Sunday, March 6, 2016

The New Era of Kindergarten, Part 2

It's important to mention that, as they say, I've got a dog in this fight. My kids are both under five and kindergarten is just over the horizon. Like most parents, I want what is best for my children and what will give them the best chance of success.

My kids are pretty active. Nathan is hardly past six months old, but a word best used to describe him would be wild. He's always in motion. His curiosity is incessant--he's always examining things and looking under things...when he's not trying to put them in his mouth.

Norah is four and loves, loves to learn. She wants to learn her letters and count things and ask
questions all day long, like "What's inside people's faces?" and "How do people grow?" BUT. I cannot imagine her sitting for hours at a time. She runs sprints in the house and has a trampoline in her bedroom.

Thus, I'm worried the current state of public education wouldn't just not allow for my kids to reach their full individual potential, but that it would dampen their zest and desire to learn.

The previous post in this series addressed some of the issues with today's kindergarten, aka the new first grade. In it, I discussed why learning to read in kindergarten isn't always a good thing and how the five year old brain isn't wired for a lot of the new expectations placed on it.

This post is all about fixes. As you might know, one can find research to prove any point of view. I found studies that declared our kindergarteners need more rigorous instruction in the same list of google results that included papers firmly stating our five and six year olds had no business even being taught the basics of reading. I believe I have found a good middle ground that balances out setting kids up for future success both inside and outside the classroom.

  1. Unstructured, natural playtime. This doesn't mean more playground time. Rather, it means time to play in the dirt, climb trees, roll down hills, and balance on anything elevated a bit off the ground (I know not all schools have access to forests. There are companies out there that build natural play areas). The benefits of this are many, including the encouragement of healthy development in all domains and improved creativity, problem solving, eyesight, cognitive abilities, social relations, and self-discipline. A lot of time spent outdoors also reduces stress and ADHD symptoms and improves physical health. More
  2. Unless a child wants to learn how to read and is ready, ditch the requirement. It's too much. Instead, teach the letters and phonetics and leave it at that. Read to them, tell stories, teach nursery rhymes, but not much time needs to be spent on anything beyond identifying letters and their sounds. Kids don't need to read in kindergarten, but this small step will set them up for future success. More And more
  3. Focus more on social/emotional health. Kindergarteners that show better social/emotional competence and get along well with their peers are less likely to go to jail and more likely to be employed in their twenties, among other things. More
  4. Boys especially shouldn't start kindergarten, especially how it is now, until they're six. Maybe at age five they could have a sort of special pre-kindergarten where the focus is still on play and social skills, as this paper recommends. Boys are set up to fail in the current system. They are less likely than girls to succeed in kindergarten, which could lead to stress and reduced academic self concept. Kids should come out of kindergarten wanting to learn, not dreading it. 
  5. Put the most focus on the skills that will help them learn and be successful. Persistence, problem solving, conscientiousness, self´control. Those are all things that will help the students for the rest of their lives. Getting it in early is the most effective way to do it. More
  6. There's already loads of great teachers out there. I'm going to put out my opinion that the best ones should be in kindergarten. According to this study, a great kindergarten teacher could be worth $320,000 for the effect they have on their students' lives, long term. 
I imagine I could eventually come up with more points to make, but that's a good start. I'd prefer something more Reggio Emilia, Montessori, or Waldorf-like for my kids that focuses on art, music, and independence, but private schools can be expensive. It would be great if public school met a few more things on my wish list. One can hope.