I am Proud of My Toddler, But Not Because He Knows His ABCs and 123s

My toddler knows his numbers, alphabet, letter sounds, body parts and organs, etc., but I am proud he is becoming a kind, understanding child

My oldest recently turned 4 and I am freaking out that he’s going into Kindergarten next fall.

I’m not worried that he might not be academically prepared, which itself feels like a stupid thing to feel considering Kindergarten is supposed to be the starting place for receiving an education. I often find myself wondering why I bother checking to see if he’s ready to read considering I didn’t learn until 2nd or 3rd grade, but, apparently, kids going into Kindergarten need to be at least on the verge of learning to read. And school isn’t even compulsory in California until age 6! So, I don’t even need to send him to Kindergarten. But I am. Because that’s what I did and I think I turned out quite well. And he could benefit from being around his peers more often.

No, I’m worried because he will be out of my care for several hours 5 days a week. For hours a day, I will have no idea if he is okay, if he is happy, if he is hurt, if he is sad, if someone has hurt him. I worry because I am a control freak and he will not be under my care all day every day anymore. I won’t be the one making sure he eats lunch. I won’t be the one kissing his ouchies. I won’t be the one patiently and lovingly responding to him when he is sad.

But I trust him. I trust that I have actually taught him well enough about life, and trust that he and I can teach him about life over the next year.

My son was born at 34 weeks. I’ve spent his entire life wondering if he is okay, if he’s going to have any behavioral or learning problems when he starts school, if his brain is ready to receive letters and numbers and be able to manipulate them. While I read many other mom accounts of their 2 year old reciting the ABCs like a pro, I know my son didn’t do this until he was 3.5 years old. But that’s okay. Because he learned when his brain was ready.

My son knows the alphabet. He can count past 70 mostly on his own. He’s learning the sounds of the letters and is starting to show signs of interest in reading. He can do simple addition and subtraction. Learning simple math was his idea. It definitely wasn’t mine! He knows about the Earth and a bit about the continents and has some familiarity with different countries. He can pinpoint where he and various family members live on the globe. He is learning the months and days of the week. He knows his body parts and some internal organs. He has developed a love of science and everything space related completely on his own. He’s interested in machines and electronics and, most of all, robots. He’s trying to learn mixing which colors make which colors.

I’m so proud of everything he knows that will prepare him for school.

I am most proud of my toddler because he is aware of his world and others, not because he can do simple addition and subtraction

But, most of all, I’m proud of all the non-academic things he knows and does.

I am proud of my toddler because he can understand how his peers feel. He understands why someone is sad or upset or mad. He is learning to regulate his own emotional states on his own, learning to make himself feel better instead of relying on hugs and kisses from mom and dad. He is polite, saying please and thank you and asking in a nice voice. He does not demand anything (of anyone except mom and dad and sister). He is learning the art of trading, as he sometimes wants something his sister has and will then try to offer something appealing to her so they can trade. He knows when his sister is upset and when she is ready to be entertained by him.

There are so many things about life and people that my son understands. He can identify when he wants company and when he’s happiest being left alone. He understands himself as well as a 4 year old can. He can recognize how other people feel and how he can help make them better. He knows how to navigate playing with other children and is kind to them. He still needs to work at turn taking, but he knows to play nice. He will never be the kid on the playground who takes things from other kids (just his sister). He knows to ask when he wants something and to not throw a tantrum when he doesn’t get everything he wants. He is able to engage in someone else’s play scenario and add to it. He is thoughtful and kind, understanding and polite.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have his absolutely silly moments where he acts like a complete nutcase. He does. He also has days where he acts up, throws tantrums, and is more than a handful to deal with. Of course there are the bad days mixed in with the ones of pure joy. But that’s what childhood is, and he learns from those days. He learns what is okay and what isn’t. He learns how to manage his negative emotions and that there are rewards and consequences for his actions. But, at the end of every day, he still needs a hug and kiss from mom and dad to help him fall asleep.

I am proud of the little person he is becoming, with a beautiful, kind soul and brightness in his every movement

I am proud of my toddler not because he knows his ABCs and 123s, but because he is growing and nurturing a beautiful, loving soul. And while I’d like to think it’s because I’ve taught him well, I know it’s really because I’ve given him the tools and taken the time to explain things in ways he can understand so he can process and put things together on his own. He could have been a bratty, spoiled child (he was an only child who almost always got what he wanted, within reason, for almost 3 years). Instead, we’ve nurtured a kind, understanding soul and he has internalized many of the messages we have patiently repeated over the years. We may have had a hand, but he has chosen to be this beautiful child.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. And I would much rather nurture this soul than drill reading and math into his head so he is ready for novels and long division in Kindergarten.

19 Comments

  • stolzyblog

    I have to echo your basic ideas here, and offer support. 🙂
    Mine is 5 now. A couple of his friends are already living very much in their heads, not hearts. It is sad to see. What I am most proud of about my son is his reliance on his feelings, his paying attention to his senses, in nature, in food, in everything, and his tendency to play alone in fantasy for an hour when he feels safest and happiest. I know his mind well… it will be capable of whatever he wishes, long as it is not overly dampened by too much and too early intellectualism. What schooling does nowadays to kids is criminal, verging on abuse. Though ignorant of course. The best thing we can teach little kids is how to appreciate beauty. Keep their imaginations alive, so they have a fighting chance to exceed the boundaries suggested by the intellect when they come of age — which their world will desperately need. good luck!

    • kat

      Your wishes for your son are the same
      I have for mine. I’m aghast at how early school learning begins, especially since I come from a psychology background and know social-emotional development and socialization are the most important things for young children to learn. There will be enough time for academic learning, but having a childhood focused to learning the self and others will provide a strong and solid foundation for navigating life at all ages. I am deeply saddened by the school system and completely agree that fostering imagination is the most important thing we can do and will best ensure future success for our children. Thank you so much for your comment and wishes! Your son is indeed a very lucky little boy!

  • Cindi Stevens

    Kat, your written words and my experience and expertise (for what it is worth to you…you’ve obviously got this parenting thing down!) tells me your son is ready for school. Your description of him as “growing and nurturing a beautiful, loving soul” paired with all of his language, social, emotional and sensory processing skills you’ve described in your writing has me hearing him say in a sweet 4-year old’s voice “Mom, I am ready to take on kindergarten…and the world” 🙂

    • kat

      Thank you so much! I’m very honored by your mind and supportive words. He does indeed tell me he’s ready for school and pretends to go to school or work, which has my heart attack breaking and warming all at the same time.

  • Confession of a Parentless Mother

    I’m so in love with this post. You expressed exactly how I feel about my daughter. She may not experience preschool because kindergarten, but she knows so much more than just “normal” school things. She knows all about her emotions as well because I also make sure she understands them. I’m not as brave as you. I’m worried for my daughter to go into kindergarten because I don’t know if she’s ready or not compares to all these kids put in daycare/“school.” I actually have anxiety just thinking about it. New Jersey is full of all kind of pressure and high standards. Ugh.

    • kat

      I can totally relate! California seems more relaxed than New Jersey, but, gosh, some parents really put on the pressure! I actually stopped forcing going to library storytimes because I couldn’t stand another parent talking about the million activities their 2 year old was in and what school they were waitlisted for. It’s just the academic pressure parents put on Mrs when it’s really socialization and social-emotional development that are most important. Without understanding themselves and developing confidence in who they are, I read children will grow into insecure adults who lack insight. I’m terrified of sending my baby to school, but, eventually he’ll have to be away from me. Your daughter is very lucky to have you and, even with such crazy pressure around, I’m sure she’ll be just fine since you have her best interests at heart! And even if she isn’t as academically ready, she’ll probably be the best well-adjusted, which is so much more important. Best of luck!

  • OneLife

    Hey Kat ! Beautifully expressed thoughts with the right choice of words. I personally feel a child should be given the freedom to experience and learn which is utmost important, rather than bombarding him/her with information and unnecessary pressure. Sooner or later everyone evolves at their own pace. Glad to hear about his creative and curious streak. Love, support and guide him, that’s the only thing that he requires.

    • kat

      Thank you so much! I absolutely agree with you. Every child develops at their own pace and, at the youngest ages, it’s the non-academic learning that will provide the best foundation and framework for later learning. I think young childhood is when freedom is at its peak, so why rush the learning?

  • kristinmoras

    I FEEL this so much. My son is going to start preschool at the end of this month and I’m more worried about the fact that I won’t be the one watching him… It’s a Nature School and while it 100% aligns with my ideas about education etc. I’m still like “what if he wanders off and gets lost!? What if he falls in the creek and drowns!? What if, what if, what if….”

    • kat

      Oh, that sounds scary! It sounds great for your son, but as a mom I completely sympathize with the worry. My mom reassures me the worry never ceases, but kids always surprise mom and dad. Best of luck to you and your son!

  • Joanna Lovinger

    I love your priorities as a parent because I share them. Our daughter just turned three and “please” “thank you” and a pleasant tone seem a long way off. But she’s confident, and compassionate, and affectionate. She makes up songs all day long and busts a move whenever she hears music. Your boy sounds like a sweetheart!

    • kat

      Thank you so much! Children will have years of academic learning, but only so much time to really focus on learning about themselves. The more important thing to focus on at this age is exactly what your daughter is, who sounds like she’s an absolute joy. Politeness is always a work in progress even for adults, so I take all the random pleases I can get!

    • kat

      Thanks! It’s great to find like-minded parents. Kids will have years ahead of them to learn academics, but pure discovery of the self and others will soon be discouraged in favor of school, homework, and activities. Helping them become good people will and should always be more important.

  • Delightful Motherhood

    Kat, there is no better feeling than the one you get from growing a child. Teaching them compassion rather than bookwork will make an enormous impact on who they are as people. It’s good to be intelligent but it’s more important for your child to be a loving, kind person in my opinion; with some street smarts before they make it out the door (unfortunately with the society we live in).
    hugs from another toddler mom
    cassie @Delightful Motherhood

    • kat

      That’s exactly what I think. I don’t think of the toddler years as a time to teach everything they will learn in school, but a time to just learn how to be a person. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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