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NCLB Outrages

Nap time a sleepy vestige of old school

Ohanian Comment: The article rightly attributes the disappearance of naptime to NCLB, but here's a curious assertion: Administrators no longer can afford the downtime as they prepare children to perform on standardized tests. Kudos to the reporter for not taking all this crap about kindergartners being well-suited to the new kindergarten "rigor" without allowing a few other voices in.

By D. Aileen Dodd

In the age of high stakes kindergarten, there is no nap for the weary.

It's no mistake that sleep mats were missing from several metro Atlanta back-to-school supply lists.

As educators set higher expectations for kindergartners, nap time is being upstaged by the push to get energetic 5-year-olds reading, writing and computing basic math by first grade.

Kindergartners at Pleasantdale Elementary in Doraville used to nap on towels in the afternoon. Now, they quietly flip through books and listen to soft music to unwind.

"We don't do actual naps on mats or blankets anymore," said teacher Sherry Hancock, who has witnessed the shift toward skills drills in kindergarten. "It's so academic."

Over the past five years, public schools have been phasing out nap times as educators have focused on meeting new mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Administrators no longer can afford the downtime as they prepare children to perform on standardized tests. Once a gentle introduction into learning, kindergarten has become much more demanding.

School officials say most youngsters have shown they can handle the rigor of kindergarten without naps. Children are coming to school better equipped to learn. Most have attended preschool and can identify primary colors and numbers. They can even write their names or come close to it.

"The capacity for learning at that age is tremendous," said Susan White, principal of Cedar Hill Elementary in Lawrenceville. "We want to take advantage of that."

Cedar Hill kindergartners don't take naps.

Naps aren't part of the schedule for Atlanta Public Schools students either, but teachers may still include a break time if they feel it's necessary, said schools spokesman Joe Manguno. "Some teachers will let them put their heads on their desk for a few minutes or just quietly read. There are no naps.''

Kindergartners at the Lovett School, an Atlanta private institution, also go napless.

Cobb County Schools, on the other hand, allows kindergartners to sleep or read at their desks quietly. Cobb has no official policy on napping, said Jay Dillon, school system spokesman.

For 5-year-olds used to snoozing after lunch at home or in preschool, a long day without a nap can be an adjustment. Parents who send bright-eyed children to school can get back groggy kids who sometimes fall asleep on the car ride home.

Bridget Dandaraw of Lawrenceville said naps shouldn't be eliminated because some children need their rest. "Children who are new to school, if they are tired, they are not productive and they are disruptive to the entire class," she said. "At what point do they not become functional?"

Dandaraw said her daughter, now a third-grader, became sleepy by the end of the day without naps in kindergarten at Cedar Hill. "She came home wiped out."

The National Sleep Foundation says preschoolers (3- to 5-year-olds not in first grade) need 11 to 13 hours of sleep daily, but they get only an average of 10.4 hours.

Age 5: No time to lose

Rested or not, children are expected to perform in class. In the first few weeks of school, public kindergarten teachers begin to build profiles of their students. They meet one-on-one to evaluate basic skills for the Georgia Kindergarten Assessment Program-Revised, a test which determines first-grade readiness.

Teachers have other benchmarks, too. The state Department of Education has established performance standards in reading, writing and math to get kindergartners better prepared to do well on standardized tests in other grades. Teachers now teach for mastery instead of exposure to certain concepts. And that takes more time.

For example, kindergartners not only have to know the alphabet and the sounds letters make when they are combined, they should be able to write, punctuate and read short sentences.

They also are expected to count change.

"They have to be able to name [the coins], give its value and make change up to 30 cents," said Pleasantdale's Hancock. "That is a high expectation."

That's why the only one sleeping in Gwinnett teacher Barbara Neville's class is the doll on the bed in the family life center. The Cedar Hill teacher makes the most of class time so her students, including the ones still learning to speak English, can achieve state standards by end of the year.

"The more we work, the better we'll get," Neville tells her class.

Nap time in her class has become "cool down time."

Students gather cross-legged on the carpet to sing songs and act out the lyrics with their fingers.

The movement is supposed to keep them alert. But on a recent day some children were yawning. A couple even stretched out on the carpet to relax.

"Over the years I found that the children weren't going to sleep," Neville said. "I felt we could be doing other things."

Risk of burnout?

Neville's kindergartners rotate through more than a dozen activity centers where they listen to books on tape, use computers to learn alphabet sounds and write their names on white boards. They also do fun exercises solving puzzles, tracing letters with clay, painting all activities to improve their dexterity for writing.

Kindergartners are required to keep daily journals.

On Fridays, only after instruction is complete, the kids play board games or whip up imaginary recipes in the toy kitchen.

Even though their day is focused on academics, students are having fun.

"Hey, look at this!" kindergartner Chelsea Yangnouvong squealed on a recent day after writing the letter "F " on a white board.

"That's exactly right," Neville said.

Cutting out naps may help squeeze more academics into each day, but some parents have mixed opinions about whether it's worth it.

"Kindergartners don't need more book work, they need to play, have fun and rest when they need to rest," said home school mom Charlene Peavy of Fayetteville.

Peavy said she made sure all five of her children took one-hour naps when they were kindergartners. "Rest and play are part of learning," she said. "If you push academics too young, you are going to burn them out and they are going to hate school."

Lawrenceville parent Evie Clackum, mother of three, says children have to get used to school without naps eventually and if they stop in kindergarten they get a head start. "The earlier they do it, the better they are going to be [at adjusting to school]," she said.

Dominic Gullo, a New York professor of early childhood education, who edited the book "K Today" on behalf of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says there is a downside to making kindergarten all about learning.

Not only have naps been cut back, but recess for some elementary school kids has been eliminated or shortened.

"Five-year-olds simply can't remain focused," Gullo said. "You start getting kids not only not paying attention, they are starting to fidget and act out."

Some traditional kindergarten programs in metro Atlanta have found a way to preserve the balance between work, rest and play.

At Hopewell Christian Academy in Norcross, kindergartners learn how to read, write cursive, add, subtract and speak Spanish. They also nap at their desks and stop for recess daily.

"Our children perform above grade level," said administrator Beauty P. Baldwin. "They need to have rest time during the day so they can function."

Kindergartners at the nearby Wesleyan School sleep on mats and go to recess twice a day. Most leave reading.

"We want to focus on the whole child, not just the academic child," said lower school principal Joy Wood. "You can't expect too much, too soon."

— D. Aileen Dodd
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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