Welcome to kindergarten! This is the year children are introduced to school. It should be a happy time and place so children will move forward enjoying school.
A few years back we learned through a University of Virginia study that kindergarten was the new first grade. Five-year-old children face unjustifiable, draconian reforms that push them to learn earlier than ever before. Many have unfortunately embraced this new paradigm.
Like the Chicago Tribune’s depressing editorial “Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? Probably Not.” Such commentary strikes fear in parents. According to the doom and gloomers, children aren’t ready for school. Parents are to blame. The five-year-olds don’t know enough.
• They don’t know their numbers.
• Their vocabularies are too limited.
• They don’t know how to constructively play with others.
• They don’t know how to focus and learn.
This is based on an observational teacher assessment called KIDS. The editorial leaves parents hanging. They say schools can’t afford to help kindergartners catch up. Parents should have gotten their child ready.
Welcome to school, kids. Have a nice year!
There are class differences in the editorial’s points. Teachers rated 106,000 students, or about 81 percent of children enrolled in kindergarten in 2017. Those readiness ratings showed a stark racial gap even at that young age: 32 percent of Asian kindergartners and 29 percent of white students demonstrated readiness, compared to only 19 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students.
When did kindergarten become so harsh?
Concern about poor children who have difficulties that get in the way of learning is important. It’s another problem to actually put the stumbling blocks in front of those children so that they will fail.
Not all parents are buying it. In a rebuttal, “If Children Aren’t Ready for Kindergarten, Perhaps Kindergarten is the Problem,” Maureen Kelleher pushes back.
Your editorial complains that the new data could become an excuse for “experts” to “tout programs to spend money the state doesn’t have” to boost results. This misses the point entirely. There are many more important questions. Here’s one: Can families with young children make ends meet without sacrificing time with them? Not when more Americans are working two jobs to make ends meet, and few can take advantage of paid parental leave after a child is born.
Your editorial did not ask whether what we now require of children by the end of kindergarten — most notably, reading — is developmentally appropriate. You didn’t ask about the quality of care and experiences available to children between birth and age 5, or what we can do to improve them. Nor did you ask whether our K-12 schools are set up for success when children enter kindergarten — do they have the time and adults available to support children no matter how “far behind” they start?
Kindergartners according to child development experts are eager to learn. Most five-year-old children can’t wait to go to school.
But if that desire is squelched by expectations that are way out of line, and schools are structured without sound programs, their excitement will fad quickly. They will learn to inaccurately believe that something is wrong with them! It could affect the way they learn for the rest of their lives.
Poor parents also have a tough time raising children. They likely need help getting resources and childcare. What they don’t need is judgment from outsiders. They need economic support and kindergartens that work. Schools need compassionate, qualified developmental specialists, teachers who know what childhood is about. Smaller class sizes would help too.
In the 1984 book The Early Childhood Years: The 2 to 6 Year Old through The Princeton Center for Infancy and Early Childhood, Theresa and Frank Caplan describe what kindergarteners should be working on in school. It is not different from what children work on in preschool. But it is developmentally appropriate. They list the following types of materials and equipment that work best with children in kindergarten.
- Transportation Toys
- Library (Picture Books etc.)
- Dressing Up (clothing/costumes)
- Make Believe (puppets, dolls)
- Stores (Children can play act out vocations)
- Construction (boxes, paper, scrap material, crayons, etc.)
- Family and Community Play People
- Music Making (rhythm band instruments, drums, etc.)
- The World Around Us (small animals, plants, flowers, collections etc.)
Play is still the mainstay of the kindergarten classroom. Children have not evolved to where they need to work on more difficult material. Those adults who try to say children should be accomplishing more at an earlier age are way off base and need to be called out on their real motives.
Society should also be about helping parents be the best parents they can be through policies that help them find work and create loving homes where children can thrive.
Theresa and Frank Caplan. The Early Childhood Years: The 2 to 6 Year Old. (New York: Bantam Books, 1984) p. 385-386.
John Mountford says
Nancy, I have always believed that the early years children spend in school are vital. At the same time, I have readily understood and accepted the crucial part played by the family and the home in helping babies develop through those early years, often with little support. It should come as no surprise to anyone, there are huge differences in outcomes. Clearly, such demanding expectations will elicit different outcomes. In response, I have two observations I would like to share.
First. for those who, mostly, through no fault of their own find the demands of caring for and nurturing a child challenging, the last thing they need is criticism. In a caring society every effort has to be made to find the ways and means to help in such circumstances. Though not an easy task, it is the most important contribution we can make to safeguarding and strengthening our humanity.
Secondly, those who support initiatives that see virtue in blaming and shaming may need to re-assess their position when presenting their views, especially over early years education provision and practice. The rules we make and the expectations we have are ours to determine in this regard. There are invariably other choices that could be made. The approach to education in Finland offers an excellent example of how it could be different as this blog from Roger Titcombe indicates. There are vital lessons to be found here for education authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, John! Well said. Yes. The Finland way has pretty much been ignored. Difficult to understand why. We know in this country that reading is pushed much too early. Yet they start later and do better later on tests!
I always love Roger’s blog! Thanks for sharing.
K teachers know this but we are being told by the state what we need to teach- appfopriare or not. We have expressed our concerns snd have tried to push for play based curriculum but yet the expectations do not change. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to do what is right for kids but the pressure to get them to achieve standards is constantly looming over our heads.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Michelle. My heart goes out to teachers like you who recognize what’s wrong but are in the thick of it. I’m heartened by knowing that you most likely protect your students from the harsh reforms the best you can. It is appreciated. Have a good school year.
Roy Turrentine says
Two moms just concurred, Nancy. One was contemplating what she was going to do when her June baby turned 5. Our kindergarten people have to exit the level writing a paragraph. Ridiculous.
Nancy Bailey says
I am saddened but not surprised. Thanks for sharing, Roy.