Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kindergarten Readiness -- OH Yeah!

Aaargh! Oh, hello there. I was just reading some articles about Kindergarten readiness when I lost it a little. Let me catch my breath. Perhaps one of those nice homeopathic calmness pills, some of my imported Russian tea (in one of those lovely paper-white china cups) while I sit at my imported-wood breakfast table and ... ah, there we are. Where IS my new age music? Or perhaps just a glass of wine. Good morning everyone! I was just reading an article written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that mentions how, in order to attend Kindergarten, your child should have good basic skills. He or she should be able to resolve conflicts, should know some letters of the alphabet, and be able to sit, among other things. Buttons too. It's a nice article. In particular, I liked this quote: "Kindergarten is a time for children to expand their love of learning, their general knowledge, their ability to get along with others, and their interest in reaching out to the world. While kindergarten marks an important transition from preschool to the primary grades, it is important that children still get to be children -- getting kindergarteners ready for elementary school does not mean substituting academics for play time, forcing children to master first grade "skills," or relying on standardized tests to assess children’s success." Unfortunately, the article also sounds like it was written on a different planet, based on my silicon valley experience. (OK, OK, not just the silicon valley. No need to be geographical here. I guess this applies to many areas populated by type-A suburban-raised-overachieving-parents-who-are-out-of -control -and-and-egged-on-by-wacked-out-pseudo-achievement-oriented-school administrators.) My understanding of the particular brand of achievement-based Kindergarten readiness practiced in this area is that, in order to keep up with the aggressive pressures of local kindergartens, Silicon Valley Kindergarten-ready children (especially those pesky, irritating, constantly-moving boy children, who should probably be drugged anyway) must be able to: * Know all of the letters of the alphabet, including their sounds. * Be able to write them all. * Both cases. * Be able to do rudimentary reading. * Sit quietly during all of the circle times. * Line up like little darlings. * Be able to act interested when the wall of their kindergarten is filled with scintillating letter combinations, like "ng." * Be able to add and probably subtract. Maybe a square root if they want to impress anybody. * Be ready and willing to be tossed into an language immersion program. * If they're in a language immersion program, be prepared to take the alternate school's language offerings, say, after school or during recess. * Be pliant and pleasant if their parents enroll them in yet a third language program, since, after all, the age of 5 is one of the best ages for shoving language knowledge into little brains (like foi gras). * Wait their turn calmly. * Quiescently participate in their soccer, baseball, theatre, fencing, chess, gymnastics, basketball, dance, ice skating, and swimming classes. Oh yes, and piano and tennis. * Start their day at 7 AM with before-school time (so mommy and daddy can work), go to school for 6 hours, and then go into a 3-hour after-school program (so that mommy and daddy can work). Contrast that with the American Acadamy of Pediatrics (AAP) Developmental Milestones by the End of 5 Years. Wow. (Although, for the cost of those designer clothes and lessons, this is kind of an unimpressing list, don't you think? Where is the French? The Tai Chi? Saute skills? HOW WILL MY CHILD GET INTO PRINCETON IF HE ONLY HAS THESE SKILLS AT FIVE????? Oh. Sorry. Homeopathic calmness pills. Breathe.) And of course, the kid needs to be ready for the stresses of ordinary life at five. Like what? Indiana University education professor Mary McMullen summarizes "new child schedules" pretty well when she says that (many) "youngsters are forced to deal with multiple transitions throughout the day, which can be stressful for 5- and 6-year-olds. Many of these children go from some type of early morning child care to kindergarten, then to special art, music or physical education classes, then after-school child care, and then home. Many are then shuttled off to sports events or other extracurricular activities. Some even have the added stress of multiple living arrangements because of divorced parents." Gosh, put like that, it sounds mildly insane, doesn't it? But that's life for our kids. What an exciting petri dish for young psyches! Mix that up with lots of television, the new video games (can you say unnervingly realistic gore?) and ... golly, what are we brewing for future generations? But for now, let's think about Kindergarten for a few minutes, since many of our kids are heading into it. Does anybody else out there think that it's time to get a bit militant and take it back? Maybe, like, along with childhood? Here's a great article by Linda Starr from Education Weekly talking about some of the insane things that Kindergartens are aspiring and have aspired to teach by the end of the year. Goals, if you will. And no, it' s not "raising your hand and waiting your turn." I'll pull a few quotes out but I'd urge you to read the article. Starr is a kindergarten teacher who totally rocks and her words should echo in your ears as you look at your own kid's class. One of my favorite mentions is that "The Kindergarten Content Summary for Lombard (Illinois) Elementary School District 44 says that kindergarten students will learn to "identify story elements: plot, setting, characters." The AAP says that five-year-olds should "understand that stories have a beginning, middle, and end."" Do you think that this is just some under-educated middle manager parsing wrong? Or will the kids be working on a playground-sized Hero's Journey model while playing with their poseable Jung dolls? Another example from Ms. Starr's article is: "The Cotati-Rohneet Park Unified School District in Rohnert Park, California, Kindergarten Curriculum requires kindergarten students (by the end of the year) to "count with one-to-one correspondence to 30" and "comprehend relationships between numbers to 30." The AAP says that average five-year-olds are developmentally able to "count up to 10 objects."" Um, yeah. Well, I'm still working on the number relationship thing. I hope my five year old can figure it out. Starr says "In trying to maximize our children's progress, we are ignoring the importance of their developmental limitations -- and we may be jeopardizing their future as well. We need to take a closer look, not simply at the age at which children enter kindergarten or at the experience they bring with them, but also at the developmental stage at which they enter; and then we need to develop a curriculum that meets those needs." She says a lot more, too. And we should all read it and take heed. Finally, she quotes David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University (and a great author ) "To impose a strict structure on children in kindergarten totally violates what we know about early childhood development," Even worse, Elkind notes, "children feel stupid when they are asked to do something that they are developmentally unable to do." I'm done. I won't say more. Well, one thing. Please, as our children start Kindergarten and school this year, remember that it's OK to play in Kindergarten. Playing in Kindergarten, experiencing the world in a broad way while they're still young, and having fun in school gives your child a far wider base from which to live and achieve than trying to be academic before their time. And also, it might just be possible that the biggest goals in Kindergarten should be socialization and learning to like school and learning. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to reading Homer onto a tape player so that my child can absorb it subliminally while he sleeps... First published on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog


Blogger Catana said...

I read Hothouse Kids a couple of weeks ago. Does the level of insanity go up with income? Come to think of it, your post on McMansions kind of confirms that, doesn't it?

Thursday, September 21, 2006 11:31:00 AM  

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