The Pressure Is On, and the Kids Suffer in . . . Kindergarten?
Ohanian Comment: Read this mom's observation--and complaint--about the pressures of kindergarten, and then read the outrageous response from Extra Credit.
You can let Extra Credit know what you think:
You can post your comments online, though this requires a free registration. We should not allow this assault on childhood to go unchallenged.
Dear Extra Credit:
We have two sets of twins who are in fourth grade and kindergarten at a well-regarded public school in Bowie. The difference I see in the four years since my older children were in kindergarten is astounding.
I do not remember the older children having tests in kindergarten. Now they have tests at least monthly in math, reading, social studies and science. The tests are multiple choice so that they can practice filling in little bubbles to be ready for the Maryland State Assessment in three years. For this week's math worksheet, they were required to cut and paste the days of the week in order (acceptable to me) and then explain how they knew their answer was correct (what are they supposed to write for that?).
This year's kindergartners were starting to write sentences by the second month. They started with a simple "I see" and quickly moved up to things such as, "I go to school." They are expected to learn a new sentence each week and write it with a capital letter at the beginning, correct letter formation and spelling, spacing between the words, and a period at the end. Is this really essential for kindergarten?
Four years ago, kindergartners took a rest time for the first half of the year. Now, even the pre-K at our school isn't allowed a rest time. One of my daughters copes well with the long day. The other, who was in Head Start last year (where they had a full hour of rest each afternoon), is tired, cranky and overstimulated.
Both of my daughters' teachers are wonderful and try to work in some fun within the tight constraints of the curriculum. One of the teachers has told me that the kindergarten curriculum is what used to be the first-grade curriculum. What evidence do we have that this pushing is beneficial to the children? While some of the children can handle the pressure well, others cannot. One of my daughters has mastered her kindergarten reading and moved on to first-grade words. The other one struggles to keep up and hates school.
You asked [Jan. 29 column] whether there has been a change in kindergarten, and whether it is hurting our kids. I would answer yes on both counts.
Extra Credit: This approach to kindergarten appears to have produced significant gains in reading and math achievement for students in this age group throughout this region and in other parts of the country. The achievement gap between white and minority students has narrowed as a result. I have seen no research confirming your impression of an increase in bad side effects, but they might be there. Anybody have any ideas for preserving those gains with less pain?
For starters, take a look at the work done by the Alliance for Childhood. Contribute to their efforts. Don't allow any kindergartner be subjected to the abuse advocated by Extra Credit.
Alliance for Childhood
Gillian McNamee of the Erikson Institute in Chicago describes the ability to play as one of four vital signs of a child's health and well-being, the others being patterns of eating, sleeping, and toileting. Yet parents, educators, and health professionals report a steady decline in children's ability to generate imaginative play.
In 2004 the Alliance for Childhood, with help from Olga Jarrett at Georgia State University, interviewed experienced kindergarten teachers in Atlanta. These teachers described how play had disappeared from their curriculum over the preceding ten years, and reported that when they gave children time to play, the children "didn't know what to do" and had "no ideas of their own." For those of us used to the fertile, creative minds of five-year-olds, this is a shocking statement that bodes ill for the development of creative thinking. How can a democracy thrive if its citizens have no ideas of their own?
The Alliance is committed to restoring play for children of all ages (and adults, too). At the same time, it is placing a special emphasis on returning play to preschool and kindergarten education, where it fosters physical and social development, language development, imagination, and creative thinking, and enhances all forms of learning.
The Alliance's Restoring Play Project involves a multi-pronged approach:
1. A campaign to restore creative play and hands-on learning in kindergarten and preschool education.
2. A focus on playwork to help adults learn how to support children's play on school playgrounds and in parks, children's museums, and other out-of-school environments.
3. Research on the current status of play and academic instruction in preschools and kindergartens.
4. Support for public education efforts in conjunction with the forthcoming PBS documentary Where Do the Children Play? (For more information, see http://www.michigantelevision.org/childrenplay).
5. Work with other organizations committed to restoring children's play.
6. Maintain an updated list of resources for parents and educators relating to play.