MAX’S 5-SECOND MISCUE by Kathleen Olmstead

Editors’ note: Miscue analysis is a “window on the reading process” because it reveals strategies readers use as they construct meaning. Miscue analysis is also a window to understanding how literacy develops in young children. In this post contributor Kathleen Olmstead uses her understandings of reading to reflect on her son’s literacy development and expresses her concern that preschool may go the way of what have been called “assembly line first grades” and “sweatshop kindergartens.” A former kindergarten teacher, Kathleen is currently Assistant Professor of Literacy at SUNY Brockport and Director of the Summer Reading Clinic. ~ Alan, Yetta and Prisca, Editors Blog

MAX’S FIVE SECOND MISCUE by Kathleen Olmstead

It seems everywhere I go with Max, conversation leads to preschool.  “Why isn’t he in school?” a neighbor walking his dog asks.  “Where are you going to send him? When are you going to send him?  Have you observed the           school yet?  Do you know the            school is $6,000 a year but if you send both kids you get a discount?”  A playgroup mom asks me if I had observed preschools last year to reserve a spot for Max this semester.  Hmmmm.

Max just turned three, and it seems that this is the magical age where I am supposed to send him away to be educated for his own good.  As a kindergarten teacher I always encouraged early learning and opportunities for socialization; however, as a mom and a literacy studies doctoral student I have become concerned.  My personal paradox is frustrating, so I struggle to understand it.

Names like “Kiddie Academy” and “Ivy League Preschool” worry me.  Preschool has become a lucrative and competitive business for some.  Slogans that promise “ALL of our students READ” cause me to question among other things, our society’s push for early formal schooling.

As demonstrated by Max’s reading “car” for H-O-N-D-A, he has made meaning and is content with his understanding of the world. It makes sense.  Max often makes miscues like when looks at the letters B-R-I-T-A on a pitcher and happily proclaims “water,” or reads “go” for the word S-T-A-R-T.  Goodman, Flurkey, & Goodman (2007) in their chapter from “Effective Young Readers” in Critical Issues in Early Literacy conclude that the miscues of very young readers “reflect their current knowledge and beliefs about texts and the reading process” (p.10).  By “kidwatching” (Owocki & Goodman, 2002), I am learning much about my very young but effective reader and his constantly evolving understandings of language and literacy.  It has been remarked that this evolving nature of literacy learning is analogous to losing “baby teeth.” I love this comparison, not only for its sentimental value but for its accuracy.  Max’s knowledge changes daily just like his physical growth, and I struggle to capture it before it’s gone.

It is evident that Max’s miscues demonstrate his growing understanding. We want to best support his language development.   We want him to continue to love learning and reading and have confidence in his growing abilities. We wonder will sending him to preschool support his language development?  What will happen to his confidence when he is taught that his reading is “wrong”?  What will happen to his enthusiasm when he is told he should use phonics and “sounding it out” like many educators suggest?  Will he look at the figurative B in the word Brita and know, that it could not possibly be the word water?  Will he, like so many other vulnerable young readers taught to focus on phonics, give up on making sense?

I know from personal experience in my work with so called “struggling readers” that overcoming a child’s poor self-esteem is often the toughest obstacle in demonstrating “reading success”.  In addition, an abundance of research exists that informs us of the detrimental effect developmentally inappropriate formal schooling can have on students. I am reminded of Frank Smith and his notion that it is sometimes amazing that children learn in spite of what they are taught.  I think of Denny Taylor’s work in Learning Denied and From the Child’s Point of View. So I reject the idea of learning “more and more” “younger and younger.”  I believe that a learning environment that respects children’s natural literacy development is essential.  In her book From the Child’s Point of View, Taylor (1993) asserts that educators should

“…support and enhance children’s learning opportunities, guiding them both in direct and indirect ways as they develop personal understandings of literacy that are both socially constructed and individually situated in the practical accomplishments of their everyday lives.” (p.33)

In apprehension of the dittoed easy word readers and index card boxes filled with sight words, I avoid preschool visits for now.  “Maybe in January,” I tell all the people. “When he is older.”  I know I am clutching on to Max’s baby teeth, his days at home—days filled with playgroups, story times, imagination and play.  And his proud, happy miscues too.  I imagine for my children a school that nurtures a love of reading that gives opportunities to enjoy books and play with language in meaningful ways.  One brave day I will venture out and see if such a place still exists.


Goodman, D., Flurkey, A., & Goodman, Y. (2007). Effective young beginning readers. In Y. Goodman & P. Martens (Eds.), Critical issues in early literacy: Research and pedagogy (pp. 3-16). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Owocki, G., & Goodman, Y. (2002). Kidwatching: Documenting children’s literacy development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Taylor, D. (1991). Learning denied. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Taylor, D. (1993). From the child’s point of view. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kathleen Olmstead can be reached at