Report cards for 4 year olds. Yes, really.

preschool report cardsWhat, your preschooler doesn’t get report cards? You must not live in New England.

We are wicked competitive here, so we start tracking them early.

Can’t tie your shoes by age 4? Not destined for greatness. Reading Dr. Seuss fluently at age 4? Great potential for Phillips Exeter.

Ok, so I exaggerate. A little. Because in Grace’s case, the report cards are more like photocopied assessment-type things. They evaluate whether she uses her manners, recognizes letters, and doesn’t throw too many blocks at other kids’ heads.

But a few weeks ago when I was looking over Grace’s little report card, I realized something with horror.

I was looking for the “bad” marks first.

I wasn’t looking to see what she had accomplished. I was looking to see what her teachers thought she wasn’t accomplishing.

And this is when I also realized I was channeling my dad.

I started thinking about the days when I dreaded getting my own report cards. Not because I thought I did poorly. But because I knew when my dad saw them, I’d feel awful, no matter what I accomplished.

I always felt like I was never good enough no matter how hard I tried. “That’s great you got an A-, but I thought English was your best subject. Why not an A?” “A 3.6 GPA? Why not higher? I thought this was an easy semester for you.”

My dad was a complicated man. He was a genius. He came to this country from Hungary at age five with nothing except his family and a few trunks of clothes, not speaking a word of English. Twelve years later he went to MIT on a Fulbright scholarship. But his collegiate career didn’t go the way he wanted it to go, for many, many reasons. And he never graduated.

I understand now that my dad wanted me to have everything he didn’t. He was, in his way, trying to get me to always try harder, keep doing better. He just wanted me to succeed.

But his tactics didn’t mesh with my personality. I just wanted some recognition of how hard I was working. How much I accomplished. What I was doing well. I didn’t feel I got that from my dad until I was an adult. I always felt not good enough. And I don’t want to do that to my girls.

I want them to know how proud I am of what they achieve. Focus on the positive, and then when the time is right, discuss what can be done to help them improve in areas that need improvement.

I’m sure it’s easier said than done. But that’s my goal. And given my lineage, it’s probably going to be hard for me.

So this time I will fight the hereditary urge to look first for what needs to be improved on Grace’s report card. And I will remember to give my big, proud girl a big, proud hug.

Then, in a secret, sound-proof room, Hubs and I will dissect the report card, course-correct where necessary, and devise a brilliant plan for Grace’s path to Harvard.

photo credit: Halans via photopin cc

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17 Replies to “Report cards for 4 year olds. Yes, really.”

  1. Yeah, my oldest got 2 report cards during her 2 year old preschool year at “Fancy Pants Academy” (the year I went back to work). I showed them to my friend who taught preschool and she said, “Wow – we don’t even evaluate the FOUR year olds to that degree”
    I’m pretty sure it had to do with the elevated levels of expectation of the parents.

    I am trying to temper my husbands expectations so he doesn’t do to our girls what your dad did to you. I’ve seen the result in a friend of mine who grew up that way and I sooo don’t want that for my girls.

  2. They do parent-teacher conferences at my kids’ preschool, so we’ve had “report cards” since about 16 months!! I remember my daughter’s teacher, when my daughter was about 17 months, being very concerned she didn’t know all the words to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” As a teacher, I felt I had failed my child! (LOL) She’s behind already!!!!


  3. we evaluate our kids here in the southwest too…I'm a prek teacher at a daycare so I prep the kids for kindergarten but I have worked with younger groups too. the "report card" is not to show you what what your child hasn't accomplished or how much they know..but to show you how much they are growing in a years time….Mostly, it is what they are learning through play and exploring on their own. Focus on the good and praise…praise… praise… the more praise they get at that developmental parts of life…the more they try and the more they achieve.

  4. We didn’t do preschool, but so much yes while reading this. I do the same thing on the K report card. It’s not on purpose, it’s not against my child, it’s more like, where have I failed and what do I need to work on with her to make it all better the next time? And it’s true that it’s wrong. Well put, the whole thing. Thank you for this reminder. I need to bookmark your words for when school starts up again in August.

  5. They start “letter grades” in Pre-K here, too. And like you, I looked for any “N”s first (Needs Improvement). BUT–and I think you would do the same thing–I didn’t TELL my little guy that’s what I looked for first. Of course I praised him for all the “M”s he got (the highest grade, Meets Expectations, or something like that).

    As for my boys’ Ivy League futures–like you, my husband is the son of immigrants who are all hung up on titles and name-dropping. Much to their dismay (well, when they find out, that is), we are planning to encourage the boys to start out at community college and then decide what they want to do–and if it’s an online degree, fine. Just as long as they learn something!

    1. BTW–I didn’t mean to imply your dad was automatically hung up on titles and name-dropping just because he was an immigrant…I was just making a disparaging remark about my inlaws’ values. 🙂

  6. My kids' preschool only assesses at the end of the fours program when they are heading to kindergarten. At this age I suspect it's really about the parents and not the kids. It is fun to do a conference with a preschool teacher in those teeny tiny chairs!

  7. As a licensed teacher, I was still shocked that at my daughter’s 3 year old pre-school, she was given report cards and that we also had to go for parent=teacher conferences. Personally, I don’t understand why kids just can’t be kids for a bit longer. That is truly the problem with things nowadays and we just can’t let them grow up slowly. I admit, I was looking at the areas of improvement, too, but then it dawned on me just like you that I don’t want my kids growing up worrying about what they don’t know versus what they do. Fine line we walk I suppose and just want them to grow up happy, healthy and educated, but not so much so that they worry all the time about this (if that makes sense.).

  8. WOW. I have a 3 yr old so THANK YOU a million times for the Heads Up. I see where you get your intelligence from. Good for you for putting the positives first, my father never did that either. I FORCE myself to say positive things to my teenager, and some days it is ROUGH to think of something! hahahaha but we love them. Thank you for sharing your brilliance!

  9. I was always the average or slightly below average kid in school. I hated it. I almost failed my senior year. I was in sophomore and junior classes my senior year to make up for all of my failure. It sucked and made me feel not good enough.

    But I kicked it into high gear and got honor roll almost every semester. Unfortunately, my parents stopped displaying my report cards on the refrigerator so a “good job” had to suffice. Although, they did pay me for A’s and B’s. C’s were nothing, and D’s and F’s subtracted from my funds.

  10. My 4 year old daughter goes to KinderCare in CA and their progress reports are about 10 pages long. I was happy to see that the focus was on development of social skills and readiness for school structure more so than academics. At any level of school, I’d be more interested to know if my child is asking pertinent, insightful questions than if she has the answers.

  11. Homeschooling mama here so you can take my comments with a grain of salt. I find this appalling. Whatever happened to allowing children to play? There seems to be an incredible push for early learning and, truly, I believe that it is to our children’s detriment. But, then again, I don’t even grade my 8 and 12 year olds. 😉

  12. I think in general preschool is taken way too seriously these days. I remember being surprised when my son’s preschool teacher insisted on making a home visit before the school year started. I was amused when I heard we would have parent-teacher conferences (she was concerned that he wasn’t engaged in dramatic play very often.) But I was concerned about the report cards, because it made me doubt not my child’s abilities but my own. It made me think that maybe I was making a mistake in not taking preschool more seriously and in not “working with him” on phonics and numbers and God-knows-what-else in his out-of-preschool hours. At the time, report cards made me feel completely guilty for not “enriching” his life more so he would reach developmental milestones earlier. But now looking back, I think the only thing early-school report cards do is contribute to helicopter parenting.

  13. I found your site from a supportive comment that you left on Momastery today. Visiting your blog is my way of encouraging more truth telling! Grades and parents’ expectations can be a funny thing. When I was in high school, my parents told me that I needed to keep a B average if I wanted to drive so that’s what I did. If they had told me to get straight A’s, I would have! My son is in preschool and I already worry about giving the right blance of encouragement and expectations.

  14. We aren’t not near the report card stage yet with our son. However, I can relate to this SO much. I was raised with the mentality that a B was a failure. I was always used to all A’s and when I started taking AP classes my junior year and got B’s and one C (when I missed a week because my grandfather died) I felt like a complete loser. I’m not sure if this was pushed on me from my parents, or completely self inflicted. I never got grounded for bad grades. I just knew I was expected to come home with good ones. I think it’s normal to look for the bad grades first, as a the graded and the parent. It is an instant metric on how you’re doing. At least you are recognizing that you need to praise the good marks too!

  15. When my son was is prek, I remember going to conferences and checking the low marks first. I would look to see what “they ” thought he should be doing better and shrugged it off as perfectly normal. I never talked grades with my kid, I just told him he did great. Now I home school and there are no grades.

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