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Kindergarten's Not Just Play Anymore

Kindergarten is fast approaching in our household. A part of me can't wait to have the transition to a new school done and over with.

We attended the open house and talked briefly with the kindergarten teachers. My son's been to the 20-minute orientation where he met and played with one of the teachers. And now, we wait. Pre-k graduation, followed by summer camp. Some vacations interspersed. Lots of swimming and other outdoor play. And then, back to the "grind."

Only, for the first time in elder son's five years, it really will be more of a grind. Only 1/2 hour a day of recess. Only 1/2 hour for lunch. PE, art and music once per week. And the rest ... a heavy focus on reading with some math and science thrown in. This is definitely a lot less free play time than he's used to, though it probably meets guidelines set out by Mary Ann Rafoth on the National Association of School Psychologists's Web site.

A week ago, The Post's Daniel de Vise wrote of the reading strides that kindergarteners in Montgomery County have made in recent years. Last spring, 90 percent of the county's kindergarteners could read a short story. Other local counties boast similar numbers of kindergarteners passing a beginning reading test: 88 percent in Arlington, 86 percent in Stafford, 90 percent in Clarke.

While it's good that so many kids are learning to read, it comes at a cost -- play. And play is essential for kids. It's how they learn best. I'm not alone in thinking this. Just read the letters to the editor yesterday in The Post responding to de Vise's article. Vicky Wachino of Chevy Chase writes:

"How many kindergartners are coming home to their parents, as some children in my neighborhood did last year, describing school as 'too much pressure' or saying they feel 'stupid' because they are struggling to read? How many young children think the early grades are fun? Having fun might sound frivolous to some, but it is key to developing enthusiastic learners who go on to succeed in the upper elementary grades, middle and high school, and beyond."

Joan Almon, Coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood adds:

"The demise of child-initiated play adds to the problem. Kindergarten teachers report that many children are at a loss when given time for imaginative play. Children are being robbed of their creative capacities, with vast implications for their lives and for society."

So, what's the solution? Do those of you whose kids attend or have attended full-day school make sure your kids have appropriate unstructured downtime after school to unwind and play? Do you see the same stress in young children as Wachino?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 30, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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Comments


Recently, I watched my second-grade daughter complete some "very advanced" homework she had gotten at our local after school enrichment center. She had just multiplied 25 times 84, arriving at the answer of 2100, which she read as "two billion, and one million." Which meant basically that she'd been coached at doing sums like a monkey, and she understood all the mechanics, but that the actual intellectual base was missing. Developmentally, she wasn't really ready to grasp such big numbers, nor did she really understand the relationship between numbers.

This is what I worry about -- first graders writing essays about Sandra Day O'Connor when they don't really understand what the Supreme Court is, all so the administrators can pat themselves on the back at how 'smart' the kids are. I worry that we've lost sight of what's develomentally appropriate. (And yeah, we're cutting back on the tutoring.)

Posted by: anonymouse | May 30, 2007 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Wow, did we struggle with this one! Our son went to all half-day kindergarden with a half-day after school program 3 days a week. At the same time we foolishly signed him up for soccer and swimming. BIG MISTAKE!!!! He went from a happy, agreeable little boy to an overscheduled monster overnight. We thought it was the transition to "big school" and rode it out. He was finally able to articulate the problem in a moment of sheer frustration after yet another evening of "hurry up and eat so we can get to the field." He blurted out "I do not want to go,go,go!"

We dropped soccer (kept swimmimg) and then only signed him up for one activity the rest of the school year. It made a huge difference in him. He's now in third grade and we have stayed away from anything that requires more than one or two evenings a week. (In our uber competitive community that means no soccer/hockey since they require 4-5 day a week commitments) So we do swimming or baseball and music lessons.

When given the opportunity he will read, play with his light sabers, do sidewalk chalk on the driveway (drawing elaborate mazes for his parents to find a way through), read, or just plain swing on the swing set. He has had friends come over who have no idea how to find something to do.

I know many parents feel that their kids "thrive" on the activities they sign them up for ("He loves hockey so much" "Little Sarah would be so BORED if she wasn't on 3 soccer teams") but for our son it just felt like a rat race. I am sooo glad we recognized it and fought the pressure to have him do every round of every sport out there. He needs his unstructured play time.

Posted by: Circle Pines | May 30, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I actually think kids do not get enough play time. Because my daughter is developmentally delayed she goes to a special preschool. I do worry she spends so much time in school. Although it does seem to afford some relaxed play. Not as much as I would like. I don't understand this push to read in the early grades if they can't read with comprehension. It must be all about the standardized exams because the kids in the end (HS graduation) are less prepared for college then before. There are more college kids taking remedial classes now. So I don't get this read by the end of kindergarten.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 30, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Actually, here it seems that full-day kindergarten helps. The half-day and full-day classes have the same curriculum, so the full-day has more play time and longer times to work on lessons so they are not as go-go-go.

Posted by: inBoston | May 30, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I was very dismayed when my daughter started kindergarten in Montgomery County 2 years ago at the pace and vigor of the work. She was not stressed but she was tired and I was appalled that they had homework everynight. It was compounded by the fact that we did not have full-day kindergarten, while most other schools using that curriculum did, so they had to cram it all in to two and a half hours, plus have music, PE, art and media center once each week. I hear from parents that it is much better now with the full-day, there is more time to relax for the kids. When my son goes next year, I'll see for myself - I hope so.

My daugher also went to an aftercare b/c I work and I found that they did a great job allowing the kids to decompress. They gave them about a 45 minute recess right when they got off the bus and then another 30-40 minutes for lunch. Then, they had a brief 45 minute reading or math group that was very low-key. I did limit the extracurriculars that year, which helps a lot and I would highly recommend that to kindergarten parents. Or, do stuff on Sat. or Sun. when they have the rest of the day unstructured.

I also have to agree with the parent on the math skills. My daughter is learning division and multiplication now, in 2nd grade, and does not understand number relationships enough to really get the logic of the problems. I don't know why they need to push all of this stuff before they are developmentally ready.

I will say though that my daughter has no problem with unstructured play. She loves imaginative play, shuns most toys. She and her friends play house, school, cafe, they climb trees and collect caterpillars, play on the swings - not very different from what I did as a kid. She loves recess at school and they have no trouble finding things to do and are very creative. So, I don't think the full-day kindergarten or rigorous curriculum comes at the expense of play if we as parents make sure our kids have that unstructured time and encourage them to use it to just play (not on the computer). It's worked well in our house.

Posted by: PT Fed Mof2 | May 30, 2007 8:07 AM | Report abuse

I think the acceleration of the earlier grades is an excellent reason to be certain your child is mature enough before entering school. Younger and less-mature kids will be stressed more.

I have one child born in the spring who sailed right through the earlier grades. The other born in early September had a harder time. At this age 6 months does make a difference.

You need to decide when your child will enter school at the time you move them from babysitting type-daycare to group/pre-school care. Then they won't be the only child not going to Kindergarten.

It's hard for parents because who looks at their two year old and doesn't see a baby genius?

Posted by: RoseG | May 30, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

It's funny how "now adays" we think we are pushing the younger children to be such good readers but it used to be MORE intense. We visited a one-room schoolhouse this past spring where they had copies of the readers actually used then. These were way above the level of what most students in graded school read today and the 8th grade (the last grade available then) was college level. Maybe there are some things we are too lackadaisical on in modern times and maybe our priorities aren't correct. I know every family can't fit in every activity but maybe some things should be done at home or lessons on the weekends, i.e. music and art, balanced with the what the child can handle at least at the younger ages because I beleive the arts in school are very beneficial but there weren't many arts in the old days.

One problem schools have is the inability to tailor to individuals learning styles. Some kids are ready for more advanced lessons while others are not. I would imagine it to be very hard to teach to a whole group of individuals who are at different developmental styles. My daughter gets bored in kindergarten because she learns quickly and sometimes doesn't get as much attention as other slower learners and she goes to a private school. I'm worried about when she goes to public school for 1st grade.

Posted by: Donna | May 30, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

This is shocking to me! I don't remember learning a thing in kindergarten (though I must have) but for me it was all a lot of fun-- three recesses, snack time, nap time, story time. We never had a single test, we never had homework and while I could read short stories, it wasn't something that was forced on me.
I look at the younger students around me and the trend is obvious.... we're focusing on standards that mean little if our kids can't think for themselves, can't socialize without adult help and are entertained only by a computer or TV screen.
I wonder what kids aren't learning when they don't have a chance to get into spats on the playground, or when they don't have a chance to argue over who found the biggest worm, or about what shape a cloud is.... I think it's all part of a dumbing down process in the name of intelligence on a piece of paper.

Posted by: IvyKid | May 30, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Schools' funding and teacher's compensation are now based upon test scores, most recently due to No Child Left Behind legislation. It should not come as a surprise that the focus on skills that are to be tested are the primary focus of the student's day. What's the upside to a school administration to be child-centered? We don't test for creativity, we test for skills that are easily measured and quantified. Creative play, unstructured time, and naps, while in best interest of the child, are not easily measured for the consumption of the adults who make the rules and who need to prove that test scores are always, always, on the rise.

Posted by: mj | May 30, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

My daughter went the first two years (k-1st) in an inner city school. We wanted to support the local public school system and decided to give this small (less than 180 students in grades K-5) a try. Due to the fact that many kids needed extra academics to learn the basics and discipline was a problem, weeks went by with NO recess. What was also troubling to me was lunch time. Talking was not allowed during lunch. It reminded me of prison. Kids need time during the school day to relax, act goofy, and learn social skills. Needless to say after the first grade, we left the school and enrolled her in a private school where they have recess every day and the lunch room is filled with a symphony of happy, noisy children.

Posted by: f | May 30, 2007 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Needless to say after the first grade, we left the school and enrolled her in a private school where they have recess every day and the lunch room is filled with a symphony of happy, noisy children.

Posted by: f | May 30, 2007 11:04 AM

It's definitely a matter of the school and the curriculum, not whether a child has homework or not. Our daughter goes to full-day kindergarten and has homework every night. She also has three half-hour unstructured recess periods per day, an hour or more of center time (she picks the center, within limits), and structured p.e. twice per week. Her afterschool program is very active - they are all up and moving. Her homework? it's a worksheet and/or something to cut and paste. Last week, we did a project on amphibians. It took us a couple of hours while she identified, cut, pasted and labeled everything herself, but we had a blast learning and talking about tiger salamanders. She has had a really fun year and loves school, and in case you're wondering, it's not because she's a star. She's average as can be and her grades are in the bottom half of her class. Did I mention she's having fun and we're not sitting up late drilling her on her weekly list words?

Kindergarten is your opportunity as a parent to get your kid on the right track - you can send the message that school is fun and make homework a time for you to learn and reinforce what she's working on, or you can roll your eyes when you open her bookbag and sigh as you pull out the worksheets. She'll get the message you send loud and clear. Make sure it's the one you want to send.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

You are not going to get a single complaint about kindergarten from me. My son LOVES kindergarten and thinks the world of his teacher and the teacher's aid. He's learning to read, so he's got a sense of accomplishment. He has a lot of friends. And his teacher teaches all sorts of fun stuff that inspires a love of learning: they studied space and the planets, they cook things in class, they hatched chickens, and now they have tadpoles that are developing into frogs. He talks about these things at home all the time. They have play time and quiet time too. I don't know if kindergarten is making him a genius, but it's sure contributing to his happiness and enthusiasm for learning.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | May 30, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

My older son went to a full day kindergarten and I was shocked at how hard it was for him. The teacher gave out worksheet after worksheet--which he had a very hard time with. He is a bright kid, but did not have the manual dexterity to make those little letters or color within the lines. He became withdrawn and disconnected at home. He hated going to school. So...for first grade we pulled him out of public school and enrolled him in a Waldorf School--where there is time for play and stories and music and art. No worksheets.
My second son is now finishing up his Kindergarten year at the Waldorf school--No he can't read. But he loves school and welcomes learning with open arms.

Posted by: Kate | May 30, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

What about kindergarten testing? In the houston school district, there is a vanguard program for "gifted kids" that is highly regarded and requires testing. Right now, I have no idea what the test is about. When I ask about it, I usually get a holier than thou response "you are not supposed to prepare your kid for testing" instead of a general description of the test. I feel pressured to subject my kid to the "unknown" test because I dont want him to miss on the opportunity to get a better education. Of course, there is also private school entrance testing which I dont have to worry about since I have decided against sending him to private school.

Posted by: rahel | May 30, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I am having a very different experience with kindergarten. My husband and I both work full time. Our daughter attends a half-day kindergarten program, a half-day kindergarten enrichment program, and an after school program, all located at our elementary school. To us, her classrooms look like mini childrens' museums, with play areas, plants, animals, arts & craft materials, and more books than our local library. The only homework she has ever brought home are Home Links, which ask the parents to reinforce a concept by helping the child do a simple activity at home (e.g. count how many circle-shaped items the child can find in the kitchen, etc.) The kindergarten teachers do not give traditional graded tests, but do measure skills to determine if a child is making adequate progress. The after school program is very unstructured. Kids can play outside on the playground, in the gym, or stay in the cafeteria and play with legos, board games, arts & crafts materials, etc. Our daughter has never complained about feeling pressured, rushed, or overwhelmed. She has thoroughly enjoyed kindergarten and made a lot of new friends. Through it all she has also learned to read well enough to enjoy simple books like "Go Dog Go" on her own, as well as some basic addition & subtraction, etc. I give our kindergarten program an A+.

I do wonder if children who come to kindergarten from a full-time structured daycare environment adjust more easily to the kindergarten routine. Before anyone gets excited, I am not saying that I believe full-time group daycare is better or worse than any other situation. It happened to work best for us. We had a private babysitter for the first year, but moved our daughter into group daycare full-time at age one, when our sitter became unavailable. Our daughter stayed at that center until she started kindergarten. The daycare center included a preschool program with an academic curriculum for 4 and 5-year olds. By the time she got to kindergarten, our daughter was used to being in a classroom environment all day. Her teacher commented at our first conference that our daughter was setting an excellent example for her other classmates concerning how to follow the classroom routines, which the teacher found very helpful.

Posted by: MP | May 30, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Full-day kindergarten was great! Arlington had switched from half-day before we enrolled our daughter, and parents who had had an older child in half-day said what a relief it was to have full day. The curriculum for half was the same as for full, but now the teacher could get through twice as much in the classroom and not send home so much homework. I admit I was surprised at the concept of homework for kindergarten, but the occasional evening struggle didn't sour our girl on school. She still loves it! I can't imagine holding back a child who wants to learn--she and her classmates seemed to eager to take in everything. In preschool she was very eager to learn to read and now tears through books. Like MP, I think her having been in full-day preschool/daycare helped prepare her for "real" school.

Posted by: MCR | May 30, 2007 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"And his teacher teaches all sorts of fun stuff that inspires a love of learning: they studied space and the planets, they cook things in class, they hatched chickens, and now they have tadpoles that are developing into frogs. He talks about these things at home all the time. They have play time and quiet time too. I don't know if kindergarten is making him a genius, but it's sure contributing to his happiness and enthusiasm for learning."

Arlington Dad --

Your kindergarten program sounds exactly like ours, and you described it so much better!

MP

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I know I will sound like a broken record, but if anyone has access to a quality Montessori school, it really has been wonderful in instilling a love or learning and discipline in both of my children. Also for those whose kids are having trouble conceptulizing math problems, make it tangible. Use coins or beans or anthing to represent the numbers. I think it is helpful to see that 3x5 is 3 sets of 5 items which equals 15.

I think the reading is so heavily pushed because ultimately all learning comes from the ability to read.

Posted by: Moxiemom | May 30, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Arlington Dad

"I don't know if kindergarten is making him a genius"

No, it's not. Intelligence is determined by DNA.

Posted by: Jake | May 30, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Wow Jake.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | May 30, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

A second rousing endorsement for Montessori, which works well for both gifted children and kids who need to move at a slower pace.

Kids emerge from Montessori preK and K reading and doing math well above grade level, and with wonderful experiences in teamwork and mentoring. Montessori offers plenty of work to help with fine motor skills and doesn't stint on free play opportunities.

Because the Montessori name was never trademarked, do be sure that your local "Montessori" school is accredited by a Montessori organization.

My daughter made a seamless transition from Montessori to public school. The only real issue has been boredom as Fairfax county insisted on sticking her in first grade and has not been able to challenge her reading and math skills. 2 hours a week with the Gifted/Talented teacher isn't enough, and she gets another year of the same until she can transfer to a full time GT program in third grade.

Posted by: Herndonmom | May 30, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I live in Mo. Co. and my now 1st grader started full day kindergarten, she loved it! Like Arlington Dad and MP, I have no complaints about full day kindergarten. She LOVED having homework, and was so proud to show us what she learned. (HW consisted of coloring, shapes, common words) Part of it, I think was that she saw her older brother learning and wanted to be like him. She made friends, sat with them at lunch, played together at recess. And she was reading by the end of the 1st marking period. And doing math problems 1/2 way through the year. And she did understand the math concepts.

Also, regarding homework, especially in grades 1-5, the parents have been encouraged by the teachers that the HW is for reinforcement only, so if the kids are having a hard time with it, stop. Don't let them get frustrated and don't feel like they HAVE to get it done.

I have not seen in my kids the parroting of facts without knowledge of the whole. Everything I have seen is shown in steps, leading up to the next level of learning. I've seen my oldest learn, and am seeing the same milestones met in my second.

Kind of funny related story, recently my 4th grader's homework involved the order of operations. Oh! I said, like Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally! He knew just what I meant, which I thought was really fun. To this day, that phrase comes to mind whenever I'm going through the spreadsheets at work. And they are still teaching it many many years later.

Posted by: prarie dog | May 30, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Since when does 'go outside and play' have a technical title like 'child-initiated play', 'unstructured play', or 'imaginative play'?

Posted by: play? | May 30, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

i think it depends on the child. when my son started kindergarten last year the teacher told me that he was ready & eager to learn. he wanted to learn. i'm not saying i thought he should be constantly studying but he was ready to learn as well as play.

hey arlington dad, your child & mine must go to the same school. my son's kindergarten class was a great experience for him. now that he's a first grader his kindergarten teacher has asked my son to come & talk to the class about what first grade is like.

Posted by: quark | May 30, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Well, this blog makes me happier about the decision we made regarding our son. His birthday is Sept 4 and we considered having him tested to start kindergarten next year rather than waiting the extra year he is supposed to. At the last minute we decided not to contest his academic year and now that I've read this I feel vindicated. He'll have one more year of "play" before starting school.

Posted by: Carrie | May 30, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

My son was ready socially for kindergarten after being at a preschool for two years. However, he just didn't figure out for a while that they expected him to learn to read. I think that he thought mom and dad (or the teacher) just could keep reading to him. Learning the letters wasn't a tough thing, but fluent decoding came much later(second grade). Homework was also a struggle, as he didn't have the motor skills to control a pencil well...but things have gotten much better.

Posted by: ed techie | May 30, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

In addition to the other factors stated, I think the rise of pre-school enrollment has something to do with the change to all day kindergarten. Pre-School is the new Kindergarten, Kindergaten is the new 1st grade. I know not everyone goes to pre-school, but it seems the majority of kids do. So, kids are entering K with a knowledge base that wasn't there back in 'my day'. (I remember taking a nap during my 2 1/2 hours in kindergarten!)

Ironically, I had a harder time with my oldest entering 1/2 day K, than with my second entering Full-Day. I think that was mainly due to the age - my oldest was still 4 in Sept.

I have seen kids maturity levels suggesting that they are not ready. (like mine) We struggled with the choice to wait a year or put him in. Academically, he was ready, socially, we learned, he was not. I am glad to see that the age requirements have been changed to 5 at the start of school. When my oldest started it was 5 by Dec.

However, now I am seeing families hold back their kids until they are about 6 to start K. Perhaps this is in response to the new K format?

I have not heard any child "describing school as 'too much pressure' or saying they feel 'stupid'", like Vicky Wachino states. I hear parents complaining about it, but not the kids.

Posted by: Another MoCo Mom | May 30, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Uh, Jake, I hate to break it to you but it doesn't always work out that way! I used to work for a Nobel laureate scientist who had 5 children, each of whom was unremarkable intellectually.

Posted by: MaryB | May 30, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Learning to read can fuel the child's imagination, not stifle it. I had the opposite problem from what Stacey describes. I learned to read early. I wanted to read voraciously, but busybody adults would keep telling me "you're reading too much, go outside."

Posted by: Tom T. | May 30, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Tom T.

"you're reading too much, go outside."

LOL! That must have been my mother! I don't know how many times I heard "get your nose out of that book!" And in the middle of the first grade they ran out of levels for me to read and wouldn't let me go to the next levels reserved for the 2nd grade.

Carrie,
My nephew has the priveledge of being in kindergarten yearbook pictures 2 years in a row although he was pulled out of the 1st year halfway through. Teachers said he was a completely different and totally ready student the 2nd year. Go with what you think is best.

Posted by: Donna | May 30, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

MaryB

"Uh, Jake, I hate to break it to you but it doesn't always work out that way! I used to work for a Nobel laureate scientist who had 5 children, each of whom was unremarkable intellectually."

Did these dullard kids have only one parent?

Posted by: Jake | May 30, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Here's how it worked for me:

I went to a preschool that had swimming, play, and everything else, but I came out of it reading at a second grade level and speaking French.

I went to Kindergarten half-day in the mornings, and after-school in the afternoons, where they helped me with my homework, let me have a nap, gave me a snack and "Circle Time" with kids up to 6th grade, then kicked me outside onto the playground until my parents could pick me up that night.

I didn't have extra-curriculars after I finished pre-school, except piano for a few years twice a week at my own home. I wish I had had dance or martial arts on the weekends, but my grades were always awesome.

I think its OK to teach kids to read, even in pre-school, but not at the expense of all play.

Posted by: Kat | May 30, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

"Learning the letters wasn't a tough thing, but fluent decoding came much later(second grade)."

My middle child also had problems with decoding. If our school had taken the "what's wrong with your child -- she must be stupid" approach, I'd be firmly in the camp of those who believe we are pushing our children too much too early. However, our daughter's 1st-grade teacher instead assured us that children progress at different speeds and that some perfectly normal children didn't master decoding until well into the 3rd grade. She did refer us to the school's in-house reading specialist, who worked one-on-one with our daughter throughout first grade. By second grade she was reading at the same level as her classmates and now as a teenager is a voracious reader and honors English student. Her teacher's attitude made all the difference in our daughter's educational experience.

Posted by: MP | May 30, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Jake -- check out the On Balance blog -- you'd be a great fit over there

Posted by: to Jake | May 30, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Kat

"I think its OK to teach kids to read, even in pre-school, but not at the expense of all play."

My kids were too dumb to learn to read by second grade. The pre-school teachers didn't even try to teach my kids to read.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Maybe this is a good argument for cancelling the rest of the crap kids are getting signed up for and letting them unwind at home. Not just during kindergarten, either--the need for "unstructured play" doesn't end with numbered grades. I am a mean and horrible person, but I would not permit my child to do kindergarten homework. As in, I would call the teacher and just let him/her know that it wasn't gonna happen and it was going in the trash. THAT is way too much. Amazing how much it helps for parents to set that sort of limit.

Having said that, I'm okay with kindergarten being more structured and intellectualized. Reading is absolutely vital to academic success and too many kids fall through the cracks as it is. I also consider it one of my life's great joys, and that started around the age of six. I'd recommend that any parent whose kid is learning to read in kindergarten strongly consider reading fun and funny books aloud. I wasn't much of a fan of Dick and Jane, but man, I loved what my parents read to me. Learning to read was therefore not a grind but a way to find the stories by myself. That's a great lesson for a child.

Posted by: krasni | May 30, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

This is a serious issue for my me and my wife. We have struggled for the past few years knowing that we would be facing this when our daughters entered kindergarten. And living in Tribeca with all the wealthy parents, we knew on our comparatively small salaries our girls would be at disadvantage. So we had a plan.

At age three we bought the girls used blackberries without phone service. Right then and there we had the girls learning to thumb type, use the calendars, address books, and agendas. At the same time they were practicing with email. It was hard because spelling is not a high function right now.

But I have to tell you those girls really took to scheduling. It helped that each had a 3'x4' monthly planner on their bedroom walls. Each night right before prayers we gathers and set up the schedules for the next week or more. We used symbols for events, handgun for NRA classes, cross for church, candles for birthday parties, etc.

Another technique we use is playtime at night by laying clothes for the next day so it is ready to go at 6am. We have turned this into a game with a stopwatch and stars for who has the fastest time per week and the fastest aggregate time each week. This has improved the time they have to do homework, classes, events, etc. (We even have playing in the yard scheduled, alternate Sat's 2:15 to 2:45)

I know some may just be critical and consider this as harsh and harmful but I must tell you these two girls are hitting all the key points in life and getting ready to assume and achieve the following:
High SAT scores
Scores of extracurricular activities
Top Ivy League School
Delta Delta Delta
Great job
Wedding
Stop working
Children

The circle remains unbroken.

I only hope with my wife and I are old the girls will take care of us like we have for them. Baby Blackberry's are the way to go.

Posted by: NYC | May 30, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

NYC

"We used symbols for events, handgun for NRA classes, cross for church, candles for birthday parties, etc. "

Ha, ha, ha!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

My son will be starting kindergarten in fall at a private, secular elementary school. We recently attended the parent orientation night and one of the parents said to the teacher, "What can we do over the summer to make sure [our daughter] is ready for kindergarten? You know, we've hired a private tutor to work with her on reading and math." My husband and I looked at each other, mouths agape. Our child doesn't have a private tutor to work with him on reading and math--when he is not in his half-day preschool program, he is at home playing. We both thought, "Is this woman crazy or are we the ones who are woefully in the dark?" Thankfully, the teacher quickly cut her off and said, "You don't need to worry. If your children can come to school and listen, I will teach them everything they need to know." Thank goodness the teacher seems to think private tutoring before entering kindergarten is unnecessary. A return to sanity...

Posted by: Newport News, VA | May 30, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I hate this. I can vividly remember what I learned in Kindergarten, and it was beginning phonics. We learned each letter, and practiced writing it a great deal. We practiced the sound of each letter and words that started with that sound. We learned to tie a bow, zip a zipper, do other practical things. We started spanish instruction. We learned to count farther and did some addition -- but mainly it was manipulating objects with numbers attached. Math was very solid. We had at least two half-hour recesses in a half day of school, a snack, and a nap (rest time) for a half hour.

Granted, back then it was the first school most children had been to. But I firmly beleive that, especially for boys, when you cut out recess you cut out the possibility of learning. Play is VALUABLE, critical even. I hate the new approach, and I'm considered a pariah because I keep my kids' extracurriculars to an extreme minimum in favor of unprogrammed time running in the back yard, riding bikes, and pretending. Along with no TV and no video games on week days, it gives us enough time to really focus on what we're supposed to be getting done: growing, learning to be slightly more independent, working on integrating sensory activities and motor coordination, squabbling and figuring out how to fix that, and playing games as a family. Sure, we work on our sight words and we read books before bedtime. But to my mind, when a kid never makes any choices for themselves about what to do, they don't have that skill when they need it later.

Of course, my kids are definitely not going to make any sports teams later, because they haven't been practicing team sports since age 2. We're just going to have to deal with that when we get there. There's always the individual sports - and so far, let me tell you, mine are going to be ahead of the game in track because THAT they are practicing.

Posted by: bad mommy | May 31, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

My son wil graduate from kindergarten tomrrow, complete with a construction paper cap. He has loved it--even though I blanched at the weekly schedule the teacher gave us at the beginning of the year. Math at 8:15 a.m. Mondays?
But for a while, math was his favorite activity because it involved playing with lots of little things. Then he liked science, because he got to measure and mix things ... and then there's a chance four days week to choose a play center, when the teacher works intensively with a small reading group. When I've been in the classroom, no one seems hurried. The kids know the routine and love to clue in the visitors. And yes, they have homework, but it's optional--strictly provided for kids who want to do it, often because older sibs have homework. For what it's worth, we mostly pitched it--my son would rather look up and copy train schedules.
But the point is, in the hands of some teachers, his kindergarten could have beena pressure cooker. But the way it was handled allowed the kids to feel they were in a safe, predictable environment.

Posted by: CHicago mom | May 31, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

NYC

Absolutely brilliant!

Posted by: Kristi | May 31, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

My son went to full day Kindergarten in MoCo and LOVED it! It was the best experience ever for him, even better than pre-school which had NO academics. He loves that he is able to learn so much. The only thing that was a little disheartening is that there were quite a few students that were over a year older than him in his class (he's a summer baby) due to the fact that parents are holding their kids back somewhat frequently these days. He sometimes campares himself to these kids and feels physically behind. I wonder how this will play out in later grades? Are parents too quick to hold their kids back in this new, sometimes intimidating climate?

Posted by: SS Mommy | June 1, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

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