Parenting/ School Life

A Nonfiction Mama Rant On: Kindergarten Report Cards

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?
Harper: Fiction.
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.

Her first day of school, ready to learn!

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!

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  • Reply
    Esse D
    April 15, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I agree 100% with your take on enjoying fiction vs. nonfiction. There were plenty of non-fiction books I thoroughly enjoyed and there were some fiction that I definitely could have lived without. The parameters are too black and white and just plain erroneous.

  • Reply
    April 15, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Great post. Is it horrible for me to admit I can never remember which means real and which doesn’t? Probably since I am the teacher. 😉 Oddly today when I was picking up my numerous books from my local library the very well-read librarian and I had a discussion about our own personal go-to reads. She said, “I just want a good story!” I agree it can be real, not real, kinda real, or whatever but depending on why I am reading it- information or just for fun then that is the difference. I love that you read with Harper and I love that she has the open minded need to believe in turtles that can hop. I might need to dig deeper into this one with some observation of this on my own. I’ll keep you posted!
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  • Reply
    April 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    It really is so crazy these days! My sister is getting her doctorate in teaching and she even thinks the detailed standards for elementary are insane at times. Especially at your daughters age, I agree that lessons and important vocabulary can be gathered from both fiction and non-fiction.

    Great post!

  • Reply
    April 15, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I have a problem with just about everything on my daughter’s kindergarten report card. Like you, I also have a teenager with her own set of report card problems. It’s always something

    • Reply
      Mama Ally
      April 16, 2017 at 12:37 am

      I had more problems, but that one really stuck for me. It really is always something!

  • Reply
    April 16, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I couldn’t agree more about the fiction/non-fiction part. I think what matters most is that children get enjoyment out of reading.

  • Reply
    Nicole Roder
    April 17, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Ugh, I know exactly what you mean. And I bet they came up with those “definitions” because some standard-setter somewhere decided that kindergarteners could understand “read for information” but not “true story.” I HATE when they teach to the test. We have so much insane testing going on, that’s practically all they do. My daughter is supposed to take the PARCC right after spring break, but I’m opting her out of it. (Basically, I have to keep her home those days.) But she brought home a spring break packet of homework that is solely designed for PARCC preparation. It’s for extra credit, so she doesn’t have to do it over break, but she will have to do it when she gets back to school.

    There have been a number of things they taught my kids at school that made me scratch my head. With my daughters, especially, this is super irritating because they consider school to be an unimpeachable authority. One time, my daughter came home and said she had to buy lunch because she’d left her lunch box in the classroom. I said, “Why didn’t you go back to the classroom to get it?” She said, because nobody was there and I’m not allowed to be in the classroom alone.”

    I told her that she’s always allowed to go get her lunch. The school can’t make a rule against her being allowed to eat the lunch I packed for her. She insisted, “No mom. That’s the rule.”

    I told her, “It’s not the rule when you need to go back there to get your lunch. If the school doesn’t like it, they can send an adult with you to get it. They can’t force you to buy lunch.”

    She said, “But mom, I’ll get in trouble if I do that.” I said, “No you won’t. Honey, I promise, your school isn’t going to penalize you for a small mistake like forgetting your lunch box in the classroom. Please trust me. I’m an adult and I’ve been through school. I know how other adults think. This is simply not a reasonable rule when it applies to getting your lunch. Besides, even if your teacher were so unreasonable that she either A. Wouldn’t send an adult with you to get your lunch. Or B. Said you were in trouble for going to get it, I would talk to her and tell her you have to be allowed to get your own lunch.”

    Then my daughter said that wouldn’t work. Ugh! It’s never ending!

    • Reply
      Mama Ally
      April 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

      It really is, and when they are younger they just want to do well and they take what they learn in school as written in stone! I have considered skipping the testing next year, but we will see. They try to make the kids think it’s this fun amazing time, when really it just stressed the kids to no tomorrow and takes up a solid month of class, really longer.

  • Reply
    April 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Their definitions of fiction and non-fiction fit into my definition of “alternative facts”. :p

  • Reply
    Karen W
    April 23, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    This as the most enjoyable blog post I’ve read in ages. You have a new fan. I think both your post and my comment fall under the non-fiction category……unless you made it all up. LOL

  • Reply
    April 24, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    What? Those questions are subjective! I know lots of people who loooove to enjoy nonfiction.

    I’ve had plenty of run-ins with the kindergarten machine. I’m glad those days are over. 🙂 Here’s just one example.

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