Eeeek! Kindergarten!

Research on what to do come kindergarten time is freaking me out. I’m appalled at how aggressive kindergarten is, both academically and socially.

Research shows kids shouldn’t be forced to read until second grade, and that countries who begin reading instruction at age eight have a 100% literacy rate. Could be correlation, but it could be that waiting helps more children learn. That homework and formal instruction in kindergarten are counter-productive. But public schools aren’t listening. Maybe they can’t, given how many layers of legislation governments pile on the how, why, what, and when of teaching.

I want play-based kindergarten. I don’t want formal reading education until second grade (that’s what public school was when I was a kid) or homework until middle school.

I want choices.

But paying a high price for the kind of schools we went to as children versus public subsidized pressure cookers for small children isn’t really a choice. A five-year-old who is struck by fits of noise, movement, and lack of focus isn’t disordered. They’re normal.

Why isn’t there an option for elementary school that honors a child’s developmental needs? Why doesn’t my area have charter schools that are trying out ideas based on research rather than legislation? Why is there no play-based option for kindergarten? Why am I not thinking seriously about homeschooling or unschooling when that makes more sense than cramming 20 five-year-olds into small chairs and insisting that they sit still for hours on end? How can I disagree with the way government runs schools without sounding like I believe science is a theory?
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20 thoughts on “Eeeek! Kindergarten!

  1. Eeeek is right. I am right there with you, in addition to all the other icky things about schools here, play-based and no homework options simply do not exist.

    I resent that they can’t go to public school, I resent the aggressive and controlling conceptions about learning and education, I resent the institutional-think that is so ingrained that it seems invisible to everyone, I resent being reassured that my 4-year-old is obedient and knows his letters and numbers.

    Every time I think about it I feel eeeeek-ier.

    I feel like an unschooler at heart, but for lots of reasons, I think I’m going to be more like an after-school de-schooler, which is sure to fail but is the best I can do. It makes me sad that I had a way more critical and positive school experience than they probably will.

    I hope you find a good option. Maybe some kind of co-op with like-minded folk? If there were any like-minded folk around here I would be all over it.

    Wishing you luck and sympathies…

  2. I would be surprised if there weren’t options like that in the bay area. But then again, you wouldn’t find it in the public schools, I’m sure. I don’t know if eldest will be mainstreamed into a regular kindergarten class or not, but if he is, I expect that there are going to be lots of behavior issues. He doesn’t sit still unless the TV is on, so I have no idea how he’s going to survive sitting in a desk for more than ten minutes (and that’s pushing it!!) at a time.

    Even more disheartening is the fact that if we move to Chicago, we’re going to have a gap in preschooling momentarily. I don’t know if we’ll have to get him re-tested, or even if there are similar programs that would help a kid with speech delays in Illinois. Maybe we’d hold him out of kindergarten for another year. Who knows? I do know that I am incapable of homeschooling. I just don’t have the pedagogical know-how to do right by him.

    Schooling really shouldn’t be so stressful. And yet, here we are.

  3. I want the opposite. We didn’t force (or even teach– Starfall did that) our 3 year old to read at a third grade level, but he does. We don’t make him enjoy first-grade “homework books” but he asks for them as gifts (the grandparents introduced the first one). He thrives in an academic environment. We want to skip him a grade.

    And I’m sick of people telling us that we’re pushing him. We want him to be challenged because we don’t want him sliding through life bored on his brain power until he hits college or graduate school and is forced to think for the first time. Learning is FUN for kids no matter what adults think. There’s nothing forced about it.

  4. i have one highly creative academically focused child and one highly creative child i am beginning to think is dyslexic. why am i even having to consider one of them dyslexic? because letters and reading are giving her trouble? SHE’S FOUR!!! is one of them going to be really successful in public school, and the other shoved into some kind of remedial situation? miss dyslexic is really smart, too, just in a different way than the other smarty-pants. kindergarten is in one and a half years. the panic starts now.

  5. I feel you. I went through the same frustration when my eldest was about to start Kindergarten. I was so appalled at what I saw that we actually moved out of Dodge to find better alternatives. My advice to you is to find a school where you know your child will have an actual recess time. And gym. At least twice a week. There’s absolutely no way a kid can learn if they can’t move.

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way.
    I remember enjoying kindergarten, half-day kindergarten. I remember blocks, the play kitchen, coloring “About Me” books, making Jiffy cookies in a wok, and being interviewed for my biography to be written by a 5th grader, which still states that my favorite movie star is Kermit the Frog.
    Those memories in no way correlate with the kindergarten of today. Twelve years ago I became certified as an elementary school teacher. In those twelve years, I’ve never headed up a classroom. The teacher I wanted to be doesn’t fit into today’s public school system. I’m glad you posted this. I not only feel better about my own choices, but also about my perception about the development of my own children. :) Thanks.

  7. I KNOW! I really like the school Evan goes to. A lot of play. A lot of hands on learning and experimenting. It does have homework though, but it’s weekly and fun stuff like skip for two minutes or draw a pumpkin. And the teachers instructed the parents not to push the homework and if the kid resists, let them know so they can help. Now, I have to start looking for a first grade and I’m scared witless.

  8. Lots of luck to you. Yes my baby is only eight months old but thanks to my own colorful experiences in the public school system I am already thinking about homeschooling/unschooling…let’s hope we both find the right solutions for our families.

  9. Ah, the public school system. So much to write, so little space. We’ve been through KDG twice, and I must say much to my relief, both girls had fantastic yet two different experiences. My oldest already knew how to read upon entering (and no, we didn’t teach her or force her, she just “got it” and I still am mystified by it) but benefitted from the social learning as well as dealing with transitions. My little one did not know how to read, but thrived because she was so eager to learn. I think there were two keys to our experience:
    1. half-day KDG. Many districts in our area our full-day but I have come to value the half-day. Plenty was accomplished but it still left plenty room in our day for play.
    2. we had fantastic teachers. I cannot emphasize enough…no matter what method of schooling you choose, whether it be Montessori, homeschooling, public or private school, if your teacher doesn’t “get” your child, nothing good will come of it. Get to know the teacher, and make SURE the teacher truly gets to know your child.

    On another interesting note…in Illinois, KDG is not mandatory, do you know if it is in your state?

  10. Ah, dear readers, you’re so awesome.
    In reverse order, this time…

    Gibby: thank you so much. I *completely* agree about the teacher being the difference. And about half day. Kindergarten is not mandatory in my state. And I know full well that there are children who read early without pushing. I do not judge parents of early readers (except the ones who put their kids in front a of computer to “teach” them to read way too early). I judge schools that start before age 7.

    Yuliya: that’s the ideal goal, isn’t it? That we all figure out what’s right for our families.

    Faemom: I wish I had homework like that. Don’t even freak me out about first grade. Ugh. And good luck.

    Colleen: thank so much for echoing my sentiments. I have a Colleen friend who is also a teacher upset by what schools ask of teachers pedagogically. You’re not the only one to abandon the profession because legislators are changing schools into factories.

    TKW: $20k a year. Don’t have a tenth of that. Scholarships, maybe. But believe me, they’re on the list.

    MacDougal, you’re right. And I’m demanding five days a week. Not just at lunch, either.

    j: that’s the beauty of twins, right? Different strengths and different weaknesses. P is interested in letters right now despite my trying to keep him out of the symbolic for a while. And he writes EVERYTHING upside down and backwards (right to left). It’s awesome. And we don’t correct because why? He’s four. Letters will come. And he’s a perfectionist, which means he’s devastated to find out he’s “wrong”. But he’s not. He’ll learn from reading that letters go left to right. And he’ll correct himself. So will your not at all dyslexic one.

    Nicoleandmaggie: Every child is different and they learn when they’re ready. I totally get that. But teaching them that there are “right” and “wrong” answers so young means they stop playing creatively and start fearing the risk inherent in answering. Workbooks are counter-productive for young children under age 7, according to most child development research. If he enjoys ’em, great. Is he praised for doing them? Because he might like to get the feedback, not like the actual activity. I don’t know him so I don’t know. And learning to read from a website at age 3 is counter to everything child development experts recommend, but he’s your child, so do what you want. People shouldn’t be saying you’re pushing because it’s none of their business. I just know that kids who learn naturally because they want to, learn more and longer into their lives than those taught by flashcards and drills way before they’re ready. Age three is in the preoperational phase and most kids aren’t ready for operational phase activities like reading and workbooks until age 7. But, as I said to Gibby, some kids are wired to read early. In my world they do that with books and adults not technology. Doesn’t mean you’re forcing. But the ways schools attach rewards to results and punishment to inability, to me, is forcing.

    Fie, there are a few options, but they’re more prohibitive than housing, and you know how bad that is. Is there a way to ask your school for recommendations in Chicago? Put it out on speech/language boards online? Find a network at your new University if anyone sends their child somewhere awesome? Call the school district now to see if the XYZUSD out here can talk to the ABCUSD out there and send his files?

    Macondo, it’s good to have your experiences back here at Naptime. I think I’ll wind up with the same compromise you’re making. And all four of ours will be fine. Right?

  11. I actually liked that they did curriculum in our kindergarten — letters and numbers and writing. The kids were eager to learn. But our kindy teacher was also very cool: she showed us how Eldest wrote backwards and out of order or whatever and said that’s a developmental thing. It wasn’t like they were going for perfection by any stretch of the imagination. And they also didn’t ONLY do that. It was a tiny part of a very play-based action-filled day. But I know that we were lucky to have such a great school. Have heard of some not-so-happy stories, too, and I’m sorry for those situations because young kids need to move and run and pretend and play and create (not just sit and do work all the time)!

  12. Ink, I’m totally game for letters and numbers. Out here they’re keeping kids back if they can’t read by the end of kindergarten. And some public schools let the kindergartens on the playground only twice a week because they have to share with the other classes.
    I’d be more than happy with the school you found. I wish we had a choice like that.

  13. Oh my goodness, really? Keeping them back? That’s horrible.

    And the playground only 2x per week? Cruel and unusual punishment for kiddos…

    Really thought that your neck of the woods would have superb options! Aw, Nap, I’m so sorry to hear that.

  14. Sorry to pipe in again, but this is a topic close to all of our hearts, I guess. I am surprised that your district would hold non-readers back. But what do they consider a reader? Our KDG wanted all kids to be reading at a certain level by the end and I panicked, but when I realized what level they were aiming for, I calmed considerably. All the kids reached it, because after learning their letters and sounds, this level of reading just happened. The goal wasn’t chapter books or anything like that.

    As for the playground, our KDG didn’t have any playground time. I hated that, but realized that they were only in school for 2.5 hours, and that included PE, music, and art class. There really was no time. But let me tell you, those kids were ready to play at the end of class, and my kids made the most of it! It’s almost as if they played better, if that makes any sense.

  15. Gibby, I am so glad you brought up the “how long are they there” issue because no play in a full day is disgusting, but no play in an hour or two is a different issue. And you’re also right that the definition of reading is important to consider, even though I still don’t believe they should have any reading goals until second grade.

    Come back as often as you want. Your feedback is always interesting, and in this case you’ve been through this twice so your opinion is even *more* valuable.

    I’m early in the process, and I’ll undoubtedly let you all know what I find.

  16. I am sad that my daughter age nine is so scared of making a mistake she won’t raise her hand in class and ask a question.

    I am sad that my daughter is falling further and further behind her classmates and that we are given extra homework and she doesn’t have time to be a kid. Especially since it is becoming clearer to me that she probably is dyslexic but because her behaviour is so perfect she has become invisible and i look like a paranoid mother pushing for testing to explain my parental failures.

    I am super sad that if she doesn’t finish all her homework she is given a detention. She is TERRIFIED of getting a detention.

    I am sad that I am told in parent teacher interviews that if I did more work with her at home she would improve. When do they want me to be doing this work, the child is 9 and already has 30mins of homework plus reading every after noon.

    I desperately want to homeschool my poor darling daughter, but I have a mental illness and wouldn’t cope. I feel like I have failed my daughter, even though I know in my head that it’s the education system that has done so, my heart still breaks every time I hear her call herself stupid.

  17. You know I am 100% with you on everything. It was the very same set of reasons that led me to homeschool Nino last year. I’m glad I did it, but it was hard. Not having any time to myself just about killed me. Not to mention the fact that my dad is a public school teacher and he never failed to mention to me on a regular basis what a disservice I was doing to his grandson.

    Which brings me to Montessori. We found this amazing Montessori school and while I am more than delighted with most everything about it (the chickens, the animals in the classroom, the positive discipline, the art, the music, the yoga, the focus on healthy eating, the focus on learning about kindness and other good character traits, the amazing forest they get to play in every day, etc. etc.) frankly I am disappointed with their attitude toward reading. Nino is reading great!! He’s come a long way in just a few short months, but they are all up in arms about him learning faster and better and OMG!! When did it become a national emergency when kids in the first grade weren’t reading chapter books with ease and grace like a baby Maya Angelou? I mean seriously.

    I wish there was a good Waldorf school around here, but there isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 95% happy. But I hate all the pressure. I genuinely believe it’s best for kids to learn to read on their own schedule and I thought that was part of the Montessori theory. Each kid progressing on their own level and journey with learning. But apparently not. Even Montessori has irritating standards they feel the need to keep up with apparently.

    So all this to say, don’t feel bad if you decide to go the public school route. I bet it’s almost the same as Montessori here in the backwoods of Texas.

  18. This is crazy, holding them back if they can’t read in Kindergarten?? I’ve been stressing about schools, too, and I don’t even have kids yet! Around here it is hard to find half-day kindergarten, which I find just disgusting…at 5 kids should not be sitting in desks all day! Why is it we buy kids play kitchens and play vacuums and play irons and all of that so they can play and learn, but that kind of learning stops being valuable when they turn 5 and go to school? I just don’t get it. I want something in between unschooling and regular schooling…I just wish I could find it. I’m trying not to worry too much yet, because I’ve got at least 6 years before I’m sending a kid to kindergarten…but it’s hard not to look to the future.

    Also, I was reading before I was in kindergarten, and my mom never taught me. I just…always loved reading. I asked questions, I watched, and I picked it up. Then, in kindergarten, I pretended I didn’t because I didn’t want my teacher to feel bad. I pretended to learn the letters with the other kids. How sad is that? If only we could come up with a schooling model that focused on meeting the kids needs rather than cranking them through and/or meeting test goals. *sigh*

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