Search results for: "kindergarten"

The current absurd obsession with test scores is destroying schooling and childhood. Nowhere is the devastation more visible than in state and local policies turning kindergarten and nursery school into academically rigorous boot camps. Pre-K is supposed to get children ready for kindergarten. Kindergarten is a time to learn reading and writing and math. Kindergarten prepares the child for first grade. It is the first step towards “college and career readiness.”

But kindergarten has been warped beyond all recognition from what it is supposed to be. The founder of the kindergarten was Friedrich Froebel. His ideas were first brought to America by William Torrey Harris, the superintendent of schools in St. Louis (later the U.S. Commissioner of Education for 18 years under various presidents) and a devotee of Hegel.

To learn more about what kindergarten should be, go to the Froebel website.

Here is an excerpt from the opening page:

“The name Kindergarten signifies both a garden for children, a location where they can observe and interact with nature, and also a garden of children, where they themselves can grow and develop in freedom from arbitrary imperatives.

“In 1837, having developed and tested a radically new educational method and philosophy based on structured, activity based learning, Froebel moved to Bad Blankenburg and established his Play and Activity Institute which in 1840 he renamed Kindergarten.

“Kindergarten has three essential parts:

*creative play, which Froebel called gifts and occupations)
*singing and dancing for healthy activity
*observing and nurturing plants in a garden for stimulating awareness of the natural world

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.

“To Froebel belongs the credit for finding the true nature of play and regulating it to lead naturally into work. The same spontaneity and joy, the same freedom and serenity that characterise the plays of childhood are realised in all human activity. The gifts and occupations are the living connection which makes both play and work expressions of the same creative activity. ” W N Hailmann

“Friedrich Froebel introduced the concept of gardens for children, where they could participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce. As educational tools, these gardens provide real world applications of core mathematical concepts. The Edible Schoolyard educates children about the connections between food, health, and the environment through activities which are fully integrated into the curriculum.”

This is hilarious!

Dana Goldstein writes here about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign to establish a universal program of free, public pre-kindergarten, equally available to the poor, the middle-class, and the rich.

In Dana’s cover note, she wrote:

“The story is also about something much bigger—the nature of government in America. Should public services be universal, meaning even affluent people can access them, regardless of whether they could procure pre-K, college, or health care on the private market? Or should we give “free stuff” only to the poor and working class?

“This was pretty much the exact debate Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had during the Democratic primary. De Blasio, despite being a Clinton supporter, is firmly on the side of universality. Pre-K For All subsidizes the children of bankers and the children of parents living in homeless shelters. Does its play-based pedagogy work to remedy what the mayor famously decried as “the tale of two cities”—one rich and one poor? And can debates over early childhood education ever break out of gendered thinking, in which we believe only mothers can effectively care for their own children?”

In the article, she writes:

“In 2016 there is one central debate, between the left and center-left, about the role of government in America. Can the widening gap in opportunity and life outcomes between the rich and the poor be closed using the dominant policy tools of the last 30 years: tax credits that are supposed to encourage minimum-wage work, and stigmatized, underfunded social programs that serve only the poorest of the poor, like Medicaid, food stamps, and Head Start, the federal preschool program? Or, does the country need to return to an older, and until very recently, largely unpopular idea: taxing the rich to create big, new government entitlements, like pre-k, free college, or single-payer health care—entitlements available to everyone, including the affluent who currently have little trouble procuring such services on the private market?

“This was the crux of the debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The signature Sanders policy proposal was a plan to make public college free for all. Even for the children of Donald Trump, as Clinton pointed out in one primary debate. Clinton became the Democratic Party standard-bearer, and after negotiations with Sanders, announced her own plan to make in-state public college free, but only for families earning under $125,000 per year.

“De Blasio’s Pre-K For All program is, notably, in the Sanders style: unabashedly free-for-all.
There are few places in the United States to look for big, new experiments in universal government entitlements. One of them is New York City under de Blasio. The mayor issued a late-in-the-game primary endorsement of Clinton—he was the manager of her 2000 Senate campaign—but his Pre-K For All program is, notably, in the Sanders style: unabashedly free-for-all. Some American social programs, like Medicare and Social Security, serve everyone, and have proven to be relatively popular and politically sacrosanct. Others, like Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, and cash welfare, are available only to the destitute, and are under constant threat of budget cuts. Pre-K For All is for the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. The mayor would rather speak about the program’s educational quality than its political strategy, but if prodded, will concede, “anything that has a broad constituency will also have more sustainability.” Simply put, it is difficult for politicians to retract a benefit that the politically powerful upper-middle class enjoys.

De Blasio’s first elected office was as a school-board member in District 15, the swath of brownstone Brooklyn that includes Park Slope, where he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, lived. They sent their daughter and son to public school. His focus on pre-k reflects a longtime skepticism of some of the other education-reform enthusiasms of the last two decades, like standardized testing and charter schools. When the state of New York granted de Blasio’s predecessor as mayor, Michael Bloomberg, control of the city’s schools, Bloomberg abolished neighborhood school boards like the one on which de Blasio served. Bloomberg’s education agenda was based around the concepts of choice and competition. He opened new charter schools and gave all schools letter grades based largely on their students’ test scores. Bloomberg also created 4,000 new pre-k seats, but they were open only to the poorest children. That strategy has been the norm. In recent years, cities like Denver and San Antonio reserved new public pre-k seats for the neediest kids. Even Boston’s public pre-k program, considered a national model, does not guarantee every 4-year-old a seat.

“De Blasio wants all children, even the children of the financially secure, to benefit from public services. He speaks often about how difficult it is to afford rent, child care, and other basic necessities of life in New York City, not just for the impoverished, but also for the middle and upper-middle class. “A hedge-fund manager, maybe they’re not struggling, but the vast majority of people [are],” de Blasio told me. “The cost of living in this town has continued to go up and up, so I can’t tell you how many middle-class parents have told me what it meant to save $10,000 or $15,000” on pre-K, “how fundamental that was for their ability to live in the city.”

“In 2012, when de Blasio was serving as New York City’s public advocate, a sort of city ombudsman, his office produced a report showing a huge unmet demand for free pre-k. Only half of New York City 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in pre-k, either public or private. Every neighborhood had more young children than public-school pre-k spots, but in areas such as affluent brownstone Brooklyn, middle-class Bay Ridge, and immigrant-heavy Central Queens, there were as many as eight applicants per seat. The problem was a national one: Only 41 percent of American 4-year-olds, and 16 percent of 3-year-olds, are being served by publicly funded pre-k, according to the latest data.

“To expand access, de Blasio proposed a tax increase of less than 1 percent on income over $500,000. That idea became the centerpiece of his 2013 mayoral bid, a key to remedying what he decried as “the tale of two cities”: huge opportunity gaps between the super rich and everybody else. A New Yorker earning $600,000 annually would have paid an additional $530 in taxes to fund universal pre-k. This provoked outrage from the Partnership for New York City, a network of CEOs. The group’s president said the tax proposal showed a “lack of sensitivity to the city’s biggest revenue providers and job creators.”

“Many of de Blasio’s fellow progressives were skeptical such a big idea could ever become reality. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, called de Blasio’s universal pre-k plan “non-serious,” and New York City’s teachers’ union endorsed another mayoral candidate in the Democratic primary. But regular New Yorkers liked de Blasio’s ambition. Private pre-k costs, on average, over $12,000 per year in New York City, and up to $40,000 for an elite program. (The city’s median household income is about $51,000.) Polls suggested that, along with his promise to end stop-and-frisk and his artful, optimistic embrace of his family’s biracial identity, the promise of free pre-k was why voters preferred de Blasio to his rivals. He won the election and immediately began lobbying Albany to make the idea a reality; the mayor would need the support of the state legislature to enact his pre-k funding scheme. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democratic tax-cutter, did not want de Blasio’s tax proposal to come to a vote. Still, the mayor’s boldness had changed the terms of the debate. Cuomo, somewhat mysteriously, reached into the state budget and found $340 million per year to fund the program for five years.

“From there, the de Blasio administration managed to launch Pre-K For All in less than six months. By the program’s second school year, 2015-16, it had reached its original enrollment target. Pre-K For All serves 68 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds, and 85 percent of those who are likely to enroll in public-school kindergarten. In the city of Washington, D.C., 86 percent of all 4-year-olds and 64 percent of all 3-year-olds, are enrolled in public pre-k, outpacing New York onpercentage of children served. But D.C. first launched its universal pre-k program in 2008 and allowed six years for full implementation. In comparison, New York City has moved at remarkable speed, while serving more than five times as many students.”

Open the article to read it all and to see the links to sources.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an expert on early childhood education, has been an outspoken opponent of the trend to push academics into kindergarten, and even preschool.

In this post, she explains how play has been banished from many kindergartens by the misguided belief that starting academics early will close the achievement gap. It doesn’t help kids of any origin. The children hurt most by this pressure are children of color.

She writes:

Soon many of our nation’s young children will be starting school for the first time. What they will likely find is something dramatically different from what their parents experienced at their age. Kindergartens and pre-K classrooms have changed. There is less play, less art and music, less child choice, more teacher-led instruction, worksheets, and testing than a generation ago. Studies tell us that these changes, although pervasive, are most evident in schools serving high percentages of low-income children of color.

The pressure to teach academic skills in pre-K and kindergarten has been increasing since the passage of the No Child Left Behind act 15 years ago. Today, many young children are required to sit in chairs, sometimes for long periods of time, as a teacher instructs them. This goes against their natural impulse to learn actively through play where they are fully engaged–body, mind, and spirit.

Play is an engine driving children to build ideas, learn skills and develop capacities they need in life. Kids all over the world play and no one has to teach them how. In play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience. When kids play with blocks, for example, they build concepts in math and science that provide a solid foundation for later academic learning. No two children play alike; they develop at different rates and their different cultures and life experiences shape their play. But all children learn through play.

Many urban, low-income children have limited play opportunities outside of school, which makes in-school playtime even more vital for them. But what studies now show is that the children who need play the most in the early years of school get the least. Children in more affluent communities have more classroom play time. They have smaller class sizes and more experienced teachers who know how to provide for play-based learning. Children in low income, under-resourced communities have larger class sizes, less well-trained teachers, heavier doses of teacher-led drills and tests, and less play.

We’ve seen a worrisome trend in recent years showing high rates of suspension from the nation’s public preschools. The latest report from the Office for Civil Rights reveals that these suspensions are disproportionately of low-income black boys. (This pattern continues for children in grades K-12.) Something is very wrong when thousands of preschoolers are suspended from school each year. While multiple causes for suspensions exist, one major cause for this age group is play deprivation. Preschool and kindergarten suspensions occur primarily in schools serving low-income, black and brown children and these are the schools with an excess of drill-based instruction and little or no play.

There are many children who simply cannot adapt to the unnatural demands of early academic instruction. They can’t suppress their inborn need to move and create using their bodies and senses. They act out; they get suspended from school, now even from preschool.

Depriving low-income children and children of color of play will not make them better learners. In fact, it may turn them off school entirely. Let children be children. Let them grow up healthy, curious, imaginative, and free to experiment and dream. There is plenty of time to learn academics.

The state superintendent in Michigan has decided that testing students once a year in grades 3-8, as No Child Left Behind required, was not enough. He intends to test students twice a year, starting in kindergarten.


If he were a doctor, he would recommend frequent temperature taking as a cure for illness.

Kindergarten has been transformed by the test pressures of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and now Common Core, which wants 5-year-olds to be college-ready. Instead of a children’s garden, kindergarten is now a time to focus on academic skills.


In this story by Elissa Nadworny and Anya Kamenetz that aired on NPR, they report a new study that documents the changes in kindergarten from 1998 to 2010. The time period ends before Common Core kicks in, so it is likely that the push for academic learning is even stronger now. Are children smarter by age 18 if they learn to read in kindergarten?


They write:
“A big new study provides the first national, empirical data to back up the anecdotes. University of Virginia researchers Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham and Anna Rorem analyzed the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which includes a nationally representative annual sample of roughly 2,500 teachers of kindergarten and first grade who answer detailed questions. Their answers can tell us a lot about what they believe and expect of their students and what they actually do in their classrooms.


“The authors chose to compare teachers’ responses from two years, 1998 and 2010. Why 1998? Because the federal No Child Left Behind law hadn’t yet changed the school landscape with its annual tests and emphasis on the achievement gap.


“With the caveat that this is a sample, not a comprehensive survey, here’s what they found.


Among the differences:


“In 2010, prekindergarten prep was expected. One-third more teachers believed that students should know the alphabet and how to hold a pencil before beginning kindergarten.
“Everyone should read. In 1998, 31 percent of teachers believed their students should learn to read during the kindergarten year. That figure jumped to 80 percent by 2010.
“More testing. In 2010, 73 percent of kindergartners took some kind of standardized test. One-third took tests at least once a month. In 1998, they didn’t even ask kindergarten teachers that question. But the first-grade teachers in 1998 reported giving far fewer tests than the kindergarten teachers did in 2010.
“Less music and art. The percentage of teachers who reported offering music every day in kindergarten dropped by half, from 34 percent to 16 percent. Daily art dropped from 27 to 11 percent.
“Bye, bye brontosaurus. “We saw notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Bassok, the study’s lead author.
“Less “center time.” There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentage of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area.
“Less choice. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.
“Not all playtime is trending down, though. Perhaps because of national anti-obesity campaigns, daily recess is actually up by 9 points, and PE has held steady.”


A spokesperson for Education Trust said these changes were not so bad because they might reduce the achievement gap. Is there any reason to believe this is true?

I recently received two comments that reflect on the new, academic kindergarten. Actually, schooling for 5-year-olds should not be called “kindergarten.” That term was invented by Friedrich Froebel in the early 19th century and meant “a children’s garden.” It was a time to play, laugh, build, tinker, and smell flowers. No more. Now it is a time to learn to read and write and calculate.

Here is one comment:

“I am a retired early childhood/elementary teacher in PA. My 5 year old grandson (May birthday) started kindergarten this year (cut off date Sept. 1st). He is the youngest boy in the class as parents hold their summer birthday children back. He has been tested twice (along with the class) with a test used by their Reading textbook manufacturer. He improved in all 3 testing areas from September to December but still didn’t meet the criteria for reading and is being taken out of the classroom for remedial reading 3-4 times a week. He is missing classroom time or nap time. When my daughter asked the teacher if the test was scored based on age – she said no that is up to the parents (meaning – hold them back).

“I have a big problem with a curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate. If you have to hold you child back to match the curriculum then something is wrong. Or change the cut off date to January 1st (all children must be 6 by then).

“Think about this – we went to the moon on the knowledge of people who didn’t read in kindergarten. Our scientists who developed vaccines for diseases didn’t have common core math. This pushing down curriculum to lower grades is developmentally wrong and stressful and anxiety producing for kids.

“It’s all about money for the textbook and test manufacturers and politics which ties funding into scores.”

Another reader sent this comment:

“What you mention is not the k-8 system I have been experiencing. Our school is so “academic” that many “red-shirt” their kindergarteners in an attempt to give them a leg up. There’s extreme pressure to read, write, and solve math problems with pencil and paper from day one. Many parents (and teachers) are starting to finally push back, realizing that we had reached a tipping point where it’s just not possible to get any more “academic”. The kids are suffering. Child development has been ignored. The way kids learn has been ignored. All in the name of academic achievement, yet outcomes aren’t increasing. The kids were being pushed to work, afraid to fail or stray from a set path. We are slowly turning back to incorporate play-based, project-based and student driven exploration.”

Due to the Common Core and testing pressures, children in kindergarten are now expected to learn to read. Kindergarten, writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic, has changed, and not for the better.

“One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art. Kindergarten is indeed the new first grade, the authors concluded glumly. In turn, children who would once have used the kindergarten year as a gentle transition into school are in some cases being held back before they’ve had a chance to start. A study out of Mississippi found that in some counties, more than 10 percent of kindergartners weren’t allowed to advance to first grade.

“Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool. As a result, expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.”

“Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

“New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.”

Thanks to the reader known as FLERP for finding this terrific article about kindergarten children in Finland.

What matters most: Play!

While our five-year-olds buckle down to show that they have mastered academic skills in math and reading, the children in kindergarten in Finland are playing.

When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary “The Power of Play” supports her findings: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.

Osei Ntiamoah’s colleagues all seemed to share her enthusiasm for play-based learning, as did the school’s director, Maarit Reinikka: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. Reinikka, who directs several preschools in Kuopio, assured me that kindergartners throughout Finland—like the ones at Niirala Preschool—are rarely sitting down to complete traditional paper-and-pencil exercises….

This is scandalous! How can they expect to be global competitors when they don’t buckle down and learn to suffer through stultifying exercises?

And there’s no such thing as a typical day of kindergarten at the preschool, the teachers said. Instead of a daily itinerary, two of them showed me a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop. “I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

With a determined expression reminiscent of the boys in the mud with their shovels, the young cashier stared at the price list. After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€. Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Throughout the morning I noticed that the kindergartners played in two different ways: One was spontaneous and free form (like the boys building dams), while the other was more guided and pedagogical (like the girls selling ice cream).

In fact, Finland requires its kindergarten teachers to offer playful learning opportunities—including both kinds of play—to every kindergartner on a regular basis, according to Arja-Sisko Holappa, a counselor for the Finnish National Board of Education. What’s more, Holappa, who also leads the development of the country’s pre-primary core curriculum, said that play is being emphasized more than ever in latest version of that curriculum, which goes into effect in kindergartens next fall.

“Play is a very efficient way of learning for children,” she told me. “And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy.”

Imagine that! Finland will surely lose the race to the top of global competition if they keep up this play methodology. They should do what we do: drum the kids into silence, require them to march and sit in rows, teach them to keep their eyes on the teachers at all times, and require that they are college-and-career-ready from day one!

Jerusha Connor, a professor of education at Villanova University, was shocked to see what happened to her daughter on her first day of kindergarten: Most of the few hours of school were spent on assessment by five different teachers.

She writes:

For anyone who doubts that education in the U.S. has become overrun by testing, consider this. My daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her very first introduction to elementary school — consisted almost entirely of assessment. She was due at school at 9:30, and I picked her up at 11:45. In between, she was assessed by five different teachers, each a stranger, asking her to perform some task such as cutting, coloring in the lines, reciting her address and phone number, identifying letters and their sounds, and counting. She then had to wait two days, while all the other incoming kindergartners were assessed, to learn of her teacher and begin the school year in earnest.

From an educator’s point of view, this approach makes good sense. Determine what it is that kids know. Then use that baseline knowledge to assemble a class.

But this was an intimidating initiation from a child’s perspective. Usually an outgoing and independent girl, my daughter was clingy and nervous on her first day of kindergarten. When I asked how she was feeling as we approached the front door of the building, she said she did not want to go to school. She did not have any friends yet. She did not know her way around the building. She worried that there would be too many people. What if her teachers were mean? What if kids made fun of her when they heard her name? What if she had to use the restroom? She was a bundle of nerves. I’m sure this testing scenario did little to quell her concerns. I have no doubt that however she was assessed, she did not perform from a place of confidence or comfort. Even under less trying circumstances, such one-shot assessments are of questionable validity.

Indeed, by the time I picked her up, she had not relaxed at all. She did not want to talk about what she had done in school, but she did say that she did not want to go back. She did not know the teachers’ names. She did not make any friends. Later that afternoon, as she played with her animals in her room, I overheard her drilling them on their numbers and letters.

She and her husband were saddened by their daughter’s experience.

My husband and I will do our best to help her unlearn what she learned about school on her first day: that it is a place where you are judged for what you know — not how eager you are to learn; that performance matters more than understanding or inquiry; that schoolwork is hard and uninteresting. We will work with her teacher (whomever he or she is) to ensure that the strengths she brings to kindergarten — curiosity, compassion and creativity — are recognized and nurtured. We will encourage her love of learning and her self-confidence; I just wish we did not have to work against the school system in doing so.

Our educational system’s drive to assess, to label and sort kids, to make decisions on the basis of data of dubious quality has gone too far, and it is time for a course correction. We must remember that “data” are social constructions, shaped by the circumstances under which they are obtained. And just as these circumstances affect the nature of the information we collect, they have bearing on other things that matter, such as a child’s first impressions of school. I submit that these impressions matter more than any purported snapshot of a child’s abilities.

The reformers’ obsession with testing is harmful to children.