Thursday, June 16, 2011
Kindergarten today is much different than it was when I attended in 1972. I have very fond memories of my kindergarten experience. I did not speak a lot of English, but I recall one corner where we played house and another with blocks. There was also the ever important nap time with our heads on our desks and milk delivered to the classroom. Not a lot of reading and writing was going on beyond the occasional story read aloud. We learned our ABCs and some basic number facts, but were not expected to read at the tender age of 5. I was not, as a result, doomed to a lifetime of academic struggle and illiteracy.
In many suburban schools today, kindergartners are expected to be able to read and write by the end of the year. When I first started teaching a couple years ago as a substitute teacher, I actually found this a bit disturbing. The students in my district's kindergarten program write daily. They are also constantly assessed in math and reading. If they struggle in any of these areas they are given support. In my opinion, kindergarten has become a grind. The day is long and, for some, the expectations are a bit too much. Is this a good thing? As a result more and more parents feel the pressure to have their kids "ready" for kindergarten. I am not sure that we have research to support the assumption that increasing the academic expectations for kindergarten students (and preschoolers) has the long term effects we postulate. This shift has certainly not helped us compete internationally. And I am not talking about children who are natural early readers and learn to read without a lot of instruction at an early age. I am also not suggesting that reading to children is a waste of time. (I am in fact a huge advocate of reading aloud). I am much more concerned about taking away the play aspect of early childhood education to make room for academic instruction. Play and socialization are essential parts of early learning. Some are even asking if this increased pressure toward early childhood academics is contributing to childhood obesity. I am not suggesting that we eliminate all academics from kindergarten, but rather reassess whether we need to turn school into an academic pressure cooker at such an early age.