Jenna* is a child in my pre-k class.  She is your typical just-turned-5-year-old – curious, sweet, full of energy.  Jenna comes from a strong family unit with a brother who probably tests off the IQ scale, a dad who is a high school math teacher, and a mom who is a nurse.  Jenna is in crisis.

Jenna’s family, without realizing what they are doing, are putting Jenna into a tailspin before she even gets to kindergarten.  Jenna’s mom and dad are doing what many parents do at this stage: they are encouraging beginning reading skills, such as sounding out letters and words, modeling good writing skills and having Jenna do the same, and living in the “teachable moment”.

Jenna, however, isn’t ready for this.

Jenna is now exhibiting classic symptoms of a child who is being “pushed” academically.  She is having nightmares at home, is reluctant to come to school, bursts into tears at any given moment, is terrified of her parents finding out about things she does at school, and spends most nights in tears when her mom reads out loud to her.

Pre-kindergarteners are highly sensitive to change, and this specific time in their lives is chock full of change.  My preschool class is very aware of the approaching end of school and upcoming summer break.  They are also keenly aware of the “scattering” of friends that will occur as each moves on to a different school next year.  While it is an exciting time for them, it is also a time full of uncertainty, and children can become “stressed out” over such change.

What Jenna’s parents (and I on occasion) are witnessing is an outward show of emotion from Jenna.  She is scared she isn’t like her big brother, the genius, and she will tell you that her daddy teaches at the big school, and she is NOT going there – EVER. 

What Jenna needs is acceptance for who she is – a young, five year-old little girl who likes ribbons and horses, drawing rainbows and hugs.  She knows her letters and numbers, but developmentally, she isn’t ready to start reading or writing.  Jenna needs for her parents to read to her every day in a fun and non-threatening way, to learn to enjoy the printed word and relish in stories, and in her own time, she will learn to tell and read on her own.  By stepping back from the “teachable moment” and allowing Jenna to flourish at her own level of success, they will, in turn, make her a successful student.

*The name of the student has been changed.