When I was in kindergarten, I had one line in a little play. I said, I am Patrick Potato and this is my cousin, Mrs. Tomato, and I heard laughter. I wanted to be an actress from that moment on.
~Doris Roberts, American actress, author and philanthropist. Raymond’s mom on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.
In weeks to come, first time kindergartners will hop on the school bus and wave good-bye to teary-eyed moms and dads.
Kindergarten, a German word that means “the children’s garden” should be a joyful introduction to formal learning in school. If children like kindergarten, hopefully, they will go on to enjoy school.
But it has become an obsession in the media and with school reformers. Kindergarten readiness is made to sound like a state of emergency!
Look on Google and you will find dozens of articles about getting ready for kindergarten, including many that advocate learning to read. Formal reading instruction used to take place in first grade.
All of these articles tell us dozens of ways kindergartners should be prepared in order to succeed. Kindergartners must be readier at learning earlier than ever before.
The State of Maryland illustrated well this push for children to be better at kindergarten in 2014.
As part of Maryland’s ongoing commitment to early learning and school readiness, a comprehensive new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) was administered for the second time. This assessment is part of the new Ready for Kindergarten: Maryland’s Early Childhood Comprehensive Assessment System (R4K) that was developed to align to the state’s more rigorous PreK-12 College and Career-Ready Standards.
~Maryland’s State Department of Education, 2015-2016
By 2016, the state backed off and only randomly tested children. Education Week reported it as, “Readiness Assessments Fuel Jitters.”
So why are parents and children bombarded with so much hype about kindergarten? Here are some thoughts.
- It drives parents to push for change when change might not be needed.
- It makes teachers and schools look like children have failed in the past.
- It unjustly presumes that children need to learn faster to succeed in the global economy.
- It makes vouchers and charters sound appealing.
- It makes brick and mortar schools look obsolete.
- It makes technology and so-called personalized instruction sound necessary.
- It sets up nonprofits or for-profit companies to create money-making pre-kindergarten prep programs.
Parents want the best for their children. They will either remove their child from school if they think it’s too rigorous. They will turn to a private school, or they will homeschool.
Or, they will embrace technology or any other reform that they will be convinced will give their child a competitive edge.
The following variables are used to accomplish the listed reform goals.
Kindergarten Readiness Tests
Tests can be used to gather information about how a child is progressing. But kindergarten readiness tests that collect data are troubling.
Prestigious private schools use readiness tests to deny children entrance to school. Will this become the norm to gain entrance to public schools—a sorting machine of those who are capable and those who have difficulties?
College and Career Readiness
Kindergarten has become a time to align standards to the rigor of college and career readiness.
If you are an adult, do you remember hearing about being college and career ready in kindergarten?
If kindergarten is the new first grade, preschool is the new kindergarten.
In 2011, TIME had an article, “In Preschool, What Matters More: Education or Play?” They describe a mom who sues her daughter’s preschool for not preparing her child well enough to pass an entrance test for a private kindergarten.
The preschool in this mother’s eyes looked too much like “one big playroom.”
But anyone who understands preschoolers knows that education and play are synonymous. When children are busy playing, they are learning.
There are certain pre-reading skills that might help children get a good start reading. A lot of these skills involve curiosity.
But pushing children to read or write, and scripted assessments to measure continuous progress is counterproductive. It can be frightening to a child.
How many children tune out and want nothing to do with reading due to unnecessary pressure in kindergarten, or preschool?
Social Skills and Self-Regulation
As young children grow, a certain amount of self-regulation or self-control is important. Children must learn how to behave in public and at school.
But children in kindergarten are known for activity. They are still developing and growing so there’s a reason why they move around a lot.
That’s why making children sit for long periods of time doing written classwork and taking tests without recess is likened to child abuse. Expecting behavior that does not match a child’s developmental capability should be questioned.
Collecting data on how children behave and providing the information to outside sources should raise concerns.
Redshirting is the practice of keeping a child from entering kindergarten until they are older. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if a child is younger than their peers and not interested or mature enough for kindergarten.
But holding many children back from kindergarten especially if they are ready to start school is a mistake. Redshirting should never be done solely to give a child a competitive edge.
This could also backfire if a child winds up taller and more physically developed than their classmates in 6th grade.
Transitioning and Data Collection
How much prekindergarten training must children get?
Transitioning from preschool now involves data collection to see later if the transitioning worked. There’s even a federal data-base to see how children transition to kindergarten.
It is important to determine how to assist poor children to have a good start to school. But we already understand what makes a good preschool and kindergarten. We don’t need data collection for this.
For example: How many elementary schools have school nurses? How many children come to school hungry? How many school counselors are available to assist children and families in crisis?
Kindergarten should be an extension of preschool. But some children spend the whole summer beforehand learning about it.
Home visits and helping younger at-risk students learn about school might be helpful. Children living in poverty require help getting good resources. They need good preschools.
But do children need a pre-kindergarten program to train them that it’s OK not to be chosen line leader? Must they study line etiquette so they won’t be disappointed when they get into kindergarten and aren’t chosen to be line leader?
Isn’t kindergarten the place to learn these things?
Here are Some Things to Do Instead
- Recognize that children deserve to enjoy kindergarten.
- Continue reading lovely picture books to children after school starts.
- Don’t push children to read before they are ready.
- Volunteer to help out at the school.
- Connect with other parents.
- Teachers and parents must work together against harmful reforms.
- Refuse to permit children to be a part of harmful assessment.
- Be leery of too much technology.
- Parents hyper about kindergarten success might transfer their concern to their child.
- Reject data collection, especially if you don’t know for who or why it is being collected.
- Insist that kindergartners get several recess breaks outside every day.
Kindergarten should be a joyful experience. Do what’s best for your kindergartner. Help them to enjoy life. Don’t forget they are observing and learning about the world around them in ways we may not understand. Do not forget they are first and foremost children.
Gewertz, Catherine. “Readiness Assessments Fuel Jitters.” Education Week. January 2, 2015.
Samuels, Christina A. “Payoffs Seen in Smooth Transition to Kindergarten.” Education Week. August 22, 2017.