My kid is 5 years old and he cannot read.

I went to Vincenzo’s kindergarten orientation a couple weeks ago.  People asked all sorts of questions, like, “How much time a day to the students spend doing math?” and, “My child is already proficient at reading.  How are you going to make sure she isn’t bored?”

I, meanwhile, raised my hand and asked how much time the kids spend at recess each day.  If I had asked a second question, it would have been, “My child is proficient at pointing at people and going, ‘Pshew! Pshew!’  How are you going to make sure he isn’t bored?” 

Still, I was feeling like Vincenzo is really ready for kindergarten…until I had to fill out the paperwork.  Does he know his ABCs?  Check!  Can he count to twenty?  Um…check?  Can he write his name using only one capital letter?  Can he button?  Does he know his phone number?  Address?  Birthday?  Does your child know his full name? 


We have been working on his full name this week.

I know I make fun of his blatant boyishness, his tendencies toward violence, his nonstop energy, his disinterest in doing anything that resembles learning no matter how much chocolate I dip it in or how many sprinkles I pour on it.  But I’m serious about recess.  These kids are five.  FIVE.  They still hold our hands in the parking lot.  They think their stuffed animals are real.  When we kiss their bumps and bruises they believe they’re magically healed.  They have temper tantrums.  Because they are five.

In Denmark, one of the most literate countries in the world, children are not taught reading until age seven.  When reading instruction begins, it’s in a relaxed environment.  In America, if your child isn’t reading before he enters kindergarten you start worrying that he isn’t gifted.  If he isn’t reading by the end of kindergarten, you start worrying that he is special needs. 

And we all want gifted kids.

When I came home from orientation and told Vincenzo I had visited the classroom he’ll be in next year, he asked just one question.  Twice.  “Did you see kids playing, Mom?  Were they playing there?”

I think we’ll move to Denmark.

Pork and pink bean soup
Corn bread

13 thoughts on “My kid is 5 years old and he cannot read.

  1. I want to assure you that this gets less intense. It’s more dramatic to tell you to gear up for parent competition and teachers who judge you for not teaching him to tie his shoes, but honestly? We barely think about any of that. Lennon goes to school, sometimes she gets a star, sometimes she gets a “Keep Trying” stamp, but mostly, she plays. And pees her pants. Sometimes there’s peeing of pants.

  2. This makes me sad. I am with you Rachel. Denmark it is. At least we will have eachother when our kids are playing.

  3. I have to comment on this one – this is something you shouldn’t sweat over. Vincenzo most definitely is gifted! I’m sure he’s going to do great!

  4. Denmark it is. James has a cousin who started reading when he was 5 and now beats his dad at chess. James gets excited when he gets the hook on his J to go the correct way. He knows to dial 911, but when given a phone, he has no idea what 911 looks like. He is going through a phase where he wants to be rocked to sleep at night, just like a baby, and has absolutely no desire to try to read because it would mean that he is growing up. He is 5 damn it, this kindergarten stuff is freaking me out despite the reassurances I get from friends with older kids.

  5. That freaks me out. I just hope my kid is average, happy, and kind. I guess I’d ask if the glue is non-toxic and if they have recycling in every classroom.

  6. I am not worried about Vincenzo… not one bit. The kid is obviously a brilliant child being parented by brillant people.

    He’ll be fine!

  7. From the girl who got her degree in Recreation and Leisure and spent endless hours reviewing the importance of “play” and “free time”. I say kudos to you for knowing the importance of recess! Teaching probably taught you that by the time they are in the 3rd grade it all kinda evens out, except for those VELCRO kids, somebody needs to teach them to tie their own shoe!

  8. My daughter is 5 years old and is gifted and cannot read. Breathe, Rachel. You’re projecting.

  9. WOW! what a great post. It truely does say so very much about how messed our system in. Seriously…then expect so much BEFORE they start school…then proceed to expect very little as they continue on thru. ugh…

  10. oh and yes….the recess question…..a great one! our kids are not getting enough movement in their day. Recess and playing…so very important. Did you ask about PE? want to get depressed….ask about PE.

  11. Great post! Do not worry. Vincenzo is great and will continue to be. We did not learn to read until the 1st grade. I don’t know about you, but I turned 7 in the first grade. Those that ready and 4 or 5 are no more gifted than those that read at 7. It all eventually evens out. Just like us, some will be amazing readers and writers while others will excel at math. For now let them be kids. It goes by way to quickly.

  12. I wanted this article to reassure me, but the truth is – America is a progressive country with high expectations – I can’t remember the last time I heard of Denmark doing anything first – or better than Americans. If we live in an advanced nation, I suppose we need to keep up.

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