Friday, May 22, 2009

slowing down kindergarten.

Confession time: My name is Kristen, I've got a son about to graduate from kindergarten, and [gasp!!] he can't read yet.

Knows his letters, knows their sounds, but is just beginning to put it all together. I'm not particularly alarmed about this situation — after all, he just turned six three months ago, just lost his first tooth last week. My daughter didn't really read until the back half of first grade, and now she feeds voraciously upon books, an almost-fifth-grader reading at a tenth-grade level.

I bring it up not because of my concern or lack thereof, but because of how intensely learning to read in kindergarten seems to be stressed (and that is the proper word for it) by the school system. When I was graduating from kindergarten, the readiness "exam" they gave me was having me recite the alphabet and count to a hundred. Period. Kindergarten was much more about learning how to act appropriately in social situations, like a classroom or a playground, than it was about college prep. Which is not to imply we didn't learn stuff, but what we learned was mostly through human interaction, and especially play.

The times, they have a'changed. But, the question is, for the better?

Recently, Peggy Orenstein of The New York Times authored an article ("Kindergarten Cram," 5.3.09) questioning the wisdom of accelerated kindergarten. Based upon "Crisis in the Kindergarten," a newly released report from the nonprofit research and advocacy group Alliance for Childhood, Orenstein cites some very interesting findings. Some samplings:
  • A survey showed kindergarteners spend an average of two to three hours a day being instructed and tested in reading and math, while they spent less than 30 minutes playing.
  • Play is how kids develop higher-level thinking, improve their language and social skills, cultivate empathy and reduce stress.
  • Any early advantage observed from accelerating kindergarten fades by fourth grade.
  • In Finland, where students consistently come out on top in international assessments, they don't begin formal reading instruction until age 7.
  • Homework confers no benefit — it doesn't enhance either retention or study habits — until middle school.
  • Literacy assessments neither predict nor improve young children's educational outcomes.
I must concur with Orenstein's hope — that "[m]aybe the current economic retrenchment will trigger a new perspective on early education, something similar to the movement toward local, sustainable, organic food. Call it Slow Schools. After all, part of what got us into this mess was valuing achievement, speed and results over ethics, thoughtfulness and responsibility."

Peggy's pegged it. When it comes to our itty bitties, let's put off productivity and bring on the play.

1 comment:

Susan K. Morrow said...

To extrapolate this information makes a good argument for daycare--after kindergarten, the kids get to play, work on social skills, and some of those other goodies that kindergarten might be missing.