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NCLB Outrages

No more naps in kindergarten

Ohanian Comment: Another ugly legacy of NCLB is the rush-rush-rush skill drill school day and the obliteration of the children's garden.

by Gail Smith-Arrants

For decades, boys and girls have arrived at kindergarten with a must-have from the supply list: A comfy mat for nap time.

Today, they can leave their tiny mats at home.

Across the nation, academic pressures in public schools are getting pushed down to kindergarten.

Not even 5-year-olds have time for naps anymore.

The national move away from naptime and to making kindergarten a more studious environment can come at a price, some educators say. Young children can be hurried into academics too soon, they worry.

Today's on-the-go kindergarten is not the one that baby boomers, or even some boomers' children, remember.

"Kindergarten has experienced the greatest change of any grade level in the system," said Susan Allred, chief academic officer for Iredell-Statesville Schools.

"We went from spending a semester playing in kitchen centers to actually teaching them to read and write."

Instead of naps, some teachers ask children to rest their heads on their desks for about 20 minutes. They use the time to work one-on-one with students who need extra help.

Brian Schultz, principal at Royal Oaks Elementary in Cabarrus County, has seen National Sleep Foundation data that show preschoolers need at least 11 hours of sleep a night.

"A lot of times we just dismiss bad behavior for other things, and sometimes it's as simple as students not having enough sleep," Schultz said. "I'll bet we have some kids who are sleeping six hours."

Quiet time instead

In Lisa Gurley's class at Forest Park Elementary in Kannapolis, children rest for 15 to 20 minutes after lunch."This just gives them a little bit of down time," she said.

One day, Gurley turned off the lights and put on a CD of Celine Dion singing lullabies. Some students read books; others put their heads down on their desks.

Bodies wiggled. Legs swung back and forth. None fell asleep.

Gurley uses the quiet time to assess students. Destiny Stewart, 5, was fidgeting, so Gurley asked her to come over to a work table.

She took both of Destiny's hands into hers, and looking into her eyes, said, "What makes this sound -- `mmmm'? What is the first sound in the word `man?' "

"M!" Destiny said, smiling.

When Gurley started teaching kindergarten 13 years ago, kids napped for about 40 minutes a day. Today, many come to kindergarten already learning and have been exposed to a school-like setting in preschool, she said.

"We don't really encourage them to sleep," she said. "We're constantly going all day long."

Lots to get done

The first kindergarten in the U.S. opened in Wisconsin in the 1850s.

Many churches offered kindergarten before states did. In N.C. public schools, full-day kindergarten wasn't available to all children until 1976.

And until seven to 10 years ago, it included a nice nap.

Nowadays, "You really don't have time for naps," said Linda Morris, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum. "Kindergarten has become much more academic than even 10 years ago."

Schools now have to meet stricter achievement standards set by the states and by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Students in the Carolinas don't start taking achievement tests until third grade, but teachers start assessing them in kindergarten and first and second grades.

There's just not enough time in the day, said Wally Zahler, elementary education director for the Catawba County Schools.

His system evaluates kindergartners three times a year in math, reading and writing. Teachers have 61/2 hours a day to bring students up to grade level.

Any N.C. school that was still offering nap time probably gave it up this year after trying to phase in the 30 minutes of daily physical activity now required under the state's Healthy Weight Initiative, Zahler said.

But kindergarten shouldn't be first grade "pushed down to kindergarten," said Sarah Lynn Hayes, director of curriculum support in the Rock Hill school district.

"They can decide that learning is not fun, that learning is just something the teacher wants me to do, and to make Mom and Dad happy," she said.

Sleep needs

The whirl of today's family life sometimes interferes with sleep and with learning, Hayes said.

"Some children go from 6 in the morning until whenever at night," she said. "We're getting them to soccer, dance; we're grabbing meals. Research is finding so many of our kids are sleep-deprived."

At Royal Oaks, one former kindergarten student often napped in the school's office because she rode in her mom's taxicab at night. A few weeks ago, another slept in the office for three hours, said Schultz, the principal.

Kie've Brown, who turned 6 in December, struggled after starting kindergarten at Royal Oaks last August, said his mother, Shakiar Brown.

She had to wake him up at the sitter's house after her night classes, so he was sleeping maybe seven to eight hours. After Schultz suggested Kie've take a nap in the office, "immediately there was a change," Brown said.

"He was happier. He was more productive," she said. "If he's sleepy, he would get aggravated."

Since kindergartners are learning more at an earlier age, Brown said, "I don't think it's a wise idea to cut out the naps when they need it more."

But as long as they're expected to learn reading, writing and math in 61/2 hours, naps will be a thing of the past, Morris said.

"This is not your mama's kindergarten," she said.

gsmith-arrants@charlotteobserver.com

— Gail Smith-Arrants
Charlotte Observer
2006-05-01


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