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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 09/21/2009

More on Academic Kindergarten

By Valerie Strauss

Readers of today’s post on academic kindergarten raised a concern that kids who are ready for reading and writing and arithmetic at age 5 could be held back in a class that doesn’t stimulate them in an academic way.

Advocates of a more kid-friendly kindergarten are not suggesting that anybody be “held back” so that kids less advanced can catch up. A child who can read should, obviously, be encouraged to read. A 5-year-old who understands the concept of infinity should explore whatever he/she wants to explore.

The question is about how the non-Einsteins of this age learn best.

Do they learn better by sitting for hours and filling out worksheets--even if they are able to do it--or by engaging in sophisticated forms of play that help build problem-solving and other skills and by hands-on learning that allows them to explore?

I’d vote for the latter, and research bears this out.

There is among some parents a great need to push their kids; witness the frenzy in some places as parents try to get their 5-year-olds in “gifted and talented” programs.
Kids are, by the way, selected for these programs on the basis of the results of tests that are known to be unreliable for young kids. But the selection goes on anyway.

Because a child CAN sit and learn how to take a standardized test doesn’t mean a child SHOULD.

Figuring out the right balance is the key. The problem is that in too many places, there is no balance. There is a tilt in the wrong direction.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 21, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Tags:  kindergarten  
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Comments

How I wish I had a better memory of my own Kindergarten year! I remember centers, I also remember circle time and doing things with letters and counting. I wonder, though, if I was

"engaging in sophisticated forms of play that help build problem-solving and other skills and by hands-on learning that allows them to explore?"

This type of learning sounds wonderful. Have we ever had it in Kindergarten, or is this an aspirational goal?

I'm sure you've already thought of this, Ms. Strauss, but you certainly could write MANY posts regarding Gifted and Talented programs, and the problems with frantic parents, inadequate testing, etc.

On a related note, as an alternate to Gifted and Talented, some discussion on the concept of "differentiation" or "grouping" - the practice of tailoring classroom work based on different skill levels, would also be great. If folks had a better understanding of differetiation/grouping then perhaps the insantity around Kindergarten literacy (and Gifted and Talented) would abate.

Posted by: firstchap | September 21, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

In my other post on kindergarten, I certainly did not mean to imply that all reading and writing instruction is inappropriate for kindergarten. Some children, especially mature little girls, are ready for formal reading instruction and they should receive it. What is important, as noted by several writers, is to give children what they need when they start their formal schooling. The key phrase is "developmentally appropriate instruction."

Here is a personal story I love to tell: When my sons were little, they begged me to allow them to "play." I still remember the exact words my older son used when I took out the flash cards when he was five years old, "Mommy, I just want to play." I quickly acquiesced to this request but I was worried because a lot of his playmates could read and write fluently and their parents had them enrolled in after-school classes. My sons played at Legos, computers and ball. Neither son learned to read until first-grade.

Thirty-five years later, my sons have surpassed (academically) almost all their classmates. They went on to graduate from Stanford and Harvard and are now working as attorney and scientist. I feel that I made the right decision for them, although I know that two anecdotal experiences don't mean that much.

There is a lot of expert opinion, though, supporting my approach to my sons' early education. Professor Yong Zhoa of the University of Michigan believes that the American system of allowing young children to play (at least until recently) accounts for the fact that American adults shine in almost every field of endeavor. I believe he has a new book coming out in October. Jay Mathews wrote about him in August.

Teachers are in no position right now to fight the academic emphasis in kindergarten but parents still have a lot of clout. If they are not happy with paper/pencil drill and homework for their little ones, they need to speak up. I am happy to see journalists taking an interest in this important topic. We need you.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 21, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

The private schools and Catholic schools have had all-day K for years - BUT they also have a much older cut-off date to enter K and OFTEN recommend that children be aged 6 in K.

So, they turned K into 1st grade. That's what the public schools are doing as well. My children were aged 6 in private K and that seems to work better than forcing 4 (Montgomery Cty) and 5 years old to do work that they are not developmentally ready for (even if they are intellectionally ready).

Posted by: Amelia5 | September 21, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Column: "The question is about how the non-Einsteins of this age learn best."

The other question then is how the so-called Einsteins of this age learn best. If you deliberately leave out a fraction of the children in your analysis, then you have done no justice to the problem. Maybe it's hard to believe some kids read well at age 5 (with very little effort in teaching them) and some can write their names, but it happens with plenty of time leftover to play.

Even if you try a multi-level classroom, kids pick up on which group is the "smartest" and inevitably, some kids feel hurt and left out. That has a horrible impact on their self-esteem.

Neither parents nor the early readers/adders/subtractors etc. should feel reason to brag about their being in the group the teacher has to help the least. On the contrary, they often do and should feel disappointed that that is the case.

For example, had the classroom been designed for a full group of kids who are early readers, writers, and adders the teaching plan would likely include more fun activities for THEM such as:
1. Short skits or puppet shows whereby each child has a role to read from a card.
2. Reading simple jokes aloud.
3. Playing hangman with simple words from a story they've read together.
4. Writing each other's names on envelopes and playing post office.
5. Running a pretend restaurant whereby they make up their own simple menus.
6. Running a pretend grocery store whereby the products are low whole numbers, no decimals.
7. Making collages of large-font words they've cut out from magazines.
8. Having a book and teddy bear exchange.
9. Making letters and words out of their bodies.
10. And the classic listen and follow along stories, software reading games, and other games.

Just because they can read doesn't mean they don't play. Instead these kids have just spent the last few weeks tracing the alphabet and counting--what a serious waste of their time. It's a shame they're forced to put up with it.

Posted by: doglover6 | September 21, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

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