There's more to reading than...reading?

My son at age 4 reading a book in a museum gift shop
© Carol Bainbridge

When my son was about to turn five, I knew it would soon be time for him to go to kindergarten. Mrs. Marovich, my son's preschool teacher, had gotten me thinking that I needed to take a proactive approach to his education. She thought he'd be terribly bored if he didn't get the right educational services. She had told me that my son was "gifted," but I didn't believe it.  Or more accurately, it didn't make any difference to me.

I thought all children are gifted. (I actually said that.)

A Simple Question

But Mrs. Marovich had planted a seed that grew in my mind. What if she was right? What if my son actually would be bored in school? What would that mean? What would happen? What do schools do with kids who start already knowing how to read? To learn more about what to expect for my son, I called an old friend of mine who happened to be a first grade teacher in our school system. I asked her a very simple question: what do you do with kids who come into first grade already knowing how to read? Her answer was simple: kids that age don't know how to read. That was the first time I heard that response, but it wouldn't be the last. It was a statement I would hear for years.

When I told the first grade teacher that my son knew how to read, she started complaining about those Montessori schools that claim to teach children how to read.

They just made her job harder, she said. Then repeated that kids that age can't read. I wasn't sure how teaching kids how to read early made her job harder, but I later decided that she must have encountered several children who could recognize words, but couldn't comprehend what they read. I suppose that made it harder to teach phonics, but I'm not sure.

What irked me about her response was that she made assumptions and didn't ask me about my son. Did he go to Montessori? No. Did I teach him how to read? No. But she didn't ask me anything, so I forged ahead.

Reading Isn't Reading

No, really, I told her, my son was really reading: he could read some words by sight, he could sound out new words and he could comprehend what he read. She was silent. I figured she was just stunned since I had surely convinced her of my son's ability to read. I waited for her to tell me what she does with these early readers. Instead, I heard a sigh, dripping with disgust, followed by the comment, "There's more to reading than that!"  Huh? I was pretty sure that was more than most first graders could manage. I tried to think of what *I* do when I read. It was pretty much the same thing, just at a higher reading level.

The Struggle Begins

It got worse. I learned that my son would miss the June 1 cutoff date by 28 days. So because he was born on the 29th of June instead of on the 1st of June, he wasn't elibible to start school that fall.

My social, confident, happy, mature little boy, who could read, would have to wait for another year before he could even go to kindergarten! He would be six. I was pretty sure that my son's reading wouldn't remain where it was for a whole year. And then there was the entire kindergarten year he would have to go through until he finally reached first grade - where, I was told, children that age don't read. If he was reading at age five, I was certain he would be reading even better at age seven.

I thought it might be time to look into "early" entry into kindergarten.What started out as a perfectly legitimate and simple question turned into a quest that got me started on my journey to learn about gifted kids. Mrs Marovich had been right.

Read more about my experiences raising my son.

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