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How Much Do You Expect of Your 3 1/2 Y,o in Re; to School?

My son is 3 1/2 and is going to pre-school. I think he is doing really well. Knows the usual ABC's, shapes colors, etc. And is begining to start to write his name. How much is normal at this age in regards to recognizing letters and numbers. He can only recognize the letters in his own name and no others? Just curious how hard to push him.

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Thant is more than enough academics for a preschooler. I know because I taught K-1 for 13 years.

Are you taking him outside of the school so he can learn about his environment? Grass, trees, bugs, getting muddy, etc---that is the beginning of science.

Does he get enough time just to play with kids with out having to learn about something? That is as important as his ABC's.

How about climbing and swing sets? That is the beginning of PE. Strong body, strong mind.

I guess I am saying is a well balanced child at this age should have many interests, and I wouldn't put emphasis on the academics. He'll will have 13 years of academics do spend of him.

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Thant is more than enough academics for a preschooler. I know because I taught K-1 for 13 years.

Are you taking him outside of the school so he can learn about his environment? Grass, trees, bugs, getting muddy, etc---that is the beginning of science.

Does he get enough time just to play with kids with out having to learn about something? That is as important as his ABC's.

How about climbing and swing sets? That is the beginning of PE. Strong body, strong mind.

I guess I am saying is a well balanced child at this age should have many interests, and I wouldn't put emphasis on the academics. He'll will have 13 years of academics do spend of him.

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I am a preschool teacher and have my degree in Early Childhood ed. Preschool is about much more than academics. Preschool is where children learn social skills, self-esteem, classroom behavior, feeling part of a group, problem solving, small muscle development to get ready for writing, sitting during a story and following along etc. The "reading, writing and arithmatic" is an added bonus. Children are not expected to know their abcs until kindergarten. In my class I do teach them the alphabet so that they have that knowledge to build upon but I don't push it on them. Too much pressure on a child before they are ready can cause them to loose confidence when they make mistakes. This may cause them not to want to try again later.

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I know exactly how you feel. Last summer I was in a panic trying to find the 'perfect' preschool to shape my 3 year old. I wanted the "BEST" to make him the smartest kid ever. Then reality hit. I went to check out some of the schools on the Best List and was shocked to discover that how hard 3 and 4 year olds were being pushed to learn learn learn.

I actually asked one of the owners of a school, "When does he eat paste?" I started thinking, my son is only 3, when does he get to have fun? Your son sounds like he is spot on as far as the learning curve. Let him enjoy being a preschool student. Let him enjoy "eating the paste."

I understand the desire for us as parents to have the best child out there, but what at what expense? It think it is more important for children to develop social skills which, makes the learning process so much easier. A child that can be surrounded by a group of children all squirming in their chairs and biting on their pencils, but still remained focused on the task at hand, will go excel once the real world sets in.

Just my thoughts.

Best to you.

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Sounds like he's right on target academically. But at this age what's more important is for him to learn how to socialize/play: share, take turns, navigate social problems, interact with peers, etc. It's good to expose young children to reading, writing, letters, numbers, ideas, etc.; but, like potty training, eventually he'll learn the academic part. First there needs to be a solid social foundation to work from. I agree with most of the others in that a 3 1/2 yo doesn't need to be pushed to learn. He's learning tons already.
Good luck.

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I agree with Melissa. Do not push him at all. It's not good for the child. These years are the only time he gets to be a child. Competition comes later. Actually, I think too much is expected of the grade school child. Society is not letting children be children. I think that some teen rebellion is the result of being expected to grow up too fast. That's another topic. :)

Your son is doing well. I'm glad to read that you think so too. Don't worry about whether or not your child is the brightest in the classroom. Children learn at different rates depending on the maturity of their brain. We cannot control the rate the brain develops.

We can provide a learning environment as Michelle B describes. I'd add that your child will learn without the electronic toys if you can't afford them.

I also think your son is doing well. He's at or near the same level as my Granddaughter was at that age. She was in preschool, too. There were a few kids ahead of her and several behind her. What they know when they enter kindergarten is not as important as their wanting to learn.

One of my friends is a 1-3rd grade teacher. She said that when kids watch the educational TV programs and have electronic learning aids they are frequently more difficult to teach once they get to school. The child has come to expect the dramatic. They get bored easily.
That's not to say that you shouldn't provide those for your child but should keep that in mind.

I wish I'd not let my grandaughter watch so many educational programs and spent more time coloring with her and exposing her to workbook sheets. I found several at an educational store in Mall 205 but I didn't follow thru and use them. Costco also has them. Her mother worked and I was the babysitter.

My grandson has something like LeapFrog. He played with it for a couple of weeks before he stopped being interested. No one played with him on the electronic toy. My daughter saw it as a way to keep him entertained. Spending time with your child helping him to learn is essential in my opinion. And perhaps that's what you meant by pushing him.

I suggest that you have the next level in mind but not try to teach it until he's interested in it. My granddaughter was so proud she could print her name. She insisted on signing herself in at preschool. She gradually learned to recognize letters during the next year. I read her books in which letters were a part of the story. I think Tiki Tiki Boom was one of them. A part of our reading time was her focusing on the letter and trying to name it. We had fun doing this.

Keep up the positive attitude of knowing your son is doing well. Provide him with learning opportunities and always make learning fun.

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Don't push him at all. All we can do as parents is provide the opportunities and see if they'll take them or not. My son is 5 1/2 and we have never sat down with him at X time everyday for education. We have, however, provided educational material that he could look through, or not, as he chose. We got him the Leapfrog Leapster handheld game system when he turned 4. It has a lot of educational games and various grade levels, and levels within the game itself.
We read to him whenever he asked, and still try to read to him now.

He taught himself to read at 4 1/2. He can do almost any single numbers addition in his head/fingers. He can identify any number under 1,000 on sight. He'll be starting kindergarten in September.

They're little for such a short time. Let them BE little and enjoy the wonders of their bright new world. Answer his questions honestly. Let him be a kid.

My hubby and I are amazed at how book-smart my son is, have never pushed him to do anything and have never regretted for a day our decision to take our lead from him.

Hope this helps,

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What a smart Mom, C. ---. I have several responses:
( and I'm a preschool teacher who'se prepared hundreds of
kids for kindergarten for 40 years )
1. the standards for Kindergarden entry have radically
altered overthe last decade-- to the REAL detriment
of children - K teachers now want children to be able
recognize printed letters and #s --- all alphabet
letters and #s to at least 10 ---- and to be able
to look at a group of 4---10 objects and actually
count them AND print their first name AND
know many letter sounds -- it's crazy. ( I grant
you that many children can do most of those things
if they watch a lot of good quality kids tv an/or
have parents who coach them along in a gentle fun
way ---- BUT children are not created by cookie
cutter and we've come to a time when some children
feel like failures who don't cut it at FIVE YEARS OF
AGE -- that is obscene and counter -productive - its'
one of many reasons behaviour problems are soaring
---if we teach a child they can't cut it- why should
they try?- they'll just act up. It's awful WE as
parents need to push back hard for Emergent Literacy
( which allows children to learn through their own
interests and incliniation ---) ---sorry for the lecture.

There are GREAT sites on-line that will allow you to have your child play and learn - just type in free preschool educational site---

J. aka- Old Mom

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It sounds like your son is one of the lucky boys who can learn symbologically at an early age without damaging his neurological development--I'd agree that, he is doing really well! Congratulations :).

Please consider not "pushing" him, though. Really, if a parent has a chance to stop and step back from the messages of society, it becomes obvious that children are naturally eager learners ... and that we even use the terms "push" and "compulsory schooling," as if they were natural to how children are, should tell us something is wrong with our picture ... if we are having to compel them to learn, the system and its assumptions for the children are deeply in error. Children LOVE to learn. It's what they deeply want and utterly NEED to do ... if they are fighting it, there is a reason. Kids want to be loved, and they want to grow up into healthy adult people ...

... and not that I haven't (and don't) sometimes force my kids to learn a thing (a behavior, mostly) ... but I wince, because I know that in a healthier society, a healthier family, and a healthier ME, they would be learning by exploration and by imitation (of my wonderful self, you know, ha ha ha *groan*), and there would be no "pushing" of adult agendas. Kids want to be grown up--they push themselves ;)! (Sometimes they push themselves too hard--I have to hold my kids back in some arenas, when they hear society's pressures or get caught up in the fun of something they find enjoyable but that is not safe for them or those around them.)

I have a bunch of related stuff to say about neurological development and the horrors of the assumptions behind standard American education ;) ... but again, it sounds like you and your little guy are among the lucky, so I won't bore you with all that ;).

My third is learning to write her name ... it is so darn cute :)!! I'm interested to see how form drawing goes for her, because she makes everything curve together ... no sharp corners ... but that's a topic for another day :).

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It sounds like your son is doing just fine for his age. He is not even 4 yet and still has plenty of time before kindergarten. Preschool should be a time to spend playing. Children learn so many things this way like: how to get along with others, work on friendship, science (what happens when I drop my sock from the loft, stacking blocks, etc..), language development by talking with parents & friends, reading by being read too and much much more. They learn what they need and want to know and will have the desire to keep learning. Your son is too young to start having to learn pre-reading skills unless he chooses on his own through play.

I have 2 sons and they each learned on their own time frames. They are both smart. My oldest was very social and has great people skill and he learned how to read in second grade. My younger son taught himself to read and spell before kindergarten. By the middle of grade school (3rd grade)they were both reading enthusiastically at 7th or 8th grade level. Childhood is so short and it's all about playing. Don't be afraid of his capability to learn on his own when he is ready. You have a ways to go yet.

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I think your son is right on track. My son was in the same boat at that age and also went to preschool. I think as long as you keep the learning fun you'll be fine. With my kids when we practice learning the sounds the letters make, when they say they are done I usually only give them one or two more and then say they can be done...just like them to start learning that they wont always get to dictate when they choose to be done...practicing for real school!!!


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I think every child is different and at this age the goal should be to encourage a love for learning. Thus, rather than pushing, I would recommend praising him for what he is currently accomplishing in school and spending time talking about what he's doing. I'm sure you'll get a range of answers regarding what a 3.5 year old can do. My 3.5 year old son knows all the letters and sounds that go with them and is able to spell simple words and is starting to read. He can count to 100 and is doing some basic addition and subtraction. However, I don't push him. He just has a real love of learning. On the other hand, he hates coloring and seems way behind in that skill for his age. I praise him on his coloring and try to do other things, like painting, that he enjoys more. I know it wouldn't do any good to push him even though it seems like everyone else his age seems to be so much better at that skill. Sounds like your child is doing great in school!

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He is right where he should be. Wenda C. put it very well and teaches young children, so great advice from someone who knows.

Things you can do at the grocery or out and about, I spy using colors, shapes, letters, and numbers.

Letter of the day. Choose a letter of the day and name things that start with that letter. Both of these games work on reading readiness. Also, use playdough to roll out letters and numbers. Use a felt story board (you can make one with a side of a cereal or cracker box and glue felt to it. Cut out some basic shapes, letters, numbers, outline of story characters, and let your son play and tell stories. With the felt cereal box, just store it in a zip top bag with its pieces and it is a good on-the-go game.

Make sure you don't push, but let him take the lead.
Most important read and have fun together.

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He's 3 1/2! He's just a little kid! Don't push him. If you do, he could very well burn out and hate school for years. A friend of mine was telling me that it's not good for kids to learn so much academic stuff too early. She learned to read at age 5 (after begging and begging), and at age 7 did grades 1 & 2 in one year. Then she was burned out and it took her years before she enjoyed school again. She was telling me that children need to be learning motor skill kind of things (building, running, playing), and not focusing too much on the mental skills. If he knows his ABC's and can write his name, and knows colors and such, he's fine. Please don't push him! Let him be a kid! Let him lead as to how much he wants to learn. If he wants to learn more, you can decide if it's good or not. If he doesn't, don't force it!

Honestly, unless you'll be sending him to a private elementary school...the less he knows the better.

My son's preschool studied archeology, biology, human anatomy and physiology, bugs, dinosaurs, world geography, & several famous artists & scientists. (Montessori) The kids learned the scientific names for everything. All the kids were reading chapter books by the end. All the kids were doing math (+-x/). All the kids were ALSO playing in the mud, fingerpainting, and sticking cheese doodles up their noses. AKA, they were having a blast, just being kids, and learning was a grand adventure and game.

Fast forward to elementary school. Most of the kids in K didn't know colors/shapes/letters MUCH LESS what the word "strata" meant, or that a tree is MORE then trunk, branches, and leaves. One other kid was reading (waaaay better then my son, too, which was fantastic). The level these kids left preschool at was 3rd grade and higher in most subjects, and 1st grade and higher in the rest. It may be me just being bitter...but if you're going to Public School, relax.

Me NOT being bitter:

www.starfall.com is the most AMAZING site for letters and reading. It was my son's favorite place from 2.5 - 3.5

Our pre-school had goals for each age group, then at the end of the year they would sit us down and let us know where our child was. Check with your pre-school instructor and find out what they think. I wouldn't "push" your child but, I would start playing more games. "can you find the red H."
Good luck and enjoy this age!

Hi C.,
I had this worry too. My youngest son really wasn't bothered about letters or learning to write. I didn't push it. He had lots of exposure to reading, writing, drawing etc and was in a print rich environment at preschool and at home. At the start of Kindergarten this year, he only recognized 10 letters. By last week's teacher conference, he was near the top of his class in reading. There comes a point I guess where they just get it.

I help the Ks with their reading and there's a child who is clearly struggling. I asked the reading lab teacher whether this is normal. She said that since this is a college town and most parents expect it, they offer reading in Kindergarten. She also said that most kids catch up by the start of first grade. This seems late to me but that's what the numbers show ;-) Sounds like there's plenty of time! One thing that helped us tremendously was the Leapfrog DVD series - especially the first one, The Letter Factory. We liked the Talking words Factory and Code Word Caper, too. Good luck!


I think your son sounds like he is right on track. With our son we do have the leapfrong letter magnets and a little computer thing he got for a present and he enjoys playing with those but I also try to use real life to teach him as well. When we are at the store, we count things, I point out letters and ask him about the colors of things. I also read to him often. I try to make the learning just part of life rather than sitting down to teach something. I think it is good though that as they get closer to school age to have them do more "sit down" learning so they can be prepared for that style of learning when they go to school - if that is the type of school they will be going to.

You've received some great advice. I agree that pushing young children to master academic skills is often doing them a disservice. On the other hand, an enriching environment, where a child who is ready can "absorb" academic skills while playing and having fun is beneficial. When my children were preschoolers, about 15 years ago, we had an alphabet learning toy that was a great favorite of theirs. It was a Sesame Street alphabet roadway. There were large plastic letter shapes that the children joined together in almost limitless configurations to form a track. Then, there was a small battery-operated car they could run on the completed track. We played with them, and they seemed to learn the names of the letter-track pieces effortlessly. Learning should be fun at this age (and all other ages, as well).

Hi C.,

I see you have lots of good advice, so this might be a no brainer, but: Make a habit of pointing out the letters in his name next to other letters. A lot of times kids have associative problems with learning. (Like for instance..he knows his name because it is his..at 3 he may even think the letters ARE his. SO, make them his. Take a couple letters from HIS name, and make more words..For instance in my name, the word "HI" can be found. Or in the word "Allison" the word ALL, is, on, son, are all in there. Add letters to the "short words" and go from there. If you can find an "on" in his name, ask him what letter would make it Son, or Don, or whatever. Associate the letters in his name with other words other than his name and he will start to see. Dog, starts with D as does Doug, as does Don, as does Dominic, as does Diane.
However, one of the biggest helps for us was (and my kids were reading Dr. Seuss on their own at 4...both of them). We read to our kids 20 minutes a night, and they are required to spend short amounts of time reading every day. It's important..and he should know that. Make letters important..make speaking correctly important. Make enunciation important. As he hears the letter sounds read to him, and sees the letters in his own books. Praise him when he sees letters in his name in other words. (Like in the examples above). Associate the letters and he will remember them. Three year olds have to have a use for all this knowledge or it won't sink in is my feeling..so make it useful :) Good luck! He will learn to recognize other words just like he does his name if he learns the association of letters to words. I think Phonics is one of those things that went out of style and should be brought back (and we can put the bell bottoms away). That associates words with pictures, and pictures with words quite well. We had to find phonics books at second hand stores. My son now in 3rd grade reads at a 5th grade level and my daughter in first grade reads at a 3rd grade level. My son went the same way with numbers and in 3rd grade can do 8th grade level math. SO, fact is he will catch on and when he does, if you're there to see it..its really cool..especially when he starts reading his bedtime story to you..

He is capable of learning most if not all of the letters in the alphabet. Try to find ways to teach using games. My kiddos had fun learning the alphabet through puzzles, nesting blocks that they could build as a tower, singing the alphabet song while doing other activities with the letters. He should be learning how to write his name but not necessarily have it all down. You would be surprised at what they are capable of at 3 1/2! Do remember each child learns at a different pace the most important thing is to make learning fun not just rote memorization and boring flashcards!

Hi C.,

You have a wonderful son and he's quite advance for his age. I'm sure you're very proud of him. I know of a friend who has a 5 y.o son and his accomplishments are more or less the same as your 3.5 y.o.now I remember when my very own kids were at ages bet.3-5. Before they entered Nursery school, at age 3, they've learned to recognize letters (ABCs), identify colors and count numbers (much like your son's). When they entered pre-school, before their first school year ended they've already learned how to read. I thought it was amazing and I didn't expect anything from them as I only wanted to expose them to school and enjoy.

So, my advice? just don't expect anything and you'll be amazed at your son's progress.

Enjoy life and have fun!!!



I am a preschool teacher and in our program our 3 year olds are able to sing their ABC's, count to 5 by rote and one to one, shapes, colors, and recognize the letters in their name. Some can write their names but not all. At this age, socializing is really important if not more important than the other stuff that they will learn. If you are planning on him being in Preschool another year, usually the 4 and 5 year old programs have more structured learning to get them ready for kindergarten. Don't worry I'm sure your son is right on track for his age. Let him play and learn and enjoy school.

It sounds like you have a smart little boy and you are great parents. One fun way to learn the letters and their sounds is "Leap Frog Letter Factory" (a video/dvd). If I put my kid in front of a video I like it to be at least educational (and entertaining). I know TV and video watching is controvercial but I use them every once in awhile and this video is great. I agree with your "follow the child's interests and encourage them" philosophy. Enjoy

What I did with my son is to equip him with all he needs to learn his ABC's and 1, 2, 3's and then repeat them to him constantly. Your child will grow and develop at his own level and if there is anything wrong with him(or something that he can't catch onto fast) then your pre-school teachers will let you know. If you have doubts, ask them and then ask for techniques to help him learn. You can also go to PBS.org and look for ideas to help him learn and develop.

Best wishes,

Kim B.

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