Parents and educators, convinced that kindergartners must learn to read, might purchase unproven commercial online reading programs during the pandemic. The best solution for kindergartners currently is for school librarians and teachers to get interesting picture books and reading material into the hands of young children.
Standardized testing made pushing children to read in kindergarten part of the curriculum. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards contributed to remaking kindergarten. Now this harmful practice is interwoven into the kindergarten curriculum.
During a pandemic, it would seem like these harsh kindergarten requirements could be dropped. Instead, mandatory reading goals still highlight kindergarten.
A report by Christina A. Samuels in Education Week “Will Kindergartens Be Empty this Fall?” illustrates the problem. The report describes difficulties school leaders face getting parents to register their kindergartners for school this fall. But it doesn’t take long before they describe a push for academics.
Kindergarten readiness assessments are mandatory in more than half the states, with the idea that they can help teachers better understand their students’ needs. Other states and communities have programs intended to help children get off to a strong academic start by smoothing the transition between home and formal schooling.
Most troubling is the comment referring to the article above.
Unfortunately, laws and public policy have not kept up with changing educational standards. Kindergarten is now the grade where children learn to read. Where I teach, they must learn to decode all regular short vowel words, some long vowels, especially “silent e,” and at least 60 sight words. Children who enter first grade without these skills are already behind, and catching them up is usually limited to small group time by administrative fiat.
This commenter is convinced that such expectations are right. They add:
Still, kindergarten is treated as optional, both by parents who weren’t taught to read until first grade, and by legislators. That has to change.
Why? Who’s the wizard behind the screen demanding that four and five-year-old students read before first grade?
Comments like this place unnecessary pressure on parents, working with their children at home during the pandemic. If kindergartners are not able to read when they’re four or five, parents might believe they have failed. They might think their child is slow or has a learning disability.
Teachers are often blamed for not teaching the right reading program, by those selling unproven online commercial programs. Or teachers are set up to teach bland decoding exercises that young children will not find interesting.
According to Defending the Early Years, there’s no research to show that pushing children to learn to read in kindergarten is helpful long-term. In Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose, the authors document several studies that show it could be harmful.
The kindergarten reading push has become so engrained in the curriculum, it has been called the new first grade. It could set a child up for reading problems.
Some parents, realizing how difficult kindergarten has become, might hold their child back a year, especially during the pandemic, before allowing them to start school, a process called redshirting.
Those who accept reading standards as law, who continue to imply that kindergarten is a time children must learn to read, disregard the disservice they’re doing to children. Or they pretend that kindergarten pressure doesn’t exist.
Some imply that children are different today than they were years ago, that they are able to learn earlier. There’s no proof of this.
Here are some better suggestions.
- Ask children to express their interests. Get them books that reflect those interests.
- Introduce children to books about their cultural heritage and that of their peers. Books help curious children learn about the world around them.
- Present children with picture books, easy-reading chapter books, and reading material like comic books. Let them choose the books they’d like to read.
- If a child wishes to hear a picture book read to them over and over, do it! Children are learning the sounds and the words.
- Read rhyming books, and poetry like Shel Silverstein. Children love humor! More than ever they need to laugh during this serious time.
- Many wonderfully illustrated magazines will capture a child’s interest. One favorite is Highlights for Children.
- Let children tell stories about a book or whatever they make up. Focus on speech and language. Listen.
- Don’t forget the importance of letting children play.
We will get through Covid-19, and the most important thing to do to help children learn at this age, is to present them with many books that matter to them, read to them, and let them talk.
Make reading pleasurable. Contact your community library or your school and find out the best and safest way to get books to your child.
Kindergarten reading should not be forced. Reading should be fun.
P.S. Google is getting books to children by way of drone in Virginia. That might be exciting, if children are more excited to read the books they drop.
Here are several resource pages under Curriculum from my website. It’s a Hodge podge of resources. I am continually adding to it. Let me know of anything you believe is helpful and I will add.