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10 (Damn Good) Reasons My Kindergartener Can’t Read or Write

Erin Zammett Ruddy

My son did not spend the summer learning to read or write or to add two plus two, tie his shoes or even how to wipe his own butt (we’re working on that one). Here’s what he learned instead.

Alex starts school today and he is not exactly prepared in the academic sense of the word. I started to feel a little guilty that we’re sending our boy into the world without knowing how to recognize some pretty recognizable words like, say, hot (he sounded it out and said, “ha ha jalapeno?”).* Alex is a smart kid and I know if we’d really focused on teaching him to read, he’d probably be able to get through a few sentences by now. But Nick and I didn’t want to spend the glorious lazy days doing flashcards and writing exercises and ha ha hoting every word in every bedtime book any more than Alex would have wanted to. And I’m cool with our decision to be hands off. Sure, he still writes the e in his name uppercase and with four horizontal lines, but when I think back on all he can do, I know he’s going to be just fine—in kindergarten and in life. While we weren’t drilling him with “education,” Alex picked up so many new and interesting skills this summer. My kindergartener can now:

1. Ride a bike without training wheels.

2. Cast a fishing pole pretty damn far.

3. Catch a fish and release it if it’s not a keeper (if it is a keeper, he will help me cook it and eat it too). He also knows which lure goes with which fish.  

4. Dive off a diving board (he actually has decent form) and swim all the way to the shallow end.

5. Do a flip off the diving board (he lands on his back but he doesn’t seem to mind).

6. Make pesto (seriously, he can do this in his sleep—and he loves to eat it, too…and, bonus, we discovered along the way that he is not allergic to pine nuts).

7. Paddleboard. He’s obsessed and quite good—the kid has amazing balance.

8. Kayak. We did this in Michigan and New Hampshire and while he doesn’t love it quite as much as paddleboarding (I’m with him on that one), he is comfortable and confident on a skinny plastic boat. He even fished off one with uncle Izzy. 

9. Tube—as in hang on for dear life as a boat tows you behind its wake, not tubing out, which he hardly did any of this summer, thankyouverymuch.  

10. Grow and harvest tomatoes/cukes/peppers/arugula/kale/beans/zucchini/peas/and, yes, jalapenos. My boy knows his way around a veggie garden and it makes me so proud. Prouder than I’d be if he could write his $&%! name properly? Who knows. Time will tell….

As you can see, Alex had an epic summer of learning but this new knowledge isn't anything that will be on any state-mandated test. It's nothing that’s going to get him to the head of his kindergarten class (in fact, almost all of it took place outdoors). That said, it’s exactly the kind of stuff I want my kid to know. And I’m glad he learned it all by the time he turned five. Sure, I’d also like him to be able to read and write and add two plus two (it ain’t jello, bud) but, as a wise person once told me, that’s what kindergarten is for. Good luck to all you back-to-schoolers this week! And, dare I ask, can your kindergarteners read already? If not, what can they do?

 *Before I sent him off today, I asked him to look at the word hot and tell me what it was. He sounded it out again and this time he said “ha ha hote?” We’re getting there.