Monday, February 27, 2006

"Preschool is the New Kindergarten"

The L.A. Times had an interesting opinion column today about "kindergarten burnout."

A concerned parent writes: "So if we are being advised to wait until age 6 to begin school, and the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten, the kindergarten I once knew has effectively been eliminated... Preschool is the new kindergarten... But at what cost to the kids?"

The author zeroes in on one of my biggest complaints about the current state of public elementary schools: the solution to educational woes is too often seen as pushing children to perform at younger and younger ages, before many of the children are developmentally ready. In California, one of the reasons for the push for universal preschool is because, as the columnist above suggests, preschool is seen as the replacement for kindergarten. The schools need to have high standards, but at the age-appropriate levels.

A child who struggles with multiplication tables in 2nd grade isn't going to end up any "better educated" in the long run (or better off in high school classes, for example) than a child who easily picks them up in 3rd grade (the age many parents of my own generation learned them) or even 4th grade (when some of my parents' generation learned them). But that young child who is pushed too soon is in for an unnecessarily negative educational situation -- which often includes hours of "remedial" homework when the child struggles -- when there is still so much he could be learning, and loving, at age 7.

At the same time, it needs to be recognized that children all develop very differently, particularly in the early years. One of the drawbacks to the public school system is the need to push all children through the process in lockstep, without addressing their varying developmental stages or learning styles. For instance, if a child is ready to read in kindergarten, he or she should be encouraged. On the other hand, if a child struggles with memorizing all the letter sounds in kindergarten, they should be able to ease up until 1st grade. (I've had children in each situation, so I've seen both ends of the spectrum.) Unfortunately, many schools these days refuse to separate children into groups by developmental ability because of concerns about damaging children's self-esteem or because of a lack of staff resources.

All in all, I feel the current situation with elementary grade level standards, at least in California, is a mess.


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