Home > Communication, Education, Family, Learning, Parenting, Youth > What report cards can’t report

What report cards can’t report

The four-year-old class attendance book felt extra heavy when I picked it up this evening.

I opened the book to find my son’s name, then grimaced when I saw what was contained within: my son’s twice yearly report card.

I slipped the envelope into my purse and collected my son. I meant to hand the envelope unopened to my husband, because little that is important to me is ever expressed on these report cards.

My son began playing with a classmate. I watched for a moment before deciding, Why the heck not? If report cards aren’t important to me, why would I not at least glance at it as a curiosity?

I opened it and scanned quickly over its columns, noting agreement with some and wondering with amusement whose son some of the other marks were meant to reflect. When I was done, I tucked it back into my purse, prepared to deliver it to my husband for his perusal and signature.

I’d learned nothing about my son that I didn’t already know. I’d had affirmed what I knew about schools, which is that their report cards measure that which is easily measurable, not that which is most important.

My son thinks in big pictures, and does a beautiful job of linking together complex concepts. He articulates himself at a level his teachers identify as extraordinary. He is inquisitive, inventive, and dissatisfied with answers like, “Because I said so.” This makes him a joyful and challenging companion, and one whose company I greatly enjoy.

As my son grows older, I will expect more focus of him. I also expect he will know and care more about things which currently, abstracted from his understandings of what’s important in this world, bore him as trivial or meaningless. I do not expect these things of him now, nor measure him by someone else’s expectations in these regards. They tell so little about who he is, or who he will become.

I measure his growth by a different set of standards. From where I’m sitting, seeing who he is as a whole person rather than segments divided neatly across a standardized report card, I think he has done a marvelous job learning the things a four-year-old should know.

He knows how to love. He knows he is loved. Yesterday, home sick from school, he paused his movie to give me a hug, reporting, “Mama, you are loved.”

He knows how to imagine, and to see more possibility in this world than only that which is literally and directly in front of him.

Still my favorite traffic

Look, Ma! A train!

He knows how to comfort, and offers comfort freely, with tenderness and wisdom that seems incongruous such a sweet, young face. When I explained abuse to him a couple of weeks ago, he asked a great many questions before saying, “That makes me bery sad.” He later proclaimed he’d be the best boyfriend ever, and I agreed that he would. In about twenty years.

He knows how to ask the questions important to him, and that it is important to ask questions.

He knows I will protect him to the best of my ability, and not be deterred by threat or admonition. He knows how to protect himself by challenging others when they do or say things that hurt his feelings.

He understands consequences in seeing daily the difference between “right” and “privilege.” He knows that if he hurts people, or is destructive, he will lose out on enjoying the things he loves: Doc McStuffins, toys, dessert, trips to beloved places.

He knows how to laugh. He knows that humor is in the unexpected, and tests this understanding in new ways each day. If he also finds the words “poopy” and “butt” hilarious, demonstrating their hilarity dozens of times a day, I can accept that.

Seven months ago, I was forewarned it was coming!

Seven months ago, I was forewarned it was coming!

He knows how to say sorry, and how to forgive. Some of my favorite words he has spoken to date were an exasperated but loving, “Mom! I already told you it’s OK!”

All told, he’s learned a heck of a lot in four short years on this earth. It’s astonishing to see what he has learned in such a short stint here. Every day, I am excited to see what new little things he has picked up along the way. There’s always something.

No piece of paper–none–could ever tell me more about this little boy than what I already see when I watch him interacting not with scissors, paper, or glue, but with the vast and glorious wonderland that is this world.

  1. Andrew
    December 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Hopefully you can cultivate that sense of wonder and curiosity in him. School sucks it out of most kids after a certain point. Which is funny because that’s what it should be trying to grow, because that’s no only the key to learning but the key to a quality life!

    • December 18, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      So far, cultivating wonder and curiosity are easy! I hope that’s ever the case, but I’m prepared to work harder if that ever changes.

      As his elementary school days near, I think more and more about setting up with the kind of education that values bigger picture thinking more than hitting certain precise milestones at certain specific dates. That won’t do much for wonder or the world in the long run!

      • Andrew
        December 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm

        There are alternative schooling methods if you can find them. Some public districts do a good job of encouraging kids to chase after what interests them. The best thing you can do is to be involved (no problem there for you, but that’s a HUGE hurdle teachers face. Parental involvement is a must) and encourage him to chase his interests. There’s alwasy a way to make things relevent to kids. It just takes creativity 😀

  2. December 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Lovely. Honestly, I haven’t read a report card in 2 years. True story. They do them electronically, and I can’t be bothered with it. Besides, I know my kid is awesome. I don’t need a piece of paper telling me so.

    • December 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      I am so glad to read that! I devoured the last two, only to be incensed by what they expressed.

      I was torn this time, but even as I looked, wondered, “Am I going to bother again?” I’m leaning toward no, for the exact same reasons as you. It doesn’t mean I don’t see areas that would benefit from work, but that’s the thing . . . I already do, with much more clarity than could ever be afforded by a few strokes of pen in predetermined categories!


  3. Lori
    December 18, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Very well said! I’ve noticed in some schools like my daughter’s for instance, Have some teachers that oh my…I’ll be nice =•) one told my girl she has an annoying laugh..well ya know what that laugh is beautiful to me! I don’t think any school could ever know our children as we do or teach them what we can and do.

    • December 19, 2013 at 4:19 am

      The report cards should be used to tell you how your kids are doing, not for them to criticize your child’s laugh! Gosh, I’m nervous about sending my son to school… Although he knows his letters and numbers already, I don’t think being in such a structured environment is going to fly well with him and the behavior that follows won’t fly well with his teacher(s).

      • December 21, 2013 at 1:12 am

        I’m nervous about public school curriculum at the moment, since it so heavily emphasizes rigid testing, but I’m glad my son (who thrives with a more hands-on approach to learning) is getting to see how other people work! That will be invaluable to him as he grows.

        I did just order a book on mindfulness for kids. I know that my own activities in this area help me accept things that I’d otherwise balk at, so I’m wondering if it’ll have the same impact on D. I want him to march to his own drum, overall, but also to understand that marching to other drums occasionally can lead to good things. 🙂

      • December 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm


        If you dont mind me asking- What other options are you looking into? Do you think that your son will never do well in a structured environment? Do you thinks its necessary for him to adapt at some point?

        • December 23, 2013 at 4:06 am

          I’m not looking into other options, I’m just nervous about public school, that’s all. I’m sure he’ll eventually do well, I just think it’ll be a bit of a rough transition while he figures out how to adapt.

    • December 21, 2013 at 1:08 am

      Oh, my word! What is the possible constructive benefit of a comment like that?! As far as it sounding beautiful, hear that. Both my guys snore, and no matter how anyone else feels about it . . . it is a gorgeous sound of life to me. (Just imagined my son getting a grade for snoring at naptime–ha!)

  4. December 19, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I say it each and every time I read the words of love behind even “the” and “that” in your wonder at your child, you are an extraordinary woman and a fabulous mother. It is truly unfortunate we can’t bottle how spectacular you are and give it in drops to every single mother as she delivers, what a world we would have. What a marvelous world we would have.

    I love you, I love your wonder and your joy. Thank you for sharing bits of your child, your life and you. I am grateful, it reminds me of how much good there is.

    • December 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

      I read your comment and I want to share it with my mom. I want to say, “You know, Mom, for all the unkind words people said about your parenting, it’s you that I strive to emulate in how I am with my son and what I expect of him.” I think a little part of me will always want to go back and make her life easier, but I know what I said in an earlier post is true: Her kids have it easier, and that’s how she wanted it.

      Thank you for your loving, uplifting, supporting words. Though we stand apart in space, the distance between our hearts feels negligible–meaningless–whenever I read your words.

      I love you.

  5. December 19, 2013 at 9:35 am

    “I’d learned nothing about my son that I didn’t already know. I’d had affirmed what I knew about schools, which is that their report cards measure that which is easily measurable, not that which is most important.”

    You have figured out one of the most elusive concepts of parenting. The arbitrary measures used to evaluate our children are not what is truly important. He is so much more than that.

    • December 21, 2013 at 1:17 am

      That realization alone made me glad I’d opened the report card. It had been at the edges of my consciousness before, but looking at the report card . . . that was when I really got it.

  6. December 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Another beautifully-written look into your life, Deborah.
    Thank you.
    You’re a helluva mom.

    • December 21, 2013 at 1:18 am

      Thank you, Hook! When I called my husband to mention the report card, he said, “We’ll talk about it later.” I said, “No need here. I’m going to write a blog about it and then I’m good.” I’m glad I sat down and wrote that blog immediately instead of sitting and mulling it over for days like I usually do. 🙂

  7. December 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    As a teacher know that we are usually just as frustrated with these measures as you are…and are frustrated and beaten down by the fact that these measurable goals are supposed to be used to determine how effect we are (used for evals and pay now) which isso ridiculous

  8. December 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Continued. ..we wish we cd report on the important things too :/

    • December 21, 2013 at 1:24 am

      I hear you. I considered mentioning how frustrating this must be for teachers, having a few dear friends who have gone into teaching with aims of changing the world only to be pigeonholed into ever tighter grading boxes, but decided that was probably best for another post. That teachers are evaluated on these measurable criteria is so maddening. In striving to show clear results, it feels like we lose sight of what results are actually most important, even if they’re not as quickly or as easily measured . . . if at all measurable.

      Although I might disagree with the report card and allocate merit differently than my son’s teachers, I’m grateful for them. Anyone whose works puts them on my son’s nightly gratitude list even once is doing a beautiful job by me, and we’re going to say as much in an e-card (since someone, and I’m not naming any names here, did not get around to making a card by hand on time).

  9. December 21, 2013 at 8:12 am

    The older they get, the more ridiculous the grading/testing gets. The only part of a report card that really matters to me is the little personalized blurb that tells me how BoyGenius is getting along in class, with the teacher, with his classmates. It lets me know what and how he contributes and if his teacher enjoys having him in class. That’s what is important. When we had “meet the teacher” night in Grade 3 and the only thing his teacher had to say was “He’s quite funny, isn’t he? A very quick wit.” I knew we were in for a good year. When I get a math test sent home so I can see why he didn’t get full marks (for drawing a hand in the ‘show how you got your answer’ section) I commend him, and am more likely than not to argue for full marks on his behalf. BoyGenius knows this and because he knows it is confident in seeing and keeping his quirkiness and uniqueness as strengths instead of weaknesses.

    I believe these are some of the things you are teaching Li’l D. I think you are doing a great job and I know your mom loves the way you’re doing it.

    • December 21, 2013 at 8:28 am

      I just finished drafting a Christmas post that left me red-eyed and sniffling, seconds before reading your comment, and so . . . reading this comment, I’m just crying outright again. Thank you. I love you. ♥

  10. December 22, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Lovely article! Out of my four kids, only two of them did well at the standardized testing. The other two had all the knowledge tucked into their heads, but each had different reasons why it was so hard to get down on paper, on demand. Unfortunately, our society seems obsessed with test results; testing in school, college, and work measures your ‘worth’ and subsequent success or pay in that environment. My two poor test takers had to figure out why they didn’t do well on tests, and attack that problem so they wouldn’t be held back later in life, when tested again for whatever.

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      I really do think it ties back to thinking akin to that I evidenced right after I had my son: I measured and documented everything. I wanted to know I was doing it right, objectively. As long as I had data, I had something that could be assessed and mulled over and built upon. But it didn’t work like that, and peace finally came only after the intervention of a nurse who threw away my notebook and told me to start trusting my instincts. It’s comforting to have something solid to grasp. The question is–is it really the right thing? I think the answer will vary case to case, child to child, but of course only have the one (and two-thirds, if you count progress toward being here!) right now against which to gauge. 🙂

  11. December 22, 2013 at 10:40 am

    A beautiful reminder that the truest measure of a child’s potential exists in the margins of test scores, where creativity and character hint at individuality.

  12. December 22, 2013 at 10:50 am

    WOW coming from New Zealand your story had me stumped! Four years old and he has a report card that only focuses on the measurable?…I guess you mean the academics? Here in NZ, four year olds still attend early childhood centers. We have a curriculum called Te Whariki which is the most amazing document in the world. It focuses on the principles of Holistic development, Family and Community, Empowerment and Relationships. With these in mind we look at how we can support a child’s sense of well-being, belonging, contribution, exploration and communication. I would hope that as parents, educators and humans, that this are the attributes we want to help our children to develop so that they are able to live successfully in an ever changing world.
    Good on you for being the parent you are, this will only support your child to be the best he can be .

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      That sounds fantastic, both sound and sensible! Right now, it almost feels as if we’re gearing up to get our U.S. students prepared earlier and earlier for the rigors that will face them in a few years. “It might be too rough at six, perhaps we should start at five? Well, hmm, five might even be a little late. How about four?” Might as well start while they’re infants, at this rate!

      We have lifetimes of work in store for us after we graduate. In these early days of youth, socialization and adaptability are far more essential tools than the ability to recognize numbers by sight. In fact, honestly, the more I think about conversations I’ve had around hiring, it’s seldom the case that managers say, “I want one with the highest scores!” Far and away what they’re looking for is someone who can think critically . . . and work well with others. Memorizing multiplication charts is not essential to either of these things.

      Also, thank you. 🙂

    • itsaleeyou
      December 26, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Well well well ! These is well said, But I want you to look at the situation in africa where education is at it lowest ebb….

  13. December 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

    He’s lucky to have a lovely Mum who sees all of the good in him and wants to encourage him to be as great as he has the potential to be. With that sort of backing I’m sure he’ll do well. (An English Mum)

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      I surely hope so! I know my mom despaired at being terrible, but honestly . . . what I took from her is that there are many ways to do it right, raising compassionate, conscientious children, even while missing the mark in aspects of things. It takes off the pressure of feeling like I must do it perfectly; in the end, it’s the loving care that remains, after all the rest is brushed aside.

      Best wishes to you, and thanks for reading!

  14. December 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    It’s interesting that only one or two exceptional teachers stand out over the fifteen minimum years we spend in class rooms. I hope you and your son run into one soon. One that actually understands and values his existence.

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      I do actually really like his teacher, and the one he had before. His very first there really did believe three-year-olds should be able to hit certain academic milestones, whereas the principal believed three-year-olds should–more or less!–know how to stand in line and share. That teacher didn’t last long at the school, and I’ve been more or less content there since.

      What’s important to me now is that my son learns how to interact with a range of personalities, both in peers and authority figures, and that he gets a ton of loving interaction where he’s at now. I do occasionally have enough concern about something to start a conversation, but the environment is such that it’s welcome. I am confident that my son is safe, nurtured, and supported, and that is a grand thing.

      The report card thing is perplexing. I doubt it’s the teachers pushing for report cards. Now that the principal is back, I think I’m going to ask her what instigated it. I could see how it could be parent-driven, honestly, or perhaps an effort to get parents used to what’s to come? I was reluctant to have the conversation when it was still a heated issue for me since heated conversations are those that tend to go least well, but now that it’s not under my skin . . . I’d like to know.

      • December 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm

        So he is in junior kindergarten? They give out report cards in (junior) kindergarten? That’s such an odd thing to do.
        I also remember you saying that your husband signs it. I guess that is because you usually don’t read them. Is it just that he’s so young and that’s why you don’t feel the need for a report card, or do you think they are irrelevant all together? I always found them to be, as you said, referring to other kids. And that actually happened one time when my grandparents went in for a parent teacher interview. My teacher described some other kid, realized and then couldn’t, for the life of her, remember who I was.

        I’m glad you and your son have had the opportunity to run into some good teachers along the way.

      • December 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm

        Oh and I would also like to know why they’re giving a four year old a report card. If you find out and have the time I’d love to know.

  15. December 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    As a teacher and mother of a nine-year-old, I am with you. Some of us are actually discouraged from writing any personal reflections in our comments: it should all be academic data. I do it anyway.

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      One of my girlfriends came down a few months ago and told me about all the changes to how she must grade. I got a headache just hearing about it. It seems an extraordinary shame to me to take people compelled to pass knowledge and wisdom on to the younger generations . . . and turn them into rigid, rule-abiding grading automatons. I’m heartened to hear that you write those personal reflections anyway. That’s the kind of touch that will make a difference to parents and students over the long haul. Thank you.

  16. December 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    As a former teacher, I can tell you that the most important thing in any child’s education is a parent’s involvement in it. I’ve taught everything from kindergarten to 12th grade, and would sometimes see 150 students per day. Sometimes it is hard to provide a personal touch that only a parent can give, and these days teachers have to stick to the curriculum and make sure as many kids pass as possible or they won’t keep their jobs.

    Be nice to your children’s teachers. Ask them how you can help. You are right that what a child learns outside of the classroom is sometimes far more important than how many sight words or multiplication tables he or she has memorized. But a key thing that parent’s should be teaching their children is that education is important, and the only way to do that is to be involved with their education. Help them with their homework, reinforce what they are doing well, and help them wheee they are struggling. And if you don’t know how to help them, ask their teacher, get a tutor, or find a friend who knows the subject matter. There is no shame in admitting that you can’t help your son with his fractions which you will be dealing with in a few short years.

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      With one Yale- and one UCLAw-educated parent both active in his education, there’s no risk my son will grow up failing to understand the importance of education. It’s just that we’re raising him to understand that the mere fact someone else–or even entire boards of someone elses–determines that something is essential or invaluable does not mean that it is actually true. We look forward to him questioning such assertions–even from us–and coming to his own conclusions. This is the education we want to bestow upon our son, even while we teach him to be respectful and conscientious, even in disagreement.

      At four years old, our son already delights us with shows of independent, analytical thinking. That process is much more important to us than any end result demonstrated on any test, ergo we will continue to emphasize that versus agonizing over his future with fractions while he is four years old.

  17. December 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Lovely post! I have a 10-year old adopted son with ADHD and LD, so unfortunately I can’t be as relaxed about report cards (feel free to read my post Stonehenge for more details). I do agree with the basic theme of your post though. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • December 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Thanks! I’ve got a second little one in the works and frankly have no idea who that someone will end up being. I know better than to expect him/her to be a miniature replica of Li’l D, though, and look forward to assessing what kinds of needs s/he’ll have as s/he grows. (I’m striving for “looking forward to,” in any case; it sure beats dreading what might yet be to come, and is a lot less exhausting!)

  18. December 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I think what some teachers need to remember is that no one, except for the child themselves, understands the child more than their parents. I’ve run into teachers who think themselves the highest authority on the children in their classroom and don’t seem to realise that children develop differently. Your son is lucky that you’re his mum.

    • December 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      That’s the part that concerns me: that there are teachers who truly believe there is one ideal that must be attained by all students, as if we’re all cookie cutter duplicates of each other. I feel like that’s the kind of teacher the current system is pushing for, while minimizing the importance of teachers connecting with individual students and helping them see their capabilities regardless of what a given subject’s test scores say. I’m glad to know from my sampling of teacher friends that they resist this pigeonholing of their careers, and hope this resistance is part of a return to a more holistic approach to teaching and raising thinkers. Of course, parents must participate in order for change to occur. As my son nears elementary school age, I can feel myself gearing up for some bigger battles.

      I’m grateful to have had the advocacy example I did. My mom, an impoverished single mother of four, fought hard for her kids. She thought she was a terrible mom. Looking back, I mostly feel profoundly grateful for the lessons she imparted upon me.

  19. chyeawolves
    December 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    This was such a beautifully written post. I completely agree with your views on report cards. I’m hoping that when I have kids, I’m 17 now, the report card system will be better, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

    • December 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      The more I read about Common Core, the more I worry about the future of this nation. I don’t want my son subjected to that. I don’t want any child subjected to that! How this seems like a good idea to anyone is beyond me. I, too, hope things have changed by then–for the future’s sake, long before then!

  20. December 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    I think this is an example of yet another problem with the current education system.

    • December 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm

      The presence of report cards in four-year-old classrooms, or–?

      • December 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm

        Everything….report cards themselves, how poorly they represent a child, etc.

  21. December 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Schools these days over-emphasise on ‘learning’ — so the kids are ‘learning’ to throw balls, write words (when parents their age hardly knew A B C D), know about your country and outside…!!! Guess, they are truly in the fast-age. Schools handle so many kids that they have no other option but to somewhere standardise their assessment process. And we find that assembly-line production. Thankfully, we, a set of wiser parents, know how to assess our child in order to affirm that he/she is going the right way. no matter the age.

    • December 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm

      Well put! It really is an assembly line production much easier managed with consistent, repeatable criteria. If only so much weren’t lost that way!

      Writing this post was a way for me to articulate wordless feelings that had been bubbling up recently, but I wonder if there’s more to come as my son marches nearer to elementary school. Kids are resilient and can fare well with even dramatically suboptimal conditions, but . . . why should that be the baseline, because it’s easier for bureaucracy to administer?

  22. December 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    What a well written article. The school system in the US is awful and it does not seem like anyone is really trying to make any real change. Our kids are going to lack the preparation that they need to properly compete in this global society.

    • December 24, 2013 at 6:15 am

      I see little glimmers of rippling change among some of my teacher and blogger friends, and they make me hopeful. Still, there’s definitely a systemic change required, leaving me to wonder: How do I help impact that systemic change?!

  23. December 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    4 y.o. report cards? Really? And how did he “rank?” Sheesh. Have you looked at Montessori schools?

    • December 24, 2013 at 6:19 am

      I have! For a few reasons, I probably won’t pursue that path for another year or two (unless my son starts feeling he’s falling behind due to not hitting the preferred milestones), but there’s a Montessori elementary school not far from here that I’ve been checking out. I’d love to make that happen, but at the same time see what I can do about implementing an educational system where public school does engage and develop all its students.

  24. December 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    This made me smile from beginning to end. I have a very inquisitive, compassionate four year old with a soul wiser than seems possible at times. I beamed after her first parent-teacher conference. Not because I learned anything new but because the light I see in and around her was seen by someone else. I feel like you may see that light around your little guy. Great job putting it to words and congrats on getting freshly pressed.

    • December 24, 2013 at 7:16 am

      I love how you put this! I do see the light around my little guy, and though I see areas that he can and will strengthen with time, it is that light I want to keep nurturing every day, in every way I can. ♥

  25. December 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Oh, very beautifully
    Thanks you 🙂

  26. December 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm


  27. December 22, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Very nice piece that says everything about a mother’s love. True enough, no card can ever tell you who your child is. There are just some things that neither teachers nor grades can ever evaluate. Love this!

    • December 24, 2013 at 7:22 am

      There are just some things that neither teachers nor grades can ever evaluate.
      YES! This is exactly it. (I think teachers can sometimes see these things, but are limited these days in how much they can express it.)

  28. December 23, 2013 at 1:25 am

    beautiful thinking…bravo,encore

  29. December 23, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Oh, lovely. Everywhere all around is full of tick-boxes as if all we humans are trying to do is to become more robotic and set higher standards of robotic to aspire to. The only hope lies in children who can be encouraged to stay as human as possible for as long as possible. The little ones have much to teach bigger older ones for whom,the systems of standardisation and control have already rubbed of many of our square edges, forcing us uncomplainingly into the round holes of the corporate, number crunched world.

    When i feel too depressed about this i get our into the park and look for parents with little ones, where they are relating to each other well, and learning good things from each other

    • December 28, 2013 at 6:42 am

      I remember the first time I had that square-peg-in-a-round-hole revelation about myself. Making peace with the fact I am not great at everything, including some things I wish I were, laid a good foundation for my being prepared to see the same in even my child(ren). But then, my mom didn’t expect any of her four kids to be duplicates of each other, so I suppose the seed was planted many years before. There are many ways to be successful, so why just revere the one?! It’s wild to me.

  30. December 23, 2013 at 3:04 am

    Yes, I love this! When my daughter was four years old I was told by a teacher that her writing was too messy. The same teacher also informed her that her drawings were ‘wrong’. According to targets she should have been drawing people with bodies by that age, and she was still drawing them with stick arms and legs emerging from a head.
    ‘Miss says that’s wrong,’ she told me on showing me one of her pictures.
    ‘How can a drawing be WRONG?!’ I said ‘I love this picture!’ I framed that picture, and still have it although she’s 11 now.
    I am so glad you have said this. Targets are very damaging, and as you said only measure the measurable things – not imagination, compassion, beauty…

    • December 28, 2013 at 7:15 am

      Gah! Gah to the “messy writing” and “wrong drawing” critiques! I love your response, and oh! Yes to your parting thoughts on targets and measuring!

      I was told earlier in the year that Li’l D’s penmanship needed work. I was startled by the thought, because though there are things I expect from my little guy, penmanship of any variety does not show up on the list. Still, when it came time to do homework, I found myself agonizing over sloppy letters for the first couple of weeks . . . before I realized I was pushing someone else’s agenda, not my own, and stepped back. I documented a bit of this in a post titled “Wide Angle Parenting,” which I hadn’t thought of as related to this post until reading your penmanship comment. I feel much better about things now that I remind myself to take a wide angle view. 🙂

  31. December 23, 2013 at 6:11 am

    The problem with education is the concept of one size fits all. Therefore to fit in the box we kill the creativity to go out of the box.

    • December 23, 2013 at 6:12 am

      So well and succinctly put!

      • December 23, 2013 at 6:16 am

        Thanks, I taught for forty years and tried to correct that situation. Most of the time I was told to tow the mark. After a while you play the game. I blog about it. The past was dark and gloomy as I saw many a student beaten by education, it was abuse personified.

      • December 23, 2013 at 6:17 am

        I just put I Broke Santa Claus on the blog, give it a read and let me know what you think. Thanks, Barry

  32. December 23, 2013 at 9:13 am

    He is quite blessed to have a mom like you. Very few parents these days are paying attention to what their child is growing into, rather are more concerned about what the report card says.
    Very well thought.

    • December 28, 2013 at 7:21 am

      I’ve been puzzling over this the last few days. If I don’t feel education system problems here can be pointed back to teachers, because it’s far more complex than that, where do the problems originate? I could write books reflecting on this, but I’d want to do a lot more reading first. I do think parents own a portion of it, though; we have the capability to step in and work on fixing things that are broken, rather than resigning ourselves to them. But then, there are so many things we have to worry about as parents: food, shelter, health, transportation, maintaining our jobs, it’s no wonder it’s easier to resign to certain things as inevitable. I have much more reflecting to do, and I have no doubt I’m going to keep doing it as he marches nearer to elementary school. In the meantime, I thank you for reading, sharing your thoughts and giving me more food for my own!

  33. December 23, 2013 at 9:36 am

    They give report cards for four year-olds now? That’s amazing.

    In any case, I wish my own parents had said this about some of my report cards. Would have made things less stressful around exam time.

    • December 28, 2013 at 7:24 am

      I’m not sure every place does, but this school does . . . and it seems from these comments that there are many others that do, as well. Are they trying to prepare the kids? The parents? I don’t know, but it seems bizarre to start fitting kids into misshapen holes earlier and earlier in the hopes of . . . ? I can come up with many potential answers, but none are satisfactory to me.

      I’m sorry you didn’t have this experience with your parents. I’m not sure if you’re a parent yet, but the beautiful thing about parenting is the chance to do things differently! Take the good, make some even better . . . along with plenty mistakes, as is the human way! 🙂

  34. December 23, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I love this!

  35. December 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

    loved iT! I have a 5 year old , I can totally relate.

    • January 1, 2014 at 10:54 am

      Reading this comment in the new year, it just hit me: This year I will have a five-year-old! Where on earth does the time go? Regardless of how quickly it passes, I will cherish bearing witness to the things he learns this year. 🙂

  36. December 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    As the father of a now 20 year old boy, who still gives hugs and says “I love you Dad” before he leaves with his friends for an evening out; I can say that report cards mean nothing.
    It is important to have a guide as to the academic journey progress, and like many things in life , one cannot simply ignore this. It is however, just a guide and provided by a profession that cares much for their collective outcomes.
    All of us care for our professions and most of us get involved, to the point of caring too much, but it still remains a profession. Being a parent and being a child is not having a profession. Living, as we all must do, requires skills of all types. These skills come from many sources and school is but one.
    The real learnings of life are done alone with the knowledge that you are loved and secure as a person.
    If love could be taught or if love could be bought, we would all benefit. It just is not available as a package, it requires hours of cultivation from within and without. Teaching one to understand how to love the self and others, is the greatest teaching of all.
    Thanks for the words, great thoughts.

    • January 1, 2014 at 10:56 am

      This is a beautiful comment. I want to have something eloquent to say in reply, but I think I’ll keep it simple instead of searching for just the right words:

      Thank you.

  37. December 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    My son is 4 and will be starting kindergarten next fall, and I am dreading it just for the reasons you have touched on in your post and many have addressed in their comments. I am so worried that he will lose his “spark” and his love of life and be turned into a drone that gets good grades on report cards.
    I am so glad to have you (and others) tell me that it’s ok to not pay too much attention to the report cards! You are so right-they aren’t a reflection of the true child.

    • January 1, 2014 at 11:01 am

      I’ve been thinking a lot about that sense of dread. It’s present in so many moments, but I try not to give it too much of my attention because it does so little to make a better now (or future). I have concerns about his experiences in grade school, but I also have confidence we will find ways to address those circumstances when we get there. That’s what I’m trying to focus on, then: being here now and doing what I can with that, trusting that I will face those future challenges as best I can.

      From here, I find it heartening that you are concerned; it means you’re looking out for your son, and prepared to keep doing so! That will be a tremendous asset to him in the years ahead, as you help him navigate those waters and learn what’s worth keeping and what’s best left behind. I wish you all the best in this. ♥

  38. Madeline
    December 23, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    I tried to write about this earlier, but right before i was going to submit i lost the whole thing.
    In high school there was CIM and CAM. Certificate of Initial Mastery which tested you in diferent areas (math multiple choice, math problem solving, science, foreign,laguage-verbal/writing,reading,writing,speech) and Certificate of Advanced Mastery was a more fine tuned focus on after high school where you volunteer, take specific classes, do job shadows, by the end you have a huge portfolio.
    Anyhow, my sore subject is math, always has been. They informed me late my Senior year that I had to pass ALL of my CIM tests in order to receive my CAM which i had already done all the work for and had (still have) the big portfolio for! The only thing of all the 20 or so tests I hadn’t passed was math problem solving.
    By this point I had tried twice to take the test sitting in a room not being able to figure out a problem watching everyone leave. By the time class was over each time I was crying and feeling stupid because I couldn’t figure a stupid problem out. (Plus I struggle with test anxiety).
    This third time I was sitting in a room with even fewer students during a lunch period feeling stressed because i couldn’t figure out the problem and if I didn’t pass all my work would be down the drain, i was feeling stupid, all the kids were leaving again and Ihad gotten no where.
    Normally,I am not a cheater ( you could ask anyone I know). The teacher overseeing the testing (who I had thought disliked me) took pity on me seeing me sitting there crying. She came over and helped me with the problem even though she wasn’t supposed to. I got not only my CIM but my CAM because of the kindness of a teacher.
    The following years I heard they were going to add art to the list of required testing and were going to make CIM required to graduate. I am not sure what has happened since. I don’t believe everyone can or even nessesarilly should be good in EVERY area and certainly not forced. If they are going to require such tests students should be allowed at least one lenient area! Seriously, students should NEVER be left in a room to cry! (Deborah’s sister)

    • December 24, 2013 at 7:31 am

      I didn’t know any of this, Madeline. I’m so glad you came back to write this again after the initial comment was eaten!

      This comment is a beautiful reflection on my deep discomfiture with measuring each and every human being with exactly the same measures. Each person on this earth has different strengths and weaknesses, and marking for success those who excel in just the right proportion to earn reasonably high marks in multiple areas tells many intelligent, bright people who have a great deal to contribute that their particular blend of skills and talents isn’t as valuable as this one board-created ideal.

      Success comes in many forms. Packaging it in these bizarre, uniform expectations for everyone sends children the wrong messages about what they are and aren’t capable of. I don’t want any part of it.

      Also, bless that teacher. Seriously.

  39. Madeline
    December 23, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    From comments section of fifth grade report card-
    Fall-Maddie is a daily model of fairness and decency.These contribute greatly to our class. Some extra work in math could help her.
    Winter-I is a pleasure to have Maddie in our class. She is so kind. I want to see Maddie work harder in math.
    B.T.W. the teacher who wrote these comments walked me down the aisle at my wedding (my godmom did also on the other side). We danced a father/daughter dance also!

    • December 24, 2013 at 7:32 am

      I am so glad he was a factor in our lives! I didn’t even have him as a teacher, but, man, I am getting misty-eyed right now thinking of how actively he built up each of you and Mom. It does my heart good to know he is out there training teachers now. ♥

  40. December 24, 2013 at 2:12 am

    Schools suck the creativity and wonder and joy of learning out of children! It becomes all about tests, memorizations, rote learning and regurgitation of information. It makes me sick. Studying has become a chore. I think the word studying should be eliminated from the English language because it has such negative connotations among students. It should be called ‘learning’ or ‘exploration’ instead. I don’t know. I’m just blabbering about something that is out of my control. The whole system needs to change!

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:08 am

      I love the idea of it being called “learning” or “exploration.” My line of work involves breaking down on each word, so I’ve come to appreciate more by the year how much seemingly small distinctions like this can make.

      Though there will be some things that must be memorized, that should be a small part of the learning puzzling. Not everything. The more memorization is confused with learning, the more challenging it will be to engage students and get them into the kind of critical thinking they’ll need to thrive post-school.

      I agree that change is required, and I’m glad the wheels are now churning in my head about what I might do to facilitate that!

  41. December 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

    That a way! Seems you’ve done well at teaching him the most important things in life. Love the fact that he links concepts together, which is a fantastic skill that some never achieve. … and Congrats on FP!

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:11 am

      Thanks, Frank! He and his dad were just reading Disney’s “Pinocchio” the night before last. I was in another room, but I could hear him stopping the story every couple of sentences to ask questions and put the story in perspective. His reasoning and articulation blew me away. These are skills that will serve him well, even if he can’t yet count to eleventy billion (OK, so maybe he’ll never quite get there in his counting!) or sometimes tries tricking his teachers by giving them wrong answers. 🙂

      • January 5, 2014 at 11:01 am

        Search “Collodi, Italy” on Google Images for some wonderful pics of a place that honors Pinocchio.

  42. December 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    The school system usually sucks the creatively and wonder out of children. They are taught to follow authority, but what if the authority figure is wrong? My daughter is 2 and I am scared to put her in the public school system, but then I don’t know if I would actually have the patience to home school. I need to figure out my options over the next couple of years. Thanks for the post.

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:21 am

      Based on your comments about authority, I really, really recommend Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift. I read it last summer but did so quickly to gather as much of the knowledge as I could. I’m rereading it now with highlighter–something I’ve never done with a book before–to capture the essentials I want/need to share with my husband.

      I’m currently on the chapter about all the useless safety rules we’ve taught our children, such as “don’t talk to strangers.” The author also emphasizes why it’s crucial not to force kids to interact with people who make them uncomfortable. In light of these and our own experiences, we’re raising our son to respect his own instincts and understand when it’s important to listen to authority figures. Some months back, we had to address it head on when my son made some discomfiting statements. At the doctor’s visit, his doctor made me cry with how she handled the exam: “This is only OK because I am a doctor and I am here with your mom, OK?” (I wrote a little more about that here.)

      This question about when it’s best to question isn’t something that can be taught in a day, or a month, but it’s a knowledge that will improve a child’s life for his or her entire duration. I hope you’ll check out Protecting the Gift. It gives not just insight but actual tools to keep your child safe in body and mind, learning not just things that can be learned on worksheets but ones that will give her confidence always. Here’s the link on Amazon:


      • January 4, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        Thanks for this information. I will have to look up this book. I am like you in that I do not force my daughter to talk to people she is uncomfortable with. I also don’t force her to kiss people either, including myself. If she doesn’t want to and I force her to do it, then she will feel that she has not right to take control over her own body and what she feels is comfortable or uncomfortable touching. My mother was molested by a very close and trusted family friend. It has really destroyed her life in many ways because she has not been able to deal with it for all of these years. I do not want my daughter being a victim and if someone ever tries to victimize her, I want her to feel comfortable enough to tell me so that I can deal with it accordingly.

  43. December 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Very sweet! He’s a lucky kid.

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:23 am

      Thanks, Rivki! I feel like a lucky mama, even in those rare grumpy moments when he says things like “I’m not your friend anymore.” (“That’s OK, sweetheart. It’s more important for me to be your mother than your friend.”)

  44. December 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    This is wonderful.

  45. December 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Good points–our children can’t be quantified

  46. December 24, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Love this post. Heartwarming. Every child deserves a parent who thinks and observes they way you do. Kudos

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:28 am

      Thank you! I’m glad to have had such a good example growing up. While my own mom expected us to achieve academically, she tempered that with the recognition we were each very, very different people with different strengths and weaknesses. That spoken recognition made all the difference, I think, in how my siblings and I view parenthood and our expectations of our own children.

  47. December 25, 2013 at 12:11 am

    As the mother of 25 and 28 year olds, I say yay you for getting it.
    And they keep blooming an unfolding. School rarely helped with this with my sons. Well they had impact but they rarely found ways to honor as valuable what they brought and who they are.

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:30 am

      And they keep blooming an unfolding.
      That’s exactly it! We all bloom and unfold in different ways. Recognizing only one correct and proper path is damaging, so damaging, when there are so many ways to unfurl into a rich and beautiful life.

  48. Achuth
    December 25, 2013 at 2:39 am

    I liked your post and the way you think about your son. But why the links to other posts? I found it distracting.

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:33 am

      Thanks on the former count. As to the latter, what does or does not distract any individual reader does not concern me.

  49. Ves
    December 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Unfortunately this world is focused on results. These results mostly include literacy, numeracy and how well your child fits into society. No test seems to measure creativity, ingenuity or thinking outside the box. Many parents give out about this but then give teachers a hard time when the international test results come out where your country is compared to others and isn’t fairing well. Or when they apply to the schools with the best “academic” results. Unfortunately in this catch 22 it’s the kids who pay.

    • January 4, 2014 at 6:36 am

      I addressed the teacher aspect of things a little further here on Facebook. I don’t usually link there in comments, but I agree that we’re quick to find convenient faults–teachers–instead of assessing the whole situation holistically. It’s only be holistic assessment we’ll be able to benefit from an education system that educates instead of merely drilling.

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  1. December 23, 2013 at 6:06 am

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