Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading? 

Why Are Labels So Important For Early Readers?

Labels. What’s the deal? Why are they important, especially in younger kids? 

I always knew they were important, but I was able to witness firsthand just how impactful it can be for children. 

In my daughter’s room, we have labeled many of her everyday objects. 

My daughter’s dresser of clothes
The magnetic chore chart on our back door of daily tasks my daughter does
A close up of the magnets for the chore chart
Her favorite puzzle that I added labels to

For each of these items, she has a visual of what exactly the object is or contains. If she pulls out her bin with socks, she knows it has socks. 

On her chore chart, when she sees the picture of the t-shirt, she knows it means she needs to get dressed. 

At 2.5 years old, she cannot read, yet words are present on each of these objects. Are the labels just for me? Absolutely not. At first glance, she didn’t pay much attention to them, just the pictures, but as time went on she started noticing the words and letters. 

“Mom, this says pig.” she would tell me while she held the pig puzzle piece up. 

“It says…. Dishwasher.” when she would move her magnet to “done” after helping me with the dishes. 

Eventually, she stopped focusing so much on the picture and started focusing in on the words.

A study was once done on kids being read picture books at an early age. It tracked their eyes to where they were looking on the page during the story. Kids who did not know how to read yet focused solely on the pictures for the entire story, paying very little attention to the words. Kids who had a very basic foundation skill of words and reading but could not read yet went back and forth between the words on the page and the pictures, trying to put the two together. While kids who could read focused mainly on the words and less on the pictures.

By putting these words and pictures in front of her, I’ve given her the opportunity to see the connection of words with objects and it took very little effort (or even teaching) on my part! She loves to look at each label and read them to me. Most of the time she doesn’t say it exactly right as it reads, but the purpose is that she’s trying. 

She’s gained confidence in her ability to read, it’s not something that’s just for older kids and adults. 

She’s putting together that letters grouped together can create words. 

She’s gathering that words have meaning and can represent objects. 

She’s recognizing familiar letters in the words and seeing them put to use. 

Is she actually reading? No. But she’s laying down the crucial foundational skills she needs to get there. 

And we’re getting there with one simple, simple aspect added to her day- Labels. Never underestimate the power a labeled object can have on an early reader. 

Beautiful Winter Books for Gloomy Winter Days

The only thing I love more than a good list is the Winter season. I know the cold weather isn’t everyone’s favorite, but the magic of the holidays and the peaceful falling snow makes me so happy! If winter isn’t for you, here are a few fun winter-themed books to make the snow and cold a tiny bit more enjoyable. 

The Mitten by Jan Brett: A boy loses a mitten in the snow and animal friends come to help.  

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: This Caldecott book is not only perfect for its storyline but the artwork as well.  

Wolf In The Snow by Matthew Cordell: A book with no words telling a story of humans and wolves helping one another through the wintery cold snow. 

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Pak: A brother and sister see the signs of a dying autumn and a growing winter as they take a walk outside. 

Snow Party by Harriet Ziefert: Snowmen throwing a party in the woods, what’s not to love?   

These books are sure to have you smiling and feeling excited about the snow right along with your students. When you’re having a hard time getting to school in the cold and ice, just pull out a fun wintery book and get reading, it’ll be sure to brighten your spirits and appreciate snow for the fun magic it can create. 

Teachers & Parents: Who Deals with the Pressure of Mandates?

“I just don’t know what to do. He has zero interest in the paper books that come home to practice sight words.”

Anxiety. Fear. Worries about falling behind. It was like I was looking in a mirror from several years back when I was stressing about my reluctant kindergartner.

Only this time, as the kindergarten teacher (and as a somewhat-less-neurotic parent than I once was), I was able to offer all the reassurance that I wished I had received for my kindergartner.

I told the parent, “If he is expressing disinterest in those practice books, please don’t push them. It means he just isn’t ready yet, and that is perfectly ok.”

That precise concern was what made me hesitate in sending home those books to begin with. They are part of a program that pushes reading faster and earlier than was ever expected of kindergarten even a few years ago (our state now has standardized testing even for kindergarten that expects them to be reading by the end of the year).

Schools here must comply with these standards in order to keep their doors open. And so, cushioned by as much developmentally-appropriate play as possible, we engage in guided reading, word study, shared/independent reading and writing, and sending home these paper books to practice sight word recognition, in order to coax literacy along.

But just because I’m feeling the pressure of the latest state standard, does that mean I should transfer that pressure to parents, or heaven forbid, to the children themselves?

There are those who believe that warning parents of the growing demands–that if they don’t push, the kids will fall behind–is a kindness; I can see why they would feel that way. They do not want parents to be blind-sided by the increasing pressures from grade level to grade level.

But we can equip parents with tools without alarming them, or putting them in a scarcity mindset with their young children that will only make children hate learning before they’ve even really started. It may be the teacher’s role to shoulder the pressures from educational mandates, but I don’t believe we need to push that on parents. Rather, we can focus on our shared roles as teachers and parents on nurturing a lifelong learner, on preserving and cultivating the innate curiosity we all inherit.

Which is why my weekly emails now include this reminder about those paper books:

“Thank you so much for doing your best to read these with your children at home. These are meant to help your child retain our sight words throughout the year, but of course the most important reading is the kind that makes your child love reading! Stories they choose, text you guys identify as you drive or look at restaurant menus, and other forms of reading are all so beneficial.” 

As I often try to point out, capital “S” struggles–such as developmental delays, disability, and profound lack of access to resources–these are all caveats that should never be dismissed when making decisions on the timing for and types of interventions that might be needed. But barring these extreme circumstances, most children will flourish at their own developmental pace if given the space and resources to do so.

It just so happened that that readiness was closer than either I or my student’s parent thought. Not 2 weeks later, this parent returned and told me, “I don’t know happened! I did what you said and stopped pushing those practice books. And now suddenly he is excited about trying to read everything! It’s hard to keep up!”

And I just smiled to see this beautiful & familiar pattern unfold yet again: when in doubt, go with the child.

How To Effectively Use Roxaboxen In The Classroom

The first time I heard the story Roxaboxen, I was well into my college years. This saddens me, considering the book was written in 1991, a few years before I was even born! It shows what a timeless classic it has become since it’s still used in schools and read to children today. 

I fell in love with this book right away because it drew me back to my childhood when my neighborhood friends and I would spend hours a day in our driveways drawing sidewalk chalk “houses” furnished with lavish furniture and multiple rooms. We would ride our bikes from driveway to driveway to visit each other’s homes. When the rain would wash the houses away we grabbed our sidewalk chalk again and started over. This cycle lasted for years and years. 

Roxaboxen is a story about friends in Arizona who use rocks and boxes to build homes, buildings, and businesses. They have cops so cars don’t go over the speed limit, and a jail for those that do. These children create more and more every year, even making a cemetery for a lizard with an unfortunate ending. 

How can this book be used in the classroom? It teaches about community and working together. This book is an excellent vehicle for a discussion of the topics, whatever the age group. It can give a brief introduction into the life cycle, watching the creation and expansion of the town, then later on how it was deserted once the children grew up. Also, not to mention- the lizard. 

Think of the beautiful creations children can create of their own communities, possibly even with pebbles and sugar cubes, their own rocks and boxes. The amount of possibilities this creates are endless. 

A few years back I took an Art in Education seminar. A dance teacher used Roxaboxen as our main focus of the lesson. We were split into different teams, each given a few cardboard boxes and balls for our rocks and boxes. We collaborated as a team to define our community values then created a dance with our boxes and balls to reflect these values we had chosen. It was beautiful. 

Roxaboxen can lead to many powerful conversations and lessons down the road, but ultimately, I believe it is the perfect book to spark the imagination as a child. I can see my friends and me now, hearing that story in our early elementary days and running with it. We would have run out to recess with ideas swirling in our minds of the communities we were about to create. It’s unfortunate that I never had the exposure to this picture book to place those imaginative ideas in my mind. 

Please, do your students a favor, regardless of their age, and tell them the great story of Roxaboxen

Have you read your students Roxaboxen? What discussions or activities did you use? Most importantly- How has Roxaboxen influenced you as a person and a teacher? 

5 Useful Leveled Texts Resources

We can drill comprehension strategies all day, but until students are given opportunities to grow their knowledge base through reading accessible texts, they will continue to struggle. That’s why I’ve searched out some level-able texts online you might be able to use with students! Meanwhile, I want to make it clear that this should not be a substitute for a diverse classroom libraries that provide students with plenty of choices. But as a supplementary resource, or perhaps while we’re working on building one, here are some resources that may be of use:

#1: Time for Kids: Accessible journalism for kids. Also available to be read aloud, or in Spanish!

#2: Newsela: Connects with Google Classroom to be able to assign reads to students. Some include a quiz or writing prompt as well, and many are available in Spanish.

#3: Wonderopolis: While this resource is not exactly level-able, it’s still made extremely accessible through features such as audio, highlighted vocabulary to look at definitions, a quiz, and just sheer interesting topics that kids are wondering about around the world!

#4: Dogo News: Search by grade or interest, and access assignments & audio. Some of the features do require a Pro account.

#5: ReadWorks: Similar features as elsewhere. I like that there are fiction and poetry options available here.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 Delightful Picture Books con español!

Maybe it’s because I’m anxious not to let my high school Spanish slip away entirely, but I absolutely love coming across picture books that include Spanish phrases. Not only are they fun to read out loud to my kids (and fun for them to try and learn new words), but they send an important message of inclusion and honoring diversity.

Here are 10 picture books con español that I would recommend. These are primarily in English, with Spanish phrases woven throughout.

#1: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

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#2: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin and Crash McCreery

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#3: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

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#4: Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raúl the Third

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#5: La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya & Juana Martinez-Neal

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#6: Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina & Claudio Muñoz

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#7: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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#8: Alma & How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal  (most of the Spanish phrases are part of the illustrations here)

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#9: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin

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#10: How Are You? = ¿Cómo Estás?

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¡que se divierta leyéndolo! Have a great time reading!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto