What do you remember about the time you spent in kindergarten? For me, it was a magical time of singing, learning to skip, and playing make-believe in the post office our teacher had set up in our classroom (we used those little silver scissors to cut stamps out of construction paper, gluing them onto handmade envelopes with that sweet-smelling white paste). We played with blocks, painted masterpieces with tempera paint — one boy named Tony got paddled for smearing it on the walls — and played foursquare with bouncy red playground balls. And even though it was only half-day kindergarten, Mrs. Liptak made all thirty of us squirmy kids lie down for a short nap time. We were rewarded with a snack afterward and then piled onto the buses to go home. We learned our ABCs and numbers in kindergarten, but were not taught to read or add until first grade. Everything about it was fun and happy and it set the stage for more formal academics in the years to come.
If you have children in school now, you know that things have changed drastically. David Kohn writes at the New York Times:
But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up…
In the United States, more academic early education has spread rapidly in the past decade. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have contributed to more testing and more teacher-directed instruction.
Another reason: the Common Core State Standards, a detailed set of educational guidelines meant to ensure that students reach certain benchmarks between kindergarten and 12th grade. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted both the math and language standards.
But does it work? Do tiny children need serious academic work at a young age in order to succeed later in life? Experts are increasingly saying no. Kohn cites several studies showing that children do worse when structured play is replaced with early didactic teaching. One study of 400,000 15-year-olds in more than 50 counties found that early school entry provided no advantage to students. Another study found that those who started school at age five had lower reading comprehension than those who start school later. A study of children who had attended “academically oriented” preschool classes vs. those who went to schools that encouraged “child initiated learning” discovered that by the end of fourth grade, the student who had received more formalized instruction earned significantly lower grades than children who were encouraged to learn through play, suggesting that the didactic instruction may have slowed their academic progress.
What do you think? Should preschool and kindergarten children be focused more on academics or should children be encouraged to play more and explore the world around them without the structure of formalized education?
Just for fun, I’ve copied and pasted the Common Core English Language Arts Standards below so you can get an idea of what children are now required to learn in kindergarten. You can see why there’s not much time for painting and playtime anymore — and why teachers are insisting they need full-day kindergarten to accomplish all of this in one year.
Conventions of Standard English:
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Print many upper- and lowercase letters.
Use frequently occurring nouns and verbs.
Form regular plural nouns orally by adding /s/ or /es/ (e.g., dog, dogs; wish, wishes).
Understand and use question words (interrogatives) (e.g., who, what, where, when, why, how).
Use the most frequently occurring prepositions (e.g., to, from, in, out, on, off, for, of, by, with).
Produce and expand complete sentences in shared language activities.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun I
Recognize and name end punctuation.
Write a letter or letters for most consonant and short-vowel sounds (phonemes).
Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of sound-letter relationships.
Knowledge of Language:
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on kindergarten reading and content.
Identify new meanings for familiar words and apply them accurately (e.g., knowingduck is a bird and learning the verb to duck).
Use the most frequently occurring inflections and affixes (e.g., -ed, -s, re-, un-, pre-, -ful, -less) as a clue to the meaning of an unknown word.
With guidance and support from adults, explore word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
Sort common objects into categories (e.g., shapes, foods) to gain a sense of the concepts the categories represent.
Demonstrate understanding of frequently occurring verbs and adjectives by relating them to their opposites (antonyms).
Identify real-life connections between words and their use (e.g., note places at school that are colorful).
Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action (e.g.,walk, march, strut, prance) by acting out the meanings.
Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts.