December 24, 2018 Is Kindergarten Getting in the Way of Learning?

 

It’s said that kindergarten-ready children are on track for a lifetime of academic achievement, but is kindergarten ready for kids?

Christopher Brown, a former kindergarten teacher turned professor of early childhood education at the University of Texas, looked at how kindergarten has changed over time, and how those changes may be draining the “wonder” out of the nation’s youngest students.

“Schools have to be ready for kids. If kids don’t fit the mold, they’re not seen as ready, and that’s not fair to them,” said Brown. “All kids want is to learn and make sense of the world; it’s up to us to tap into that and motivate it.”

“Kindergarten ready” often means children attended pre-K and enter the school knowing how to spell their name, count to ten and recite the alphabet.

They also need to know how to take directions.

In his research, Brown found that kindergartners spend their day participating in more than ten different teacher-led activities in seven hours. They write in journals, do math, practice spelling and phonics — all at the age of 5.

In his research, Brown interviewed children, their families, teachers, school administrators, policy analysts and lobbyists in Texas, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., and many of them agreed.

Everyone agreed that having a good experience in kindergarten is essential for lifelong learning. They also agreed that the current system doesn’t provide that.

“I’m hearing more stories that kids are stressed out and aren’t excited about learning from kindergarten on,” Brown said.

While learning academic, measurable skills is essential, that focus often dominates class curriculum, leaving out time for taking in everyday moments inspired by natural curiosity.

There’s less time for talking with peers, cooking felt bacon in the play kitchen, pressing sand between fingers at the sand table, or being happily tucked away with a book amid the building blocks.

There’s also less recess, art, and music, but more large-group instruction and more standardized tests.

Brown points to No Child Left Behind, an act with good intentions gone somewhat awry.

The act, largely focused on reading and math skills, ushered in testing linked to punishments in the form of reduced funding for schools that don’t make progress toward proficiency.

Opponents of the act argue the result is an environment in which teachers teach to the exam.

“Young children aren’t intentional in the way we want them to be. If it’s something that doesn’t help them make sense of their world, why would they care?” he said.

Brown suggests a curriculum that is more developmentally appropriate, which includes more project-based learning to help cut through the daily drills. More time for recess and exploration in the classroom would help, too.

He hopes his research will spur policy-wide change to support a richer early learning environment that welcomes children and their families.

“We need to respect children for what they bring in the classroom,” Brown said.

This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at https://www.gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net/category/solutions-journalism-partnership/.