my kid (8 and 12). I love it. It's still snuggle time. This fall when I started reading Harry Potter out loud to the boys my 12 year old took off on his own and devoured all seven books in a few months. It was a beautiful thing to see. He became a reader.


My friend and I were talking about this the other day - what we have both noticed throughout our years of working with teenagers who struggle to read is that a) they feel that reading is a punishment [e.g., something they are forced to do during their time in in-school suspension or in pull-out support classes] and b) they have such an all-around language deficit that reading often feels overwhelming and frustrating. I agree that there is no substitute for being read to and learning/practicing to read in a supportive environment.


Of course, without the snuggling, reading loses some of its appeal, and those who have never experienced a time of sitting quietly and using their imagination may find it hard to start at age 5. While I am all for taking the pressure off Kindergartners, it doesn't answer how to deal with the great disparity between those who have a home where reading is valued and those who do not. And as others have already pointed out, the parents of children ready to learn MORE would be unhappy with this change -- especially if they had just spent 3 years paying for educational daycare.


I have a nephew who was read to A LOT, starting in infancy. He seemed to enjoy it, and his parents enjoyed it. They went through stacks and stacks of books every day. By middle school, he pretty much stopped reading except for school assignments. I still can't figure out why, but I recently discovered that my oldest son had several years where he rarely picked up a book. (I noticed he was reading over Christmas break.) So for some reason, some kids phase out of that love of reading.


Sorry to leave another comment, but I would just like to amend my previous statement that Head Start is available to anyone who needs it. That was my impression when I worked in Head Start, but it might not be the case everywhere. We picked up the majority of the kids in a bus and took them home, and it seemed that we traveled somewhat far to reach some of the kids who desperately needed the program.

While I do think Head Start is a very beneficial program, it was very obvious that in some of the families, we were fighting a losing battle. Kids CAN rise above their upbringing (and by that I mean lousy parenting on the case of some low income families, certainly not all), but it is hard!

Deb D

Reading to my young children still brings back fond memories. Most of my snuggle memories have to do with computer dude though. Probably because engineering guy didn't sit still long enough to snuggle. Probably not coincidently, computer dude is still an avid reader. He did go through a stage in grade 8 where reading was like poking sharp objects in his eye. He had to do a book report weekly and much as he loved reading, he hated writing. He went through that entire year not reading for pleasure and that made me incredibly sad. Once he hit high school and had a more manageable work load he started reading again.

Engineering guy isn't an avid reader - he'll read about one book a year but he also remembers pretty much everything he's read. He called me up one day - quite disgusted because he had seen a movie of a book he had read and in his opinion a very important piece had been left out of the movie. He wanted to know if I agreed that the part was important (first of all I had to remember the book lol).

Kids should be able read at their own level but the early readers can't be held back. I don't know how that would work in practice.


Reading is one of those skills that you can provide all the support for in the world, but the brain will decide what the brain wants to do and when. I hate the push on *learning to read* in Kindergarten when many kids are just not developmentally ready to read yet.
My kids all like to read, but my husband does not. Me, I'm a bookworm. BUT, reading came easily to me. I think those people I know that enjoy reading for pleasure? They learned to read fairly easily - and that goes across SES lines. I'm not sure mandatory reading logs are really the answer..I have to admit that we very often just 'made up" numbers because while we read every day, we did not keep track of the time. If i had to do those as a child? I think it would have turned me off of reading, not encouraged it!
Also, Head Start may not have had an immediate effect - but you never know what those few years of improved nutrition and educational support did for those persons down the road.
I think the free lunch program is actually one of the most important educational programs out there. You can't learn if you are hungry or ill fed.


Love this idea! I believe kids who fall in love with reading have those early lovefests with being read to. And kids who read early will do so regardless of whether reading is "taught" in Kindergarten. :)

phd in yogurtry

I agree. Pressure to read is not a good thing. Not only do many of these kids not get exposure to books, they don't get exposure to kindness and politeness and orderliness and structure.

Like you, I read to my kids as soon as they were old enough to focus. Helen Oxenbury books were my favorite. Tickle, Tickle. I Can. I loved those books.


I have always enjoyed reading and so read to my girls from infancy. They were, in turn, early readers although my youngest did delight in reading on her own until first grade. In my opinion, kindergarten is too late to expose children to books/being read to/reading for pleasure. I think the “solution” is in changing cultural norms about books/reading in lower SE households. How we do that? Greater minds than mine will have to work that out.


Sorry - my youngest did NOT delight in reading on her own until first grade. You'd think an English major would have better proofreading skills, no?

Life As I Know It

Kindergarten USED to be just as you propose...exposing kids to books, reading to them, and plenty pf play and socialization. Now, with the focus on district test scores, Kindergarten is work, and reading is expected at the end of the year.

I've read to my children since birth, also. In fact, I still read books out loud to my 9 year old. Who doesn't love being read to? He's an advanced reader, and went into Kindergarten ahead of the game, and even for a student like him, Kindergarten was intense. So we are making their first formal year of education a stressful experience which shapes their view of school in general. He loves to learn and loves to read, but doesn't like school.

Got off topic a bit, but I have SO MUCH to say about school and specifically, school and boys.


Forgive me for saying so, I've spent a great deal of time in Kindergarten classrooms in the last 2-3 years and I don't see the "pressure" that is being described. Yes, the standards have been adjusted with the expectation that kids are reading by the end of the year. All but one child in my son's class reached that level of proficiency. Kids are capable of reading at this age (and earlier!). So instead of spending as much time having snack and a nap (which was part of my Kindergarten day), kids are spending more time on educational concepts. This wouldn't be such a detriment if kids played more on their own time. What's wrong with socialization and play time after school. In our district, Kindergarten is half-day which leaves plenty of time for little ones to explore their own interests, play with friends, etc. One of the main problems as I see it is that kids these days are scheduled so that this opportunity is eliminated. When you've got extracurricular activities that take up your after-school time at the age of 5, something is drastically wrong. Kids are wound too tight and under too much pressure not because the standards in Kindergarten have been altered, but because parents have set standards on their kids that can't be attained. My son, and others in his class, were all capable and learned to read by the end of the year. My son also came home and built with legos, read books of his choice, played outside with his friends, kicked a soccer ball with his Dad...you get the picture. We weren't spending that free time shuttling him from soccer to piano, to Kumon...

Something to think about.

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