The Trouble With Kindergarten

The joys of childhood take a backseat to "preparation for college and career."

An elementary school in Elwood, New York infuriated parents and inspired an online petition this week when it cancelled an end-of-year kindergarten show in order to prepare its six-year-olds for “college and career.” Snatching an annual performance rite from Kindergarteners to get them up to snuff academically may seem like a mockery of the Common Core curriculum worthy of the Onion, but it’s no joke. Here is the letter (click on it to expand), signed by interim principal Ellen Best-Laimit and the school’s four kindergarten teachers:

In response to parents’ complaints, Superintendent Peter Scordo released a statement digging in his heels:

Our educators believe that the traditional kindergarten performance requires multiple days away from classroom work for preparation and execution, and together with the lost instructional time this year due to poor weather, is not the best use of the limited time we have with our youngest learners.

So there you have it. In lieu of performing in the school play before delighted audiences on May 14 and 15developing their imaginations, their creative souls and their confidence as public speakersthe six-year-olds of Elwood will be doing their part to make sure thirteen years down the line they ready for Freshman Comp. Ah, the joys of childhood in the age of the Common Core.

Thankfully, not all is rotten in the kindergarten classroom. My two children have had significantly better experiences in their Brooklyn public schools, with lots of arts enrichment and, yes, holiday and end-of-year performances (not to mention celebratory flash mobs). But kindergarten standards are much more academic than they once were, and teacher evaluations hinge on observable data. A friend tells me of a classroom where the kids were asked to fill out a log before choice time (“I’m going to play fireman”; “I’m going to build a house with blocks”) to ensure the event generated assessable data points. All this and more prompted our elder daughter’s wonderful teacher to abandon K for pre-K a few years ago.

But even many pre-kindergarten classrooms in New York, Elena Nitecki and Mi-Hyun Chung write, crowd out play and choice-based learning because teachers feel it is their duty to “get through the content.” The travesty is that play is actually the most effective medium in which young children acquire literacy skills.  

This troubling trend of pushing pre-kindergarten children beyond what is developmentally appropriate to prepare them for kindergarten is in direct contrast to what kindergarten is really meant to bea “child’s garden,” as Froebel (1899) originally conceived. The PKCC [Pre-Kindergarten Common Core as implemented in New York State] can be balanced with developmentally appropriate expectations for emergent literacy, including play, if the standards are approached as expectations that be integrated within a child- centered, play-based curriculum. Teachers of young children should value the hallmark of the early childhood years—play, a powerful vehicle to refine social, cognitive, physical, and language skills. To balance the PKCC with play, teachers should build on children’s interests and existing pre-literacy skills and knowledge in a meaningful way through play. After all, literacy is best developed within the context of a child’s natural language of play.

This does not mean that kindergarten should be an everything-goes romper room. As one kindergarten teacher in Brooklyn told me, “learning should happen with a balance of ‘academic’ subjects, play (structured and unstructured), exposure to the arts, and time for socialization. It is a very important year in terms of setting up the foundations for success in school in both the academic aspect and especially in the social aspect.” It’s the balance this teacher speaks ofa basic sense of proportion in pondering what young children should be engaged inthat seems so out of whack in the Long Island school’s decision to, in effect, cancel Christmas.

Image credit:

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth

Upload your mind? Here's a reality check on the Singularity.

  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we're nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
Keep reading Show less