The focus in our small town during this budget season is the possibility of moving from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten. I personally went to half-day kindergarten in this town and loved it, loved my teacher, and thrived. However, I also had a mom who was able to stay home with me and there weren’t as many mandates for what we had to learn during that time. “Killing Kindergarten,” recently published in the Huffington Post, addressed some of the current problems:
All around this country, families are trying to figure out why their small children already dread going to a place that was supposed to serve as a gentle transition to formal learning. They are struggling with ambivalent allegiances, not wanting to be the over-protective parent who babies their child, but at the same time not being fully convinced that their child has a behavior problem just because they don’t enjoy sitting at a desk, independently going through worksheets for a solid hour.
With the adoption of the Common Core, the expectations have been raised for what kindergartners are expected to know and be able to do. The superintendent of schools in our hometown explains:
Our elementary school principal elaborates on what half-day kindergarten looks like now:
“The social aspect, and some of the academic aspects, are being scrunched because of time constraints. . . We don’t even have the opportunity to read to the children every single day. It’s a race in kindergarten and how the teachers do what they do in 2 ½ hours, really two because they have a half-hour special every day, is amazing.”
I have also spoken to a few friends who have children in kindergarten in our town, and what I have heard is truly scary. There is no recess, toys were taken out of the room, often children do not have time to eat their snacks or they eat while they are working. The expectation is for children to work for the whole two hours they are in school. There is no science.
Let me put the disclaimer in that I am not trained in teaching kindergarten. My specialty is 6-12 science, and I have spent years studying how the adolescent and young adult brain learns science, and have been putting what I have learned into my classroom for the last nine years. I don’t have training in early literacy or numeracy, and I have never worked in a kindergarten classroom. However, I did recently attend a professional development workshop on the Common Core and we spent some time looking at kindergarten. As a parent and a professional educator, I have some thoughts to share.
Focus on the Common Core
I believe that the true work of children is PLAY. Children learn so much through their experiences, especially critical thinking and problem solving skills of both the educational and social variety. Using words like “rigor” in reference to kindergarten curriculum really irks me. The current focus on standards and high-stakes testing in education does not benefit children, in my opinion as a parent and educator.
I want my child to progress at his own pace, with intrinsic motivation to learn. When he first began to speak, the majority of his words were animal sounds. I didn’t drill those into his head during two-hour sessions where he sat still, he wanted to learn them. He likes animals and likes learning what they say. Now, my two-year old has many words and speaks in sentences, loves books, and likes to put pen or crayon to paper. I don’t force him to do any of this, he has picked it up in his own time. Just as I believe in allowing children to meet milestones like sleeping through the night and weaning in their own time, I believe that children should learn on their own developmental timeline. I didn’t need to refer to a list set forth by any organization to see what Joshua should learn, and I don’t need to test him to prove that he has learned.
Check out this list of what a four-year-old should know. Let’s get our priorities straight and make sure our children are learning what we really want them to know.
What Does Half-Day Kindergarten Look Like?
If I was to envision what the superintendent, principal, and parents describe, I see a boring classroom full of little worker bees. I see children sitting at desks, not talking, not interacting, not playing, but working. Pencil in hand. The old-school methods of “Chalk and Talk” and “Drill and Kill” come to mind. Energetic children don’t get to get up and hungry children don’t get to eat. I do not believe that this is an accurate representation of what our current kindergarten classrooms look like, but this is the sensational and exaggerated story that we are being told.
When we focus on what needs to be learned instead of the process of learning and the developmental readiness for learning, we are in dangerous territory. I would not expect my 18-year-old students to sit still and work for two hours straight. Many of them would be able to do this, but it would be boring for most and would be downright impossible for some. Instead, I try to vary my lessons to involve time to get out of our seats and do lab work, visit the greenhouse, go outside, come up to the board and share thoughts, have whole-class and group discussions, problem-solve, think critically, and work independently. Kindergartners are not all that different from high-schoolers in this sense. We know that not all children learn in the same manner, and instruction needs to be varied so that all children have the opportunity to succeed. I fear that forcing children to sit still and work for long periods of time will result in them hating school. If they start to hate school in kindergarten, how much will they hate it by the time they get to my classroom?
Sitting still and working diligently for two hours is not the natural state of a kindergartner, and kindergarten teachers know this just as well as I know this. I don’t believe that our highly qualified, creative, professional kindergarten teachers are running this kind of classroom. I believe that they are varying their instruction and keeping the classroom interactive, but of course I would have to visit a classroom on multiple occasions to prove it.
Would Full-Day Kindergarten Improve Learning?
I believe that full-day kindergarten would allow time for recess, social play, creativity, exploration and experiences that would ultimately benefit children. I believe that these important activities would allow children to learn the Common Core standards more efficiently when it is time to sit down and work. I also believe that children would gain valuable social skills and critical thinking skills during their play time, plus they would have time to explore science, history, the arts, world languages, and other subjects that enrich a classroom and make for a well-rounded education.
Learning Doesn’t Only Happen Within a Set Time and Place
All learning does not have to take place within the classroom. In fact I believe that we are doing students an injustice if we don’t take them outside to explore, go on field trips, and continue their informal education in our own homes. One of the most important and powerful things a parent can do is read to his or her child, instill and model a love for reading from a young age and continue that throughout life. But it’s not all about books.
Exploring nature allows children to learn about their own ecosystem: plants and animals, the weather, the seasons, the sun, moon and stars. If children are unable to go outside and breathe fresh air while they are in school, then it is our responsibility as parents to make sure they get outside to play and learn. I feel fortunate that Joshua’s daycare spends as much time outside as possible, with morning and afternoon walks in addition to time on the playground. I know that he is outdoors as much as possible, and it is so good for him.
Where Will We Go From Here?
Since the budget in our town has been cut and it looks like full-day kindergarten is out, I’m going to explore our options for when Joshua starts school. He’s only two years old, so we have plenty of time to research and decide, and by the time he starts school it may well be in full-day kindergarten.
If, when the time comes, Joshua is in half-day public kindergarten, we would have to find a place for his care for the other half of the day. I love Joshua’s current daycare and would be happy to continue to send him there for the other half of the day because they share our values of getting time outdoors and building social relationships.
However, I am also going to be learning about and exploring our options for local private kindergartens, including Montessori and Waldorf schools. I don’t know all that much about them at this point, but there is time to learn. Cost will be a factor, but we pay plenty for daycare right now and I’m willing to work for whatever we decide is best for Joshua.
What’s your take on kindergarten? Where do your children thrive?