Fears of a Pre-K Graduate

Graduation Hats

The square caps on their heads and scrolls in their hands made my daughters look far older than five-years-old, until the eruption of a “diploma” sword-fight rolled the clock back to our present time. They are still my babies — their academic dress was made of construction paper — but there’s no doubt that they have passed a major milestone: Pre-K graduation.

This fall, my twins will enter kindergarten. Both are anxious about this next step, but for different reasons. My social butterfly is sad about leaving her friends from preschool, while her sister has other concerns, including: “I can’t read!” She recognizes a growing list of words by sight, and she can sound out small words, but she isn’t quite an independent reader. Her sister is at a similar pre-reading level, but is so unconcerned as to be nearly oblivious.

I’ve told my perfectionist daughter that being able to read is not a requirement of attending kindergarten, and that her peers will fall in different places along the reading spectrum, but she finds little comfort in being somewhere in the middle.

She replies, “Well, four of my friends can read. They read to the whole class.” (That means most of the class doesn’t know how to read yet, but she doesn’t see it that way.)

“You want to read to the class, too?”

No, I want to read to myself. I want to know what all my books say.”

With only limited memories of my pre-reading life, I can only imagine how disheartening it must have been to be surrounded by books I couldn’t enjoy on my own. I can understand why my daughter is so eager to curl up with her favorites.

“It’ll happen eventually,” I assure her.

“I want it to happen now.” She looks at me gravely. “I don’t want to go to my new school.”

“Your new teachers will help you learn to read. In the meantime, you can practice reading with me. We can work on it every day, if that will make you feel better.”

I don’t know the best strategies for teaching a child to read, but if my daughter is anything like I am (we joke that she’s my personality twin), then actively working towards her goal little by little will probably increase her sense of control over the matter.

So, we’ve continued to do what we’ve always been doing, just more of it. That means that our daily reading list has grown. Sometimes the girls want to read the books with me — sounding out, recognizing, or predicting the words as we go along — and sometimes they just want to listen. We’re having fun.

Both of my girls have become more comfortable reading aloud. More importantly, particularly for my anxiety-prone daughter, they have learned to accept that mistakes happen, that learning how to read takes time, and that it requires practice.

My daughter’s perfectionism still resurfaces from time to time, though. While reading a Winnie the Pooh book, for example, the misspelling of Pooh’s favorite food on the drawing of a pot bothered my daughter after she had learned the proper spelling of that word from the Berenstain Bears. She exclaimed, while shaking her head emphatically and wagging her finger, “Hey, H-U-N-N-Y isn’t right! Doesn’t that illustrator know how to spell?!” (I must admit feeling a hint of my own frustration at the misspelled word when I’m teaching my children how to read and write!).

I have no doubt that my daughters will be reading on their own in no time (fingers crossed!), but it seems that helping my personality twin develop the coping skills she’ll need to address her anxiety and perfectionism will likely be a tougher challenge.

PS. On Monday, I celebrated a milestone, too: A full year of blogging!


  1. Happy blogiversary! (Sorry I’m late – I thought I’d already wished you many happy returns, but apparently I left my brain at the office.) Here’s to another year of good books and new friends!
    I hope your little pre-readers enjoy their last summer before school starts in earnest.

  2. My daughter is getting ready to finish Kindergarten and is still not an independent reader, mostly because they aren’t officially taught to read here until first grade. Yes, believe it or not, her teacher actually warned us against teaching her at home because “she will be completely bored next year.” This is a perfect example of how France wants every student to be at the same level (liberty! equality! fraternity!), but that’s a rant for another day. Anyway, I’ll be glad for her when she finally gets to reading on her own, as she is intensely jealous of her older sister with all her books.

    1. That’s very interesting. When do children start kindergarten in France? In my school district in the US, all children must be five by September 1st. In some other countries (like England), my understanding is that children start primary school (reception) at age 4, and I imagine fewer children will learn to read between 4 and 5 than between 5 and 6.

      In my state, the Department of Education’s standards under the “reading independently” category for kindergarten include (http://www.pdesas.org/Standard/Views): (1) identifying the purpose and type of texts (fiction v. nonfiction), (2) employing word recognition techniques, (3) expanding vocabulary, (4) listening comprehension, and (5) showing accuracy in “phoneme segmentation, letter naming, letter-sound correspondence and blending (decoding) simple words.” Kids work towards these goals in Kindergarten, and my guess is that lots of children don’t learn how to read until well into 1st grade.

      It’s also interesting that you were advised against teaching your daughter how to read! Do they still encourage you to read books with her? Because I’m not a teacher and don’t really know how to teach my children how to read, all I’m doing is more of the same: lots and lots of reading with my girls! It’s definitely helping to calm my daughter’s nerves.

  3. I’m not sure if in my day (so long ago :-)) that us working class kids ever tried to read anything until we went to school. Seems you catch up soon enough anyway. You’re surely correct to try to soothe your little one’s expectations.
    It’s been a pleasure reading your posts AMB – always pleased to see the inbox notification of a new one.

    1. Hi, Roy! Thanks for reading. Yes, I think most children will catch up quickly once they start primary school. There are many children who don’t attend Pre-K in the United States, and some won’t even go to Kindergarten (it isn’t required in Pennsylvania). My guess is that these children will learn to read later than children who attend these educational programs (I haven’t seen any research on it, though).

  4. I can’t remember not being able to read, but one of my proudest moments as a kid was when I got Kati to start reading – she never really bothered with it until I found her a book she was actually interested in. I still remember that book…I wonder if she does? Hmm…

    Congrats on your daughters’ graduation into kindergarten! Sounds like they’ll both do just fine. 😉 And congrats on your blogoversary!

    1. That’s a nice memory to have! Did you find out whether she remembers the book? I remember the first books my middle sister started to read (she’s one year younger than I am).

  5. Oh, the pressures of being a mom and assuring the kids all will be well in time. Do you feel a little voice in your head telling you the same thing? Kids want things now and do not seem to have the concept of time. Is that true? Not having kids I just look at the nieces and nephews and think it is all about now, now, now.

  6. the HUNNY and WOL comments are very interesting, I’ve never really given thought to the effect of these cutely misspelled words in books for early learners — I see clearly now how misleading they can be! I love the stories about your girls. Congratulations on your one year milestone, great job!

    1. Hi! Fancy seeing you here. It seems authors insert these cute misspellings to amuse parents, but I find it very irritating. I see it more often in older books than in the newer publications.

  7. I loved your description of the different attitudes of the twins. As a high school English teacher, I enjoyed reading about these pre-reading feelings — I’ve noticed that as easy as reading is for me and for some of my students, it really isn’t that simple for everybody. But as you said of yourself, I too cannot remember a time when I could not read.

    1. I wonder whether the challenges some of your students face in high school stem from their exposure to books (or lack of exposure) during early childhood. My sister, a middle school and upper school Latin teacher, has mentioned to me that she makes an effort to address her students’ educational deficits, but that some of the problems they have needed to be addressed much earlier in life.

  8. My youngest had the exact same fears when she was about to start K. She thought she should already know how to read EVERYTHING 🙂 I love that your girls are into words and books. What could be better than the passion to KNOW THINGS? Nothing, that’s what.

    Congrats on one year of blogging! My 1st blogging anniversary is coming up too!

    1. Thank you! It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year. Time flies! Your youngest sounds very much like my daughter. I imagine that kids growing up in houses full of books (though mine are mostly ebooks now!) feel a lot of pressure to read as early possible.

  9. I feel your daughter’s pain. I’m a perfectionist, too, and it’s never enough that I’m learning to do something. I need to be doing it well, right away. Sounds like you’ve got a good approach going there, though.

    It always bothered me in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (the movie) when they say “W-O-L. That spells Owl.” No. It’s adorable that you think that, Eeyore, but no. Confused the heck out of me when I was a kid and knew better!

    1. W-O-L bothers me, too! I wish authors wouldn’t do that, and thankfully, I rarely see those types of misspellings in more recently published books. As for perfectionism, it’s a trait I’ve struggled with my entire life. I hope my daughter learns how to cope with it earlier than I did.

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