Kindergarten: On My Mind.

June 1, 2009

C-Man is set to start kindergarten next year (2010), which seems just around the corner. (Aside: how did that happen?? He was just a baby!) Anyway, our thoughts have, of course, turned to what is best for him, yadda yadda. Like all parents at this juncture. B sent me a piece from the NYT last month that I haven't been able to get out of my mind: Kindergarten Cram. The author's point is this: We are pushing our kids too much, too early and robbing them of what they need most as young children: imaginative play. Kindergarten began as an "add-on" to the grades and was primarily a socializing experience. Now, there are strict academic protocols, limited (or no) recess time, standardized testing, and homework (sometimes hours each night!).

One of the so-called top public schools in San Diego has their kindergartners writing book reports. (Which means, of course, the parents are writing book reports.) I've also heard kindergartners rattle of state capitals and such. Seriously, this stuff can't be sinking in. The kids are just spitting back memorized words, right? I don't know for sure as I don't yet have a five year old. But if a five year old is at school for 7 hours, why must he sit down for an hour or two of homework when he gets home? Shouldn't he be playing and running around building forts, telling stories and looking for bugs?

This article (and a bunch of others B and I have read) quote studies showing that pushing kids too hard too early backfires in a big way. I want to read more about Finland's school system, whose students consistently come out on top in international assessments, yet actually delay formal reading instruction until age 7. I don't think anyone truly believes the American educational system (in the typical classroom anyway) is working (not that this kindergarten format would necessarily be the only reason or maybe not even a reason at all....but looking at more successful models makes sense, no?)

I love these quotes from the piece: "How was it that the same couples who piously proclaimed that 3½-year-old Junior was not 'developmentally ready' to use the potty were drilling him on flashcards?" and "...part of what got us into this [economic] mess was valuing achievement, speed and results over ethics, thoughtfulness and responsibility."

Again, I really don't have any basis to have these opinions as C-Man is still in preschool. Maybe parents are happy with the new kindergarten format, I don't really know. Thoughts?
photo courtesy julie blackmon via nyt


  1. I too, have a soon to be Kindergarten student. It is a little scary and the time sure does fly by. I am a teacher and have spent some time in Kindergarten. It has changed a lot from the imaginative play to preparing for the state testing. The K-1 do not have to take the standardized tests. They actually start in 2nd grade at least in Ca. I think a Kindergarten class is highly structured by the K-team and how they want to "teach" children. I can not imagine Kindergarten teachers having their students do book reports. It's absurd. However, I did think about the thought that kids are like sponges and that if they are immersed in a foreign language they can pick it up easily than adult. Would this not be the same if they were learning the names of geometric shapes?

  2. Jora-
    I'm wrestling with the preschool issue. I belong to a Carmel Valley mom's group, and many of the moms were on preschool wait lists when their babies were still inutero! Who knew? I don't know how to navigate this sea of competitiveness and pressure. I want my child to enjoy his early years before he's enrolled in 12+ years of (rigorous) schooling. So I'm assuming C-man will be in a public school? I'd also be curious to learn a little more about Finland's approach.

  3. For the past two years my husband and I been doing the same thing. My Big starts kindy in the Fall and it's been a whirlwind of information. For preschool we sent the boys to a playbased preschool at the University which I loved. I think it has done wonders for them socially, sadly they don't offer kindergarten so we had to start at square one.

    After lots of school tours (private and public) and talking with other moms we finally made the decision to send him to a school that while it has large class sizes the school itself is quite small and really feels like a community. So far the experience has been great. Next week he starts kindercamp which hopefully will help him with the trasition to his new school.

  4. Great post. My little guy is nowhere near this stage (but time does fly!), but I'm outraged at the idea of homework and book reports in K. I think the saddest thing you can do is crush the experience of just being a kid... My own personal peeve is that it seems parental vanity is the driver behind this push to achieve so early. Personally, I have the fondest memories of K, playing pretend, learning social skills and lots of painting and running around outside. And I turned out OK! :) I'd be really sad if that's not at least mostly available somewhere for my kiddo.

  5. Sarah@asgnetwork.comJune 1, 2009 at 8:46 AM

    I'm a mom to a 16, 13 and 11 year old. I feel your pain. Being a parent is the most incredible experience of my life. My best advice is no one knows your child like you do. Follow your instincts as a mother. I believe a mother's intuition is an incredible tool. Society, friends and family can all affect your children but only you and your husband truly know what is best for them. Enjoy the journey!

  6. Funny you should mention Finland.. I live in Finland, and I have to say their school system is wonderful. Kindergartens are for children... it's play time and craft time and singing time, but mostly play time. No homework or anything at all. I honestly don't understand who would put their 5-year old into a school-type setting. Kids are supposed to be kids.

    Do you have Steiner or Waldorf kindergartens in the US? I highly recommend!

  7. My stepson (now 11)went to a full day kindergarten and loved it. It was half day english and half day spanish. They had three recess times for the kids to play, lunch in the lunchroom (a big plus for him - he loved that) and he got to participate in all the same special classes as the rest of the school - art, music, PE, library, etc. He loved being with his friends for 6 hours and really enjoyed school. We wouldn't have traded it for the world.

    Our new neighborhood school offers both a full day or a half day program. I love that. Kids are different. Some are ready to spend all day at school and some aren't. I think mine are the love school want to be with their cute teacher and participate in absolutely everything types but for those who aren't, half day is still available. One size doesn't have to fit all.

  8. I send my kids to a local private school. I have a 2nd grader and a Kindergartner currently (and 2 younger ones) and I have been extremely pleased with their program so far.

    I think their program is very reasonable. It isn't the most laid back but it definitely isn't like the programs which you have described either, which I agree are too intense for K.

    My first, loved to read and knew how to before she went to Kindergarten. I didn't force it upon her, she had a true desire and it came easily. She loved the homework, was a small packet of sheets that was due once a week and you only had to pick one or two of them if you wanted. It amounted to about 10 minutes of homework a week that just reinforced waht they are learning in class.

    My current Kindergartner had no desire to learn to read when he was 4. He's learned over the course of the year now and loves it. He also hasn't done a lick of homework all year. The teacher (same one my older daughter had) told me they don't have to do any of the homework really...that its not a big deal.

    She said she initally started handing out homework because the parents said they wanted it.

    She is very laid back. As long as the kids are learnign what they need to to be prepared for 1st grade she is all for the least amount of stress on the kids as possible.

    But thast the thing...what if 1st grade expecations are too high, right? Its almost like you have to pick a path and go with it for the entire trip....or at least K - 8 perhaps?

  9. We are struggling with the same decisions. This past year my twin 3 year old girls and I were enrolled in a Waldorf parent/toddler class. It was absolutely WONDERFUL! Unfortunately, the local Waldorf school (K- grade 8) is 45 minutes away and it just won't work for us once I go back to work. We were just talking about the school systems in Finland at our last class and it seems as though they have the right idea!
    We do have some great Charter, Montessori and private schools. Tough decisions!

  10. Oh, I have SO much that runs through my mind about this topic, especially after my recent World Tour of Preschools for Wito. He is an incredibly bright child, but I ended up choosing a preschool that focuses almost entirely on socialization and imaginative play. It was probably the least academic of the preschools I visited (yes, many preschools around here have children completing, we are talking about 3 YEAR OLD children.)

    My view? My son has the rest of his life to hone his academic skills. Right now, I want him to run and play and smell flowers and get dirt underneath his fingernails and just ENJOY being a child.

    With that being said, I am a firm believer of whatever works for YOUR family is what works for your family. Group hug! ;)

  11. i'm with WHOORL on the group hug...i think ultimately each kiddo is different and so checking out lots of schools to see what fits is a good start. I know in our neighborhood we have a great Montessori school that has a very creative kindergarten program.

    That said, my 5 year old love the structure of her current school, loves the art projects, recess, eating lunch with her friends, show and tell...

    who knows what we'll do with millie...we'll just have to see.

    I think no matter what you guys decide c-man will do great as he has excellent parents!

  12. It does feel these days like preschool is the new kindergarten. Pre-K is the new first grade. And K is a mishmash of grades 2-5. How did that happen? But I read an article recently that said tons of kids are showing up at K already counting to 100, already reading, etc etc. So how do schools respond to that? By making little kindergarteners write book reports I guess, which does sound totally ridiculous. Like you, I'm not there yet, but it's definitely on my mind.

  13. We're in a similar boat but we won't be starting with Cora in kindergarten until 2011. Seems forever away but it comes quickly.

    My hope is that I can still find a half day kindergarten program for her. I feel like all day is too much. Other than that I have no ideas, reading the comments with great interest though.

  14. Sounds like Waldorf is the way to go for you guys... where's the hesitation coming from re: whether Waldorf is the school for CMan longterm?

  15. So glad to see I'm not alone! Look at all these comments.

    I read the same article and it has totally changed my focus ever since. Of course, I only have a toddler with lots of time to prepare; but it actually hadn't occurred to me before I read the article that my daughter's kindergarten experience wouldn't be similar to my own.

    After reading the article and the report that she refers to, I also read "The Power of Play," which is a somewhat academic book, but does a thorough job of exploring the theories behind play-based approaches to learning and why they work. What rang particularly true for me was his exploration of hot versus cool media and toys; and the difference between being focused on preserving child innocence versus child safety.

    If you'd prefer no to continue with Waldorf, but private tuition and a longish commute are not out of the question, you might find this school worth checking out Integral Elementary in La Jolla.

    For public schools, the three best options my research has turned up (for non-competitive, child-centered learning) are all San Diego Charter schools:
    The Cooperative Charter School (Linda Vista)
    Explorer Elementary (Point Loma)
    The Museum School (Balboa Park)

    I'm just hoping that the housing market improves enough during the next three years so that we can sell our home here in Oceanside and move to reasonable driving distance to one of these schools. I am head over heels in love with the concept of The Museum School.

  16. It's worth applying to private school for kindergarten because that's the main in-take time. At the very least then you have options to choose from when the time comes. Private schools these days are like applying to college so it's a good idea to start looking now.

    We had a horrible kinder experience, much like the ones mentioned in your blog (limited free time, science projects, expectations to read, 25 page homework packets, timed spelling and math tests!). But that's not to say some kids don't thrive in that environment...some certainly do...mine did not.

    In the end we decided to go the opposite route...uber progressive. Math just got into a TAG school that has no homework, no testing, and half days on Fridays which are solely dedicated to social-emotional education. It's structured, but child driven. For progressive school you have to be the kind of parent who can let go of traditional ways of quantifying school success (tests, grades, etc). Kids who learn in experiential, child-centered environments do just as well if not better than kids who don''s just a matter of knowing how your kid learns best, a great teacher, and a loving support to get through it all :0) This exists to some extent in the public sector, too...some charter and magnets schools offer these kinds of programs as well!

    C-Man sounds so bright and might be worth looking into a TAG program to see what kind of offerings you might be eligible for. It seems crazy to IQ test kinder kids, but it's very helpful in the long run. Not in terms of smarts, but rather a tool to help you understand how your kid learns.

  17. Jor: With Anna finishing kindergarten next week (yikes!) and CL only a year out of it I feel pretty close to this topic.

    My advice: Be thorough in the school you choose, select the best learning environment for each child per year (their apptitiudes grow and change and I don't believe one size fits all), and follow their lead.

    I am fiercely protective of their childhood and creative fun play. My kids (and I think most kids) have a yearning to learn and explore. I do what I can to nurture and foster that but at their pace and with their lead. I take my cues from them, not "The Joneses".

    Many people I know have issues with homework. That was something we really looked at in selecting our school. I think the basic gauge is 10 minutes per grade starting in first grade (meaning 1st = 10 mins each night, 2nd=20 mins per night, etc.). Also, we don't do their reports for them, for the record. We let their imperfections shine through.

    Let's do dinner and chat it up more!

  18. Jor: One more thing...Many people are holding their kids back so what was once a program for us at 4 and 5 is now mostly 5 and 6 and even 7 year olds. It's a different world. Preschool today is what K was for us.

    I say stick with what C-Man presents with. Meaning if his teachers recommend he move on and the school you choose assesses him to be ready, then he's ready. If he's struggling or could use the gift of time, gift it.

    So far we've followed our kids' apptitudes and lead and it works. But be thorough to make sure you are enrolled at a school that is philosophically, academically and socially in alignment with you and B.

  19. Thanks! I have child that misses the birthday cut-off to start Kindergarten this year, by 4 days. I have been so upset by this, but know I think it is OK. IT IS OK!!!!
    We did put her in a 4 day/week pre-school that seems to be exactly what my kindergarten was like.
    I do think that if people hold back on this stuff their child will suffer, because they wil be behind. So, sad.

  20. I just read a book "You are Your Child's First Teacher" and it basically says what you are saying. We push our kids too fast and it ends up backfiring. Just let them be kids!! It's written by a waldorf teacher, but has applications to every schooling philosophy.

  21. Have you considered having C-Man continue with his preschool another year and start his Kindergarten at age 6? In San Francisco (where I am - by the way, this place is NUTS about the whole preschool "race") many parents opt to do this , especially with boys. I have a friend who has been teaching Kindergarten and 1st grade for a long time and she just had her first child - a boy- and she said she will be starting him when he is 6 in Kindergarten. She attributes their confidence in learning in part to the degree to which their fine motor skills are developed (I can hold onto the pencil correctly, which helps me make a letter A, etc.) I am not sure whn C-Man's birthday is, but if he is not 5 yet, I am assuming it is this summer. I am having my boy (Aug 2005 bday) start preschool this fall at age 4 and go for two years before starting Kindergarten. I figure, if Kindergarten is going to be more intense than it used to be, then I'll wait until he's a little older.

  22. This has been the topic de jour for my friends and me!

    Two years ago, I spent weeks agonizing about where to send my daughter to school. I toured many of the private ones here in Las Vegas and they were all so different! In the end, I picked the one that "felt right" and had a good balance of academics and play. It was also the only one that reminded me of the great schools I went to. The only problem is, they require students to stay all day, starting at preschool - which I feel is way too much! So I pulled her out half way through each day until about a month ago when she requested staying.

    I don't think I'll ever get over having to pay outrageous amounts for school, but when I started to research the public kindergartens here for next year, I was shocked by the curriculum (counts to 20, recognizes numbers 1-10, knows shapes, etc.) I couldn't do that to my daughter who is already starting to read, writes well, and can do simple arithmetic.

    I fully agree that it all comes back to instinct and knowing what your child needs. Ava happens to love learning and while she does have homework two days a week (in Pre-K) - it only takes 5 minutes and she always asks for more. Each child is different though! I am now in the process of trying to figure out what to do with Max.

    Like others said, your children are going to thrive just by having such great parents, but it is such a stressful and worrisome decision. I wish it was easier for all of us. Good luck!

  23. I think taking the time to really dwell on this now and figure out what is important to you is going to make your education choices so much easier. I am a teacher currently teaching 1st, but have also taught K and PreK for years (in both public and private schools). I think a quality program will have a teacher who will share these same values with you. You are right on about play and how essential is for social development, confidence, problem solving, and intellectual stimulation. Kindys should have time to play daily and no homework except perhaps book check-out. Here is a link that might be interesting to you about the Top 10 Signs of a good Kindergarten Classroom:
    In my experience I've found that parents can be the ones who get caught up in pushing their children onward no matter what. It is refreshing to hear from so many voices who are okay with another, wiser route.

  24. inesclement@gmail.comJune 2, 2009 at 5:03 PM

    I understood you son was attending a Waldorf School...¿? so I´m confused about this post...sorry I didn´t have time to read all the comments. But I´m telling everyone that after deep seach my husband & I chose to send our girl to a Waldorf kinder and Primary School here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She´s now attending a Montessori kindergarten until shé turns 4. Which is also a choice we´re very happy about.

  25. Two words: Waldorf Education.

    Check it out. You'll be glad you did.


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