Littlest Perfectionist in the Making

In April my four year old begged me to learn how to read. She’s known the letters and their sounds since she was two thanks to a fantastic in-home daycare program she was part of when I still worked, so I figured why not teach her to read? Where else was I going to find a kid who ASKS to learn how to read? So we began with the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I have a degree in Elementary Education, but I wanted an easy program to follow. For her it’s worked great since she likes structure and Direct Instruction.


It was so easy for her in the beginning. We would fly through three lessons in 20 minutes several times a day when each lesson was supposed to take 20. Then she had to work a little harder…She didn’t know all the sounds the first time she saw them so she had to slow her pace a little as she sounded out the words.


We came to lesson 70 near the end of June and she started to get frustrated. She still wanted to do the lessons, she was always excited to get out the book and do them, but she was starting to give up a little and make up words instead of trying to sound them out. She’d see the first and last letter and invent a word. So I tried to have her practice reading more often from “regular books” instead of the lesson book. It was even worse then. She wouldn’t even try to sound out a word and she’d pout and throw a fit if I told her she could do it.

After a few days of frustration, we had a little chat and got to the root of the problem….

She wanted to be perfect.

“I want to read fast like you Mommy”. Because she didn’t know the words right away and had to work to sound them out she didn’t even want to try. She wanted to finish the lesson book so she would know “all the words in the world” before reading other books.

I totally saw myself in her at that moment. I always want to be perfect the first time around too. Like how I took six years of Spanish classes, but couldn’t carry a fluent conversation with a Spanish speaker because I never practiced. I didn’t want to look stupid in front of anyone while I was still learning, so I never tried. Or avoided trying as much as possible.

My heart went out to her, I empathized with her in that moment. But I didn’t want her to quit like I always do (I have a whole post about quitting coming soon). I wanted to say something that would help her overcome this fear of failure, the need to be perfect the first time around.

I explained how her lesson book couldn’t fit all the words in the world inside, but that it was giving her the tools she needed to sound out and practice all the words in the world. That reading is like solving a mystery, we find a word we don’t know and we have to work to figure it out. I told her how I’ve had years and years of practice to read fast without pointing to the words and that if she keeps practicing, she’ll read fast one day too.

The words didn’t take effect right away, but over the last few weeks she’s been trying to read books on her own. She’s  taking the time to sound out words instead of just guessing or reciting the book from memory. I praise her over and over for TRYING a word, not just for getting it right. I tell her more often how proud I am of her hard work and efforts.

We’re making progress on her need for perfection when it comes to reading, and I’m sure she’ll have many other areas in her life to learn to overcome the need to be perfect the first time around. I hope I can guide her through and encourage her to try, even if she won’t succeed right away.


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