Is Kindergarten Becoming Too Academic?
I think I can hear the loud shouting at the computer screens as I type my words…
In one ear I hear, “They are still babies! Let them play. They should be painting and singing and digging. Why do we have to rush everything?”
In my other ear I hear, “A kindergartner needs more than play. Prepare respectful and interesting fuel for their brains. Why wait to learn the ‘good stuff’ that they crave?”
In her wisdom, Maria Montessori taught us ways to share big and important ideas in ways that young minds and bodies can absorb. I love this quote:
The child is much more spiritually elevated than is usually supposed. He often suffers, from not too much work, but from work that is unworthy of him”
Dr. Montessori observed young children are hungry to learn, and they celebrate working hard. Work is play for the young child when it contains the Golden Ingredients of movement, order, and freedom of choice.
It’s a False Debate
It is easy to trigger strong opinions about the current trends that are taking away free play and legislating unrealistic academic expectations for our youngest learners. One year ago, the New York Post reported about kindergartens in New York City:
“The city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write ‘informative/explanatory reports’ and demonstrate ‘algebraic thinking.’
Just the fact that many schools now have a Kindergarten Entrance Exam makes many of us seethe! However, play vs. academic pressure-cooker is a false debate that is preventing us from working together to find real solutions that engage and motivate our children with interesting lessons. Does a kindergarten have to be solely play-based or academic-based? Not at all. In fact, if you hear of one that claims to be exclusively one or the other, keep walking…
Why Can’t Wise Teachers Create Both?
Are young children really “just babies” who cannot benefit from interesting, developmentally appropriate lessons because of their tender age? No! They are spectacular learners that deserve adults throughout their day that respect and know how to bend and serve their unique stage of brain development. No worksheets. No drill-and-kill or flashcards.
Wise teachers can create activities related to a topic of interest that integrate literacy, art, science, history, geography and math. A wise teacher can help children build basic skills with not so basic topics of study. That’s the ‘Good Stuff.’ For instance, kindergarten children can learn color, shapes, counting, phonics, geography and beautiful stories of friendship and persistence from the beautiful paintings and life of Vincent van Gogh!
That is… if teachers are given the respect to create and bend according to the interests and abilities of their learners. How often are teachers trusted to dig deep and teach from an inspired place these days? A teacher who can follow her passion, within boundaries, will reach more children than one who follows a handbook.
Here’s the Problem:
I think that unfortunately for some children, the “good stuff” never comes because we are so hellbent on children passing achievement tests. Parents, teachers, administrators and the State all want to see good scores. Read an article that expands on our public education future.
I always wonder, do those scores benefit the children in any way, or are they actually for the self-esteem of adults? The answer to that is clear when you see what adults do to improve the test scores the next time. The State creates teacher incentives, teachers organize school spirit assemblies and offer class prizes for high scores. They remind anxious parents to serve their children good breakfasts and get them to bed on time the night before testing day. Worst of all, the teachers have to sacrifice “the good stuff” for drilling isolated skill development and test taking techniques.
How exactly do these scores help children love learning? I really don’t know.
Kindergarten Is Not Too Academic
The big issue is that our Early Childhood classrooms should be far more personalized to honor the massive range of academic ability that naturally exists but very few teachers can adequately address. Too many young learners do not get appropriately challenged, and learn boredom. They lose traction, and that is the crime! The majority of students are either well ahead of the norm, or way behind. Every child should have an engaging lesson closely matched to their current needs and interests to keep them moving forward. That carefully scaffolded instruction is what will make school satisfying and fun.
Learning that is playful and interesting can easily be academic as well. Let’s aim for academically strong kindergartens!