Care and Feeding

Our Kindergartener’s Teacher Told Us to Limit Her Reading So She Won’t “Get Too Far Ahead”

She’s super bored in school. Is this really a good idea?

A young girl reading a book happily.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Raul_Mellado/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter will be 5 in November. We had the option to keep her out of kindergarten for another year or send her now, and she begged us to let her go this year, so we did. Two weeks in, and she already hates it. Her teacher reported that her behavior at school is good, she’s quiet and sits still, but she comes home and whines every day that she’s bored at school. Part of the problem is that her class is learning letters and numbers, and my daughter can already read, write, and do addition and subtraction. To be honest, if I already knew how to read and someone was teaching me the alphabet, I’d be bored too. Another issue is that my daughter is very social and has a lot of neighborhood friends, but they’re all older than her. She won’t play with the kids her in class because “they’re all babies.”

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Right before the pandemic started, my daughter got to use an enrichment workbook while visiting family and came home asking us to buy those for her. She really likes them, and they’ve kept her occupied during the pandemic; now she’s done quite a few and is working her way up through the skill levels/grades. Her teacher called me in for a chat at the start of the second week of school to talk about my daughter. When I mentioned that she’d complained about being bored, the teacher suggested that I not let her do the workbooks or read chapter books so that she wouldn’t get too far ahead of everyone else. She didn’t really have any suggestions on how to help my daughter make friends in her class. It was kind of an irritating discussion, but I guess her teacher knows way more about child development than I do. What should I do here? I feel weird taking away something my child enjoys so she’ll fall behind, but I don’t want my daughter to hate school the way I did. Meanwhile, she’s still begging me to buy her the next workbook.

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— Kindergarten Conundrum

Dear Conundrum,

I’m often hesitant to put too much personal testimony in these responses, but I have to do so here because I am triggered. Like your daughter, I entered kindergarten at 5 already knowing how to read. My teacher gave me a math workbook and had me work on it by myself while everyone else was using Sunflowers, the brightly-colored and intriguing reading workbook. There was a lack of encouragement and praise for my existing skills, as if she was annoyed rather than impressed by them, and to this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just allow me to spend that time reading instead. Alas, it was in kindergarten that I began to hate math … and school.

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My experience taught me something about teachers that we must never forget: They don’t always know best. A young voracious learner is something to be excited about, someone to encourage! It sounds like this teacher either doesn’t know how to engage with an advanced student or doesn’t want to, and though it’s not “her job” to help your daughter make friends, she should be more dialed into the social-emotional part of this journey than it seems she is. Perhaps it’s still early, and she’s adjusting to the new (and likely COVID-altered) school year, and she’ll be of more use eventually.

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In any case, I’d strongly discourage you from taking away something that both makes your child happy and is educational, and that instead, you begin focusing on ways to cope with the difference between she and her peers. Explain to her that though she may be able to do certain things that they cannot do yet, she is still their age-mate and still has more in common with them than she does most older children. Find ways to facilitate relationships between your daughter and kids her age: swimming lessons, spending time with the child of a friend, etc.  Be intentional about breaking the “they’re all babies” notion.

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In the meantime, I would schedule another conversation with the teacher for a couple of weeks from now. Explain when you meet that you intend to keep allowing your daughter to use these enrichment workbooks and that you’d like work with her to figure out a way to make your daughter’s time in class—specifically during reading lessons—more meaningful. Considering that even if you ceased using the workbooks, your kid would already be ahead of the group, what does she suggest can be done to keep your daughter engaged? If the teacher isn’t helpful or open, speak to the principal. Wishing you both all the best, and a much better kindergarten year than I had!

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From this week’s letter,I Think My Son Is Leading a Girl On:” “I didn’t question any of this until my older teen daughter asked me, ‘Do you think Michael’s leading Ellie on?’”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a man with no children, so I turn to you to ask if I am being helpful or a world-class jerk. I work in a public library. Naturally, we have kids in there all the time, and just as naturally we have some epic meltdowns. I totally understand when parents and caregivers do what they have to do to handle this, which sometimes means letting them “cry themselves out.” Unfortunately, this can create tension with other library users who may not always be as patient.

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Once, about a year ago, I saw a little boy who was inconsolable, and his harried mother was trying to check books out while holding an infant. I was nearby and honestly, just trying to be helpful and do what I could to defuse the situation, so I said to the crying child, “Oh, what’s the matter today? Can I help you?” I am a tall man with a big voice, so I will crouch down and lower my voice when speaking to children. The boy stopped crying instantly and looked to his mother for comfort. I have repeated this action a few times, but always with the intention of minimizing the child’s distress. It’s not meant as a wily tactic or technique I employ to quiet the child, but I am trying to make things less stressful for the parent and pacify other visitors. Ultimately, when I do this, the child becomes quiet in the moment; but I worry if I am adding a layer of stress onto the child that is, at best unnecessary and at worst, harmful in some psychic memory way. Is this how and when children become afraid of situations? I’d hate to think I am contributing to this.

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— The Library Isn’t Always Quiet

Dear Library,

You don’t sound like a jerk at all, quite the opposite! I think it’s great that you’re using what you’ve got to help calm down kids and their stressed-out caregivers, who I’m sure appreciate the assist more often than not. Depending on the tone of voice and body language you’re using, your tactic could actually be soothing! Make sure you offer the kids a big smile when you have these encounters. Perhaps keeping a stack of children’s books nearby so you can offer one up in a pinch could also be helpful: “What’s the matter today? Can I help you? My Elmo book always makes me feel better when I’ve got a case of the sads.” You might even consider getting a hand puppet or small stuffed animal to assist. Kids likely know you already as the very tall, very nice library man who knew how to make them feel better, and I think that is a great thing. All the best to you.

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· If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I own a 10-year-old sports car which I love. My family sometimes jokingly call it my second child. My husband has a new SUV. Soon my husband will be leaving for a temporary, eight-month assignment abroad. We’ve made a deal with our 16-year-old son that he can drive the SUV for those eight months as long as he pays the car insurance. All three of us are happy with this deal. The problem? Our families can’t believe our teen is getting to use the new car. They think we’re bad parents by not giving him my older car instead while I drive the newer one. They’ve never heard of a teen getting the “better” car. Every time I try to explain that to me, my old sports car is the “better” car, they call me crazy. It’s starting to get to me. Is our arrangement crazy? What do you think?

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— ­­Second Guessing Myself

Dear Second Guessing,

You, your husband, and your son came up with an arrangement that works for you all, and that is what matters. In your household, it isn’t the newness of the SUV that makes it the premium vehicle, it’s the attachment you have to your older one; other people may not see beyond the model year, and that’s okay. Sometimes, we make choices that run counter to what most of our loved ones would do, and we just have to live with the discomfort that comes of that. You’ve heard your family’s take on the matter, and there’s no need for them to continue to share their feelings any further. Objections overruled! If they try to lecture or challenge you again, let them know you appreciate their concern but the case is closed. (P.S.: As a sports car owner … I understand.)

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For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old daughter skipped a grade (we live in a small town, and the local school couldn’t provide services to meet her IEP without skipping her a grade). We were concerned about maturity and psychological issues, and though she’s a little on the quieter side, she’s made some close friends in the new grade and seems to be doing well. She’s also a voracious reader. We have pretty much just let her read whatever she wanted up until now, but it’s getting weird: She’s printing birth stories off the internet, and I caught her reading an adult fiction book about sexual assault. (She got it off the shelf in my bedroom.) I immediately took both items away and said they weren’t appropriate for her quite yet. She seemed to not care immensely, but I could tell she was a little embarrassed. She’s since been reading more age-appropriate things. I’m concerned about the type of stuff she seems to be drawn to read.
We’re a fairly sex-positive household, but she hasn’t started puberty and hasn’t at all talked about sex with us (we gave her a “birds and the bees” book that she definitely read). Several of her classmates are starting to talk about boys, crushes, etc. I don’t want to be a parent who censors things, but I recognize that her reading level and her maturity level are not quite the same. What say you? Should I be worried? Have a talk with her? Ignore it and hope she moves on to more age-appropriate interests?

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— Mom in Montana

Dear Mom,

You say your daughter “hasn’t at all talked about sex” with you … are you waiting for her to start the conversation, my love? You gave her a book to read, which is great, especially considering that she’s a big reader, but the dialogue must begin with you. I don’t think the birth stories, nor the novel, are “weird” choices at all for a pre-pubescent child; rather, they point to an age-appropriate curiosity about sexuality. Don’t take a lack of talk (with you) about boys and crushes to mean that she’s not thinking about sex, having crushes (maybe on boys, maybe not!) or even masturbating. Start to have the actual “birds and bees” conversations with her. Help her understand that her body is going to be changing in the next few years and that her feelings will too. Though there’s only a 1-to-2 year age difference between her and most kids in her grade, you can mention that it’s possible that some of those changes may hit some of her classmates sooner than they do her, and that this is okay. Be sure to let her know that her interest in the subject is not weird or bad! Also, you should talk to her about what she’s already read; the sexual assault book may have introduced some ideas that she wasn’t familiar with and she should not have to try and grapple with on her own. Good luck to you.

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— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My 9-year-old daughter had a slumber party with five close friends. Two of the girls were caught multiple times “making out.” My daughter had warned me that they might do this, since it’s happened at previous sleepovers. She even talked to her friends, on her own, about appropriate slumber party activities and told them they would have to go home if they started making out. When we did catch them, we made sure to let them know it’s not appropriate and that there were other things to be doing instead (i.e., watching a movie, playing other games). I know this is all normal behavior for young kids. But other than letting their parents know, what’s the right response?

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