Kindergarten Report Cards: The Curious Definition of Fiction & Nonfiction
It’s report card time yet again in our household. No, this post isn’t a gloating Mama post. In reality report card time means that four times a year I get to be reminded Tucker takes underachieving in high school as serious as his Mama did. (Which means this Mama gets to take lecturing about school, the future, and responsibility as serious as her Mama and Daddy did.) Harper is in kindergarten, and loves school so very much. This is her third report card and she has nothing but pride and excitement about sharing it with her Daddy and I. (Tucker prefers to forget his report card in his locker at least twice before it makes its way to us.)
Long ago when this Mama was in kindergarten we learned simple things like: some markers smell amazing, how to share, how to glue, to not eat the paste, and to NEVER EVER get stuck with a green chair. The first week of school Amelia* (name changed in case Amelia* ever reads this and is still scarred by the events occurred) peed her pants while sitting in a green chair. No one wanted to sit in a green chair after that. Things are different now.
My kids go to the same school district I did, but the standards are much higher (and there are no green chairs, none). This isn’t my first rodeo. Through Tucker’s elementary school years we had gone through multiple “new” ways to teach and do math, all of the testing and test prep, and a host of other things that made this Mama go, “That’s not how I remember school.” And occasionally something that made me go, “Are you kidding me?” (Okay, maybe a few times I added a few more choice words to that question.)
So, here I am muttering, “Are you kidding me,” all over again. Harper’s Kindergarten report card for the third quarter had about 60 different things the kids are scored on. As I sat there reading over each concept, I got stuck on two. Four days later I am still stuck. And annoyed. And confused. A tad bit irritated. Here is, verbatim, the two categories I am taking issue with:
1.Defines fiction books as books we read for enjoyment.
2.Defines nonfiction books as books we read to gain information.
Bullshit. Seriously, I’m calling shenanigans on this. First and foremost these two statements are wrong. WRONG. I have been a lover of books since I was a kid. And, I have definitely been forced to read some books in high school that were fiction and not at all entertaining. (I’m looking at you Nathaniel Hawthorne.) I have also read many a nonfiction book for enjoyment. The fact is we learn and gain information from almost every book. We expand our vocabularies. We learn about history from historical fiction. We gain information about lifestyles, grammar, all kinds of things. Recently I have been reading the Cowgirl Kate books to Harper and while they may be fiction she has learned plenty abut life on the farm. I read every single one of the All Creatures Great and Small books and enjoyed them so very much, the fact that they were true made them better.
Not only do I emphatically disagree with the defnition for fiction and nonfiction these kindergarten report cards are using, I also question the need for this to be that important of a benchmark for 5 and 6 year olds to learn that it is included on their report card. I’m questioning it even more days later. Since Harper brought home her report card and I fixated on this every time we have read a story together after we finish I ask her if it is fiction or nonfiction. We are using the more accepted standard of fiction being not true or make believe and nonfiction being real or true. Want to know how that has gone? Like this:
*This actual conversation took place following an evening reading of “Very Special Friends” by Jane Chapman (great book, super cute)
Me: Okay Harper was that story fiction or nonfiction?
Harper: Well, bunnies are real, and so are the other animals so nonfiction.
Me: Yes, but animals don’t talk, so that’s not real.
Harper: Yeah, but they could be talking in animal language so it could be real.
Me: It’s not real.
Harper: It could be.
Me: What about the boats? Turtles don’t build boats, or use boats, or have boats.
Harper: Maybe the turtle borrowed the boat.
Me: The turtle didn’t borrow the boat, neither did the toad.
Harper: Maybe the just hopped on the boat to cross and it’s not their boat.
Me: I don’t think turtles do much hopping. It’s fiction.
Harper: It could be real.
Harper: Well, it’s not real, but it could be real. But, it’s not real. But, it could be.
Me: Okay, it’s not real, so is it fiction or nonfiction?
Me: (under my breath) Thank God. Now, go clean you room.
We do this now after every book. I have learned a few things. First, my daughter might have my sass (no might about it, she does). Second, analyzing every single plot point and aspect of a story to determine if it’s fiction or not is not as much fun as you might think. I am proud Harper analyzes with such care. I know she knows real and not real.
I want my daughter to still play pretend. I want her to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy. When I read to her I want her to focus on the story and learning the words. I don’t want her to be worried if it's real or not. If it’s entertaining or if she is gaining information.
To my daughter’s school and all the others out there. Let me start off by emphasizing fiction isn’t always entertaining, nor is it just entertainment. And nonfiction isn’t just for gaining information, and some of it is quite entertaining. Teach her, by all means. Teach her to read, and write. Teach her counting, addition, and subtraction. I take no issue with kids now-a-days learning more earlier than I did. Trust me I am trying to teach her all I can too.
I do have a sneaking suspicion that there may be an ulterior motive to the need for 5 and 6 year olds to have this fiction/nonfiction differentiation down (hint it involves the PSSA’s that kids start taking in first grade). I sure hope I am wrong, because afterall, “You don’t teach for the tests.” If you must teach the difference between fiction and nonfiction try the actual difference. Let me know how those long-winded analytical conversations with a room full of kindergartners goes.
As for all the Mamas and Daddies out there have you ever stumbled across something that made you go, “What!?!” on your child’s report card? Have you ever sat for 20 minutes, or more, and analyzed a book for fact and fiction with a 6 year old? Sound off in the comments, I would love to have a conversation with you about this!