Ahh. There’s no place like home, especially if you’re a kindergartner whose been sitting and working all day on phonics worksheets, or seated in front of a screen doing reading exercises.
Once you get off that school bus it will be time to finally make a break for it. Play awaits! Looking at those pictures in books are fun too. Books are friends. They take you places you’ve never been, even if you sometimes have to guess at the words.
But, what’s this? There’s mom, beckoning you with more reading instruction at the kitchen table!
Face it kid. You can’t get a break from the pressure. Play is a distant memory. Reading for fun is for later, if ever, after you learn letter sounds and rules and get out of those dull A level books.
Across the country, parents are being instructed by their children’s teachers on how to teach their kindergartners to read. They’re told how to analyze and instruct four and five-year-old children on learning how to sound out words and read sentences at home.
Here’s the 2020 manual promoted by the Georgia Department of Education, along with the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast called A Kindergarten Teacher’s Guide to SUPPORTING FAMILY INVOLVEMENT IN FOUNDATIONAL READING SKILLS.
It involves scaffolding, timelines, direct instruction, and strict skill alignment. It provides a video for every instructional goal, with a kindergartner who willingly sits for the camera and bustles through every instructional step. Reading is reduced to managed objectives that must be mastered.
This idea that parents of kindergartners must be reading instructors to keep their children from failing to read is troubling. It creates a sense that there’s a crisis. But the only crisis is that children in kindergarten are being forced to read early, and, when they fail, it is considered a crisis.
Some parents have figured out that kindergarten is too difficult, so they hold their children back, a strategy called redshirting. Thus children enter kindergarten as 6 year olds and kindergarten for them becomes more developmentally appropriate. It truly becomes the new first grade.
Other parents worry. In New Haven, Connecticut, reading coaches train parents how to teach their kindergartners reading. A mother expresses her concern. Her child is reading picture books but creating her own story about the pictures. (I’d say, maybe her own story is better.)
Mom says, What can I do to push her to be her optimistic self? How can I help her grow? Just because she’s a kindergartener doesn’t mean she can’t be reading at a second-grade level. I just want her to be the best she can be.
Mom wants her kindergartner to read at a second grade level! What kind of pressure are parents and teachers putting on children?
Who’s considering child development and what’s appropriate for this age?
Few remember when kindergarten was a half day and reading readiness was this:
- I can read my name.
- I can write my first name.
- I can count to 79.
- I use books the right way.
- I listen nicely to stories.
- I can tell rhymes.
Or read the chapter “Childhood as Test Prep” in The Coddling of the American Mind. Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt lament how things have changed for the worse.
Kindergarten in 1979 was devoted mostly to social interaction and self-directed play, with some instruction in art, music, numbers, and the alphabet thrown in (p.187). They cite research that indicates we are now in the era of “drill and kill” and today’s kindergarten is “sedentary.”
All of a child’s actions are micromanaged by adults who have either been convinced by corporate school reformers, or journalists, with no teaching background, far removed from the classroom, that teachers know little about teaching, and they need to push children to read earlier than ever before.
How many children are currently not making reading progress because they were pushed too hard and too early to learn to read?
In New Haven, the reading coach at least has the good sense to remind the mom to make sure she reads books to her child, but she is telling the parent that kindergartners should read 12 books a week!
It is difficult to know how many children will have difficulty reading or dislike reading in the future because they were introduced to reading under so much pressure.
Some children might learn to read early, and we should encourage children to enjoy books and the sounds of words, but kindergarten is too early to be forcing children to read and making it into a crisis when they don’t.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind. (Penguin Press: New York, 2018) p. 187.