were you born ready?

Cheesy confession: I opted IN to receive inspirational daily quotations. It was from a low dysfunctional dieting moment, no doubt, where I was ready to do whatever it took… even if it took me to the intersection of Velveeta and Sparkles. Today’s quote from Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund:

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

It felt like it arrived in my inbox as a confirmation. A little sign saying, yes, you’ll get there. Just keep at it. Then it made me want to give up TV (Except for Lost and The Biggest Loser, and all that Real Housewives absurdity). Three shows. That’s all I need. Because if I gave up television, my life would be a satisfying string of creative activities meant to stimulate, encouraging growth; my life would, indeed, sparkle. And it would feel fuller. Satisfying. Bright. I’d paint again. Scrapbook. Read more…

abby stephanie

Which got me thinking of the beans, who today are age 3.5. In searching for youthful photos of my grandparents, I came across my Montessori School Evaluation Report–my pre-school report card, age 3.9. The READING section of my evaluation stated that I demonstrated a good knowledge of letter-sound relationships. "She is able to form some 3 letter words using her phonetic skills, and has a good overall understanding of initial consonant sounds." At which point, I turned to Phil. "We need to get on this like white on rice, my friend." Because up until this point, we didn’t realize how early reading began.

"You’re reading it wrong," he said, unaware of the irony in his declaration. "That was about your language. It means that you could string letters together in your words."

"Phil, it’s under the section READING. Don’t you think by the time I was Lucas and Abigail’s age I could say actual words, not just three letter sounds?" He walked away without responding.

Later in the day, I saw him reading my evaluation again. I wondered if he was up to the bit about LANGUAGE, right above the READING section. Stating that my speech and vocabulary were "very good… She enjoys verbalizing with her peers and is able to express her thoughts well. Her pronunciation is very good." Did he still think I spoke in 3-letter sounds, like a grunting cave dweller?

"So, we should probably start on this now, huh?" I said.

"Yuh." Now who’s the one talking in 3-letter sounds?

Sure, there’s the 6-month-old paraded on talk shows who can read (her parents both speech therapists/linguists). And there are those My Baby Can Read videos and all, but the most important thing, I thought (and still do), was instilling a love of learning, of books. And we have. We’ve got that passion for books thing covered with whip cream and a cherry. But phonetics? We had no idea it began with Kind Sir still crapping in his pants.

With the arrival of today’s motivational quote, I thought, it’s going to sneak up on us. We should probably do a little each day. At which point I Bing’d my way across the web in search of "Montessori Reading Activity Videos," then cracked open my educational materials catalog.

Oh, and add insult to educational institute, I was also able to write letters and numbers. PENMANSHIP. My taters can, at best, draw a triangle, circle, and something that might be a square. Bonus though: they know what a trapezoid is.

ARITHMETIC, I was able to "perform the operation of simple addition, up to 10." Holy hell. Mama’s got some work to do. I really think we should trash the TV.

On a final note, reading my own pre-school evaluation confirmed to me that we are born with certain proclivities. And my most important job as their mother is to pay attention to what they’re most inclined to do because we sometimes stray from our given talents in favor of what’s expected, to please others, to fit in. I want to be able to remind them where they began.

"Stephanie enjoys all group activities, particularly art, music, and dramatic play. She listens attentively to stories and is an active participant in group discussions." It might be because I wanted to be Annie, but it’s a reminder that we really are "born ready." Even if I do still count with my fingers.



  1. I love this post.

    When I was married and the babies were wee, my ex didn’t believe in TV. So we went for 13 long years without one. And I was *the* kid raised on TV – Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch, Partridge Family – I can still recite them by heart.

    It got to the point that I didn’t long for TV -though I always missed it, and when I divorced it was one of my first purchases. But by then, the darlings were all readers and book lovers and were far beyond potty training. Were they bookish because we didn’t watch Sesame Street together and it was their only source of education/amusement? Nah. Was it because instead of parking them in front of Law and Order SVU while I cooked dinner, they sat at the counter with their books and ‘read’? Maybe. Was it just because everyone they were around loved books and learning? Yep.

    But that was a different era…that was now more than a decade ago – before the internet and facebook – before blogs and laptops.

    Now – would it do more harm than good to not have a TV? I have no idea…but it is something I wonder about sometimes.

    Personally, I’m very glad the darlings are now self-sufficient and in charge of their own TV viewing habits – eldest has no tv in his dorm, middle likes TV when we’re cuddled together by the fireplace at night, and little one is always studying and has no time for it.

    That little one who constantly studies, is totally happily driven, type A, honors everything, borderline genius child, is the one who didn’t WANT to read or speak – and actually did everything BUT learn to read and speak. Until suddenly – one day. And then she spoke in full sentences and read Go Dog Go.

    Children are bizarre. Don’t stress too much – you’re giving them a rich, full life. if you enjoy some mindless TV at the end of a day – more power to ya.

  2. That picture is beyond gorgeous, and I love this post! I love the part of paying attention to what they are like now, at their youngest — it sort of goes into that whole idea of you’re happiest as an adult doing what you had most fun at as a kid.
    Good luck with the reading and square-drawing!
    (Are they still learning Spanish? Kids actually learn to read and write younger in cultures with phonetic languages like spanish and italian, so that might help a little with the matching sounds to letters concept. Example: “casa” is a hell of a lot more straightforward than “house.” Or it might confuse them. Just a thought.)

  3. I’m a kindergarten teacher- and I gotta tell you, it sounds cheesy but get some of the old Raffi songs- they ALL play with letters and sounds. Fridge magnets go far too :) Kudos to you for being such a motivated and awesome parent for working on it early!!

  4. I’m a (almost graduated) speech-language pathology graduate student, so just wanted to say YAY for caring about initial consonant sounds, etc. Phonemic awareness is the best predictor of later reading ability :) But, also, initial/final consonant sounds are things we’re still working on with 4/5-year-olds at the school I’m at…so don’t worry if some sounds are tricky/it’s hard for them to distinguish letters/sounds, etc! In my experience those are tough skills for three-year-olds. Good luck. How fun to find old report cards!

  5. so my fiancee and I have been talking a lot about this – the reading and when to start things (with future children). He taught himself to read at 3 and could read and write both english and hebrew by the time he was in kindergarten. I didn’t read till I was about 6 (?, I honestly don’t remember how old I was). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not learning early if they’re not especially interested, or if they are then go for it. But I don’t think they’re like missing out if they can’t do math or read novels.

  6. Hi, Stephanie,I know you’re Montessori family, but wanted to recommend a series my kids like: Leapfrog’s Letter Factory. First step for Abigail and Lucas is to learn the letter sounds and the Letter Factory is awesome for that and leaves you with songs you can sing whenever letters come up . . . Other DVDs in the series cover letter combos, easy words, and math. My daughter begs to watch the Math Circus!! Don’t worry too much, your kids will pick it up fast. And remember to point out all the stuff around you–“What letters can you see on the STOP sign?” “Who can spot a number on the sign ahead?” The words and numbers in the grocery store, etc. etc.

  7. I agree with the person who recommended Raffi…RAFFI ROCKS! You don’t need those baby einstein things….Go old school, Raffi on the Radio in the car, and Dr. Seuss to read before bed each night, and FLASH CARDS.

    With reading, I always started the kids with the little words “If”, “The” “and”, so when I read the book, they had to read the one word I’d pointed out to them. It made them pay attention and site read along with me. After they had mastered one word, I’d pick a second so they didn’t get bored.

    Flash cards were for traffic lights if we were in the car. so it was a game to see how many they could get through before the light went green and mama stopped the game.

  8. I agree with all of the advice posted above. Elena, thanks for bringing me back to what ‘normal’ kids should be doing I finished my grad school in May of 2000. My caseload has always been and continues to be too severe to even approach normal. However, I now have a ‘normal’ four year old boy of my own. My advice to you is to look at what is being done (if anything) at preschool and try to use the same language for concepts at home. Also, in terms of writing skills my son’s daycare/ pre-school program is using Writing Without Tears. It is working for my son and the school district I work for has used it for special education for years and we want to use it as the district writing program. It has pieces for preschool and older grades as well. Also, don’t stress. I have a very good idea that you have helped your children to grow in language and pre-academic skills in a wide variety of ways. I bet if their vocabulary skills were assessed that they would be off the chart.

  9. I would trade all my early reading skills and accelerated school classes for a mom like you, who cared about making childhood special and memorable. Early reading is something parents can brag about, it’s not really something you do for kids (at least it seems to me) – they learn to read eventually and can become the same bookish intellectual types whether they learn to read at 3 or 8.

    Your kids are really lucky to have you as a mom. I imagine it would be be far more fulfilling to brag about having happy, well-adjusted humans than early readers anyway.

  10. Just want to say that I LOVE Montessori and am surprised, Stephanie, that you’re not sending Lucas & Abigail to a montessori school, where they’d be in a class with older children, left to pursue their own interests and move at their own pace. There are still lessons, but they’re not forced to learn the same way everyone else does. It also gives your children the opportunity to have teaching/leadership roles to younger children as they themselves grow. Why don’t you send them to a montessori school, may I ask?

  11. I second Beth! I LOVE the picture of you and Abigail! Simply beautiful!

  12. Love the picture! So beautiful!!

    I wonder about trashing the TV for myself! And if I had kids would probably be watchful of that as well.

    I wish that I had parents who took an interest in wanting to encourage me with regards to areas that I excelled in as a child. I think that we are all born with certain talents and you are a great mom to want to be attentive and enouraging towards those that your children have. . .

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