I hope this Case Against Full Day Kindergarten series (you can read Part 1 here) leads you to do what is best for your child, where today’s lines are blurred between publicly funded daycare and education.
This post is second in a two part series : The Case Against Full Day Kindergarten. Part 1 discussed how Kindergarten has changed from a playful learning atmosphere into an assessment-driven environment and how this negatively affects children. Part 2 explains how Kindergarten expectations and academics are too rigorous.
Parents are no longer given a choice.
Half day Kindergarten was the norm for many years. If parents wanted full day Kindergarten, it was a choice in some districts. Otherwise, children who had working parents would be sent to daycare. Full day Kindergarten is a way for parents to be unburdened by costly daycare while hoping that their children are being placed on a “Path towards Success!” by having 8+ vigorous academic hours of school! There is nothing inherently wrong with full day Kindergarten in these circumstances — when parents want a safe place for their children throughout the week days. But many parents still want their children’s days to be filled with open-ended play time and self-directed learning during the brief and passing childhood years. These parents still want a half day option. They don’t want the adult stresses of academic rigor on their children too soon. It is too soon.
Full day Kindergarten is not a day of play for young minds. Even with the best of teachers, students are not given the time of open and self-directed play and rest that their little minds and bodies need. Teachers are forced to adhere to district curriculums and to push academics all day and every day.
What is expected for a child entering Public Kindergarten Classrooms?
The expectations are high as you enter into a full day kindergarten classroom. To be successful, your child has to endure and overcome many hurdles and challenges. The expectations and suggestions for growth and development include these abilities:
- Eating independently during lunch time (often with as little as 10 minutes to eat a full meal)
- Developing healthy habits such as good sleep and eating nutritious food (so they can stay alert during the long day)
- Independent behaviors (all bathroom behaviors, taking care of belongings, taking care of self, tying shoes, zipping coats, etc.)
- Emotional and social readiness (Is the child comfortable being away from parents, solving conflicts on his/her own, etc.?)
- Fine and gross motor skill development (use scissors or kick a ball, etc.)
- Academic knowledge (letter names for upper and lowercase, writing name and uppercase letters, counting from 1 to 30, knowing shapes and colors, etc.)
It is expected that children have the above abilities in order to attend Kindergarten. Parents must instill and develop these at home, or children will presumably learn them at a preschool program. But for many children, some of these abilities have not yet come because they are simply not ready — children should not be pushed into these developmental stages before they are ready. In a classroom of 24+ students, sadly, a teacher does not have the time to invest in and properly nourish each child’s emotional, social, physical, and cognitive needs all day, every day. Unfortunately, many of the needs of these young students are neglected–even with the best of teachers.
Our Kindergarten Schedule:
When I taught Kindergarten, our days were full. The principal emphasized to me that the whole day should be used for curriculum. I quickly learned that the mornings were for substantial “learning” time, while the afternoons were kept for crafts, circle time, poetry time, movement, and also the dreaded computer testing time (which I often skipped). After lunch, the children were tired and cranky, and understandably so. The administrators insisted on only one recess a day, in addition to lunch recess, so I was not allowed to let them play and learn through play outside. Almost all of our structured learning took place in the mornings due to the children’s natural inabilities to focus throughout an entire day. Our Kindergarten days were mostly routine. I will lay out my schedule for you so you have a better idea of what we did. All of these activities were done in around 20 minute chunks either at the carpet or at their tables or in a circle around the room. It is important to always allow young children to move and chat! and not expect them to sit still or be quiet! for long periods of time. This is not yet in their makeup. They are five and six years old.
- Attendance and reading quiet themed books at tables
- Circle time with Pledge of Allegiance, music, calendar, counting, sentence of the day
- Letter of the week handwriting and/or poem recitation
- Writer’s workshop and spelling
- Math work or “centers”/ individual or group guided reading
- Special (art, Spanish, gym, library, computers)
- Lunch and recess
- Read alouds
- Quiet reading at tables
- Circle and singing time
- Craft time (for a theme or letter)
- Class book page or math work or poetry and movement
- (Sometimes computer testing)
This is a brief, and not complete, outline of our days. It is too busy and too much for little minds to wrap their heads around. I had to fill 8+ hours of each day up with activities or reading or moving. Most of our time, probably the majority of our time, was used to facilitate the classroom with children being told to quiet down and sit in their seats or on the floor, move from the hall to the room, move from chairs to floor, move from floor to tables, move from tables to floor, etc.
Academics in Kindergarten
Each state articulates the expectations for children in each grade. I recommend looking at your state’s Grade Level Expectations so you can see the specifics for what your child will need to know. I have heard many people say that “Kindergarten is the new First Grade,” and that we are teaching to our five year olds what their parents learned at six years old. Namely, reading three letter words and handwriting. At the end of the Kindergarten school year in the U.S., five- and six-year-olds are expected to read all of their alphabet sounds, sound out three-letter words, read at least 20-30 sight words, count to 100, skip count by 5s to 50, and by 2s to 20. This comes easy for some children, but for others they are not developmentally ready for these rigorous expectations. Sadly, these expectations grow so exponentially that, after a summer vacation when first grade starts, many young children are left “behind” their peers. This leaves many students frustrated and produces intensely low self-esteem for children who, perhaps beginning school a year later, would have flourished.
Advocating to give your child an extra year for play
I am a huge advocate for “holding children back” if there is any question as to whether or not the child can emotionally or academically handle kindergarten (or first grade!). My own husband was held back because he has a July birthday. I recommended to at least five parents throughout each year that their children should be held back. I longed for my students to thrive in school, instead of just surviving. My son, as an August birthday, will be “held back,” and even though the lines can blur a bit for homeschoolers, I won’t expect him to fulfill the Grade Level Expectations until the next year. It will be the same for my daughter, a September birthday. Learners who did not catch on in Kindergarten, mostly because they were not developmentally ready to be there in the first place, fall behind beginning in first grade!
The expectations are too high and they don’t work
Some European countries don’t start formally educating their students until age 7. Countries such as Finland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, and Sweden emphasize learning through play and child-led games while beginning compulsory school at age 7. And their test scores are comparable to, if not higher than, those of students in countries whose children start school much earlier.
BBC News wrote an article about England beginning school at age 5 and asking if this was “too young.” Summer vacations are shorter and the school days are longer; there are “concerns that children were spending so little time with their own families that they were showing signs of aggression and de-socialisation, taking their behaviour from their peer group rather than absent adult role models” (BBC News).
What to do?
I hope that some parents will be able to choose a half day program for their children and also consider homeschooling as an option. If parents are forced to do full day Kindergarten, I hope they advocate to their school district and state as to why they disagree with this decision. If enough parents express to educators why they do not want the pressures of full day schooling on their very young children, perhaps districts will begin giving a choice back to parents. Childhood is too short. In a moment, they are 18, right? Let’s encourage children to play and explore.