There is an article on the MSN home page today about kindergarten: “Are we pushing kindergartners too hard?” It’s sure to get a gut reaction from a lot of parents and educators. However, the answer is far more complex than most people realize.
Yes, it is true that we expect more and more from kindergartners each year. Many of you may remember kindergarten as the year in school when you learned to play with others, sing songs, keep playdough out of your mouth, and write your name. But because of “No Child Left Behind” and dramatic social and economic changes, most of our children attend preschool for one, two, or even three years before they get to kindergarten. We can’t bore them with a repeat of what they have already learned. We can’t just review. Children love a challenge- when it is presented in the correct way. So we now teach pre-reading skills, phonics, basic math skills, social studies, science, art, music, technology, and health.
I think we are pushing too hard if we forget how young children learn. Five year olds aren’t physically or emotionally ready to just sit and do paper work all day. We must balance academic skills with fine motor and gross motor activities. We must balance work with play. We must balance quiet times with talking and socializing. We are making a serious mistake if we remove recess, dramatic play, or other “hands-on” activities from kindergarten. Children need these activities for problem solving and independent learning.
I think we are also pushing too hard if we forget that each child is different. Each child has his or her own personality and learning style. Boys and girls mature at different rates. First children and last children are different. Only children are different from those with siblings. Some children are naturally slow and methodical. I still occasionally have a student who has never been to preschool for even a day. As teachers, and parents, we have to start where the child is and go forward. And we can’t expect everyone to cross the finish line at the same time, no matter what the authors of NCLB say. We aren’t manufacturing a product: we can’t predict the outcome of 185 days of learning, with 100% accuracy, for each student.
However, we are not pushing hard enough in the areas of discipline, respect, and responsibility. I don’t think we expect our children to behave as well in kindergarten as our parents did. Again, I think some of that attitude comes from years of preschool. “Been there, heard that.” By the time some parents get to my door they seem resigned to the fact that their child gets into trouble. What they don’t realize is that in kindergarten bad behavior affects academic work. A child who constantly misbehaves rarely does well academically because they simply don’t have time. By the time they have misbehaved, paid the consequences, and returned to work, the child next to them has finished and moved on to something else.
Kindergarten is the foundation of public school. I’ve said before that work habits, behavior patterns, and attitudes formed in kindergarten may carry on into the next twelve years. I consider that a major responsibility. I want my students to develop good habits. I want them to make good choices. I want them to enjoy learning. I want them to learn everything they need to know this year to move confidently into first grade in May. I hope I can push them just enough.