30 Ways American Kindergarten Should Become More Like Those in Germany, Japan, and Finland

Updated on August 11, 2018
letstalkabouteduc profile image

I'm a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in special education. I spent many years teaching preschool and kindergarten.

The word "kindergarten" comes from German and literally means "children's garden." Unfortunately, that poetic notion has fallen to the wayside in the United States as we now demand academic rigor for our youngest learners.
The word "kindergarten" comes from German and literally means "children's garden." Unfortunately, that poetic notion has fallen to the wayside in the United States as we now demand academic rigor for our youngest learners. | Source

The Magical American Kindergarten Is Just a Memory

If you're middle-aged like I am, you might look back at kindergarten as the most magical year of your educational journey: a time of wonder, discovery, and joy. You may remember watching your lima bean sprout in its plastic cup on the windowsill. You may remember pretending to cook up spaghetti and meatballs with your friends in the play kitchen. You may remember painting at the easel and discovering that red and blue made purple. You may remember feeling powerful, alive, and eager to learn more about the magnificent world around you. You may have a vague memory of your teacher, knowing she must have been there watching over you, guiding your learning, and keeping you safe. But her presence wasn't overwhelming but like a gentle breeze you could feel but not see.

American Kindergarten Has Become Results-Oriented and the Joy of Discovery Is Gone

If you were to enter an American kindergarten today, the teacher would be a hard-hitting cyclone, not a gentle breeze. She would be front and center, a tough taskmaster with a rigid agenda: teaching her students how to read, how to recognize sight words, how to write a paragraph, how to complete mathematical equations, and how to do dozens of other tasks listed in the Common Core standards. She would be frantically assessing students to determine if they were on track, feeling the immense pressure to prepare them for first grade. She would be results-oriented, attending to her lengthy checklist of skills the students must acquire while ignoring their innate curiosity and unique interests. Kindergarten in the United States is now a one-size-fits-all approach with everyone learning the same thing at the same time, individual differences be damned.

American Kindergarten Stifles Creative Thinking at a Time When It Should Be Unleashed

Mark Cuban and other successful entrepreneurs submit that creative thinking will soon become the most sought after quality in potential employees. American kindergarten today, however, does little to promote children's imagination, initiative, and critical thought. Instead, it zeros in on preparing them academically for first grade. At a time when children's brains are wired to learn by doing, we have them doing the opposite: sitting quietly at tables doing workbooks, listening passively to teacher-directed lessons, and zoning out to a virtual world on screens. The most stimulating parts of kindergarten—the play kitchen, the blocks, the puppet theater, and the easels—have been removed. With that being said, here are 30 ways American kindergarten should become more like those in Germany, Japan, and Finland that let kids shape their own educational experiences while becoming self-motivated, curious, and creative.

Unlike American kindergarten that's focused on getting children prepared academically for first grade, German kindergarten lets kids play, explore, and interact.
Unlike American kindergarten that's focused on getting children prepared academically for first grade, German kindergarten lets kids play, explore, and interact. | Source

Germany

1. The word “kindergarten” comes from German and means “children's garden,” conjuring up idyllic images of youngsters watering flowers, playing in a sandbox, rolling on the grass, and examining ladybugs with magnifying glasses. While American kindergarten has moved far away from that original concept, German kindergarten still emphasizes unstructured play, not academics.

2. Reading and writing are not taught until the first grade in Germany. While the aim of American kindergarten is to prepare students academically for the next school year, the aim of German kindergarten is to prepare kids for a well-rounded life.

3. Kindergartners in the United States have a long list of narrow academic skills to acquire in preparation for first grade: reading a text, writing a paragraph, completing mathematical equations, and dozens of others. Kindergartners in Germany, however, learn broad skills that will serve them in first grade and well beyond: understanding themselves, developing empathy, thinking critically, and being creative.

4. While American kindergarten is teacher-directed, German kindergarten is child-centered. Youngsters learn from their own curiosities and at their own rate rather than getting spoon-fed knowledge that's of no relevance to them.

5. While American kindergarten is a busy place packed with academics, German kindergarten is downright dull at times. This is viewed as a positive, though, as boredom propels youngsters to become self-motivated learners. They develop their own unique interests rather than follow a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

6. Unlike American kindergarten that emphasizes academic learning, German kindergarten focuses on social learning: making friends, communicating, working together to solve problems, sharing, coping with frustration, and learning from one another.

7. While kindergarten teachers in the United States step in to handle disputes among students and issue time-outs, kindergarten teachers in Germany let kids handle their own problems with little or no intervention. This way children learn interpersonal skills: communication, conflict resolution, and compromise.

8. While American kindergartners stay indoors if it's sprinkling, German kindergartners go outside to play in all types of weather. They get the healthy benefits of fresh air, exercise, and spending time in nature on a daily basis.

9. Unlike kindergarten classrooms in the United States that are full of workbooks, pencils, papers, and i-pads, some German kindergartens have no classroom at all but are conducted entirely in nature. These “forest kindergartens” allow kids to be outside all day: climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek, and building shelters with branches, mud, and leaves.

10. Kindergarten-aged children in the United States suffer from “nature deficit disorder,” caused by staying indoors glued to their screens. They're more likely to suffer from major health problems in the future such as obesity, depression, anxiety, and narcissism. Kindergarten-aged kids in Germany play outdoors and build habits that will reduce stress, increase joy, and make them physically and emotionally stronger.

Japan

1. Corporate leaders say employees who can work effectively in a team are in high demand. In American kindergarten, though, children do solitary academic activities such as reading, writing, and technology. Japanese kindergarten has a cooperative approach with children learning together through play, real world experiences, and exploration.

2. Kindergarten teachers in the United States are saddled with an enormous checklist of Common Core Standards to teach and assess. This reduces their autonomy in the classroom. Kindergarten teaches in Japan have fewer goals, giving them leeway to instruct as they see fit and meet the unique needs of each child.

3. Because there are fewer academic goals in a Japanese kindergarten, the atmosphere is more relaxed, creative, stimulating, and fun for both teachers and students.

4. With so many academic skills to introduce and assess, kindergarten teachers in the United States spend an exorbitant amount of time on “classroom management” (establishing rules, disciplining, setting up reward systems). Because academic instruction in Japan doesn't begin until children are older and developmentally ready, kindergarten teachers aren't overwhelmed by classroom management tasks.

5. Kindergarten teachers in Japan have few classroom rules and encourage their students to explore the environment.

6. In the United States we insist on teaching kindergarten in ways that aren't developmentally appropriate (workbooks, teacher-directed lessons, paper-pencil tasks). Because young children aren't intrinsically motivated by these activities, teachers must spend a lot of time on discipline. Discipline in Japan is not an issue because kindergartners are accepted for who they are: active and curious beings who need to move, wriggle, talk, and interact with one another.

7. In Japanese kindergarten, teachers create a stimulating environment for their students who learn by exploring their surroundings. In American kindergarten, the teacher shapes the children's experiences with an academic curriculum, stifling their curiosity and creativity in the process.

8. Education for older children in Japan is known for its academic rigor and excellence. The Japanese, however, recognize that kindergartners learn by doing and introducing academics too early is destructive to their initiative and imagination.

9. Teaching in Japan is a noble profession and educators are shown immense respect from students, parents, and society at large. They are charged with turning children into contributing community members, not just future employees as is the case in the United States.

10. Japan is consistently among the top five educational systems in the world, ranking much higher than the United States. Their country's belief that academic rigor is important but not appropriate in kindergarten gets validated in their students' outstanding test scores, especially in math and science.

In American kindergarten, every child is expected to read by the end of the school year, individual differences be damned. In Finnish kindergarten, there is no urgency for kids to read early.
In American kindergarten, every child is expected to read by the end of the school year, individual differences be damned. In Finnish kindergarten, there is no urgency for kids to read early. | Source

Finland

1. While American kindergarten becomes increasingly academic, Finnish kindergarten (called preschool) becomes increasingly play-based.

2. Based on the latest research in early childhood education, leaders in Finland have determined that young children learn best through play. Kindergartners develop math and literary skills through hands-on experiences, not paper-pencil tasks.

3. American kindergarten is obsessed with having students learn to read. Finland, with an educational system that's the envy of the world, doesn't introduce formal reading instruction until students are older.

4. If a Finnish child shows interest in learning how to read in kindergarten, the teacher encourages it but keeps instruction light and playful. In American kindergarten, every youngster is expected to read by the end of the school year despite individual differences.

5. Finnish leaders are aware of research by Sebastian Suggate and others that shows there's no benefit to early reading. Children who were taught later (for example, at age 7 instead of 5) caught up to those who learned earlier.

6. Unlike American kindergarten with its paper-pencil tasks, reading groups, and teacher-directed lessons, Finnish kindergarten aims to stimulate children's imaginations. Youngsters are given ample opportunity to do creative pursuits: making forts with blankets and sheets, pretending to run a restaurant, and building dams in a stream.

7. The foundation of kindergarten education in Finland is learning with joy. Teachers want kids to become enthusiastic life-long learners. They don't want to turn them off to learning at a young age by burdening them with academics.

8. At the beginning of the school year, kindergarten teachers in Finland meet with parents to establish learning goals that are unique to each child. Kindergarten teachers in the United States have the same goals for everyone.

9. Children in American kindergarten are placed in reading groups based on ability. Those in the low group are made to feel inferior and stupid. There are no reading groups in Finnish kindergarten.

10. In American kindergarten, doing paper-pencil tasks and pages in workbooks is part of the daily routine. In Finnish kindergarten, handwriting is done just one day per week.


Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids
Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids

As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I can't say enough wonderful things about this book. We need Nancy Carlsson-Paige as a voice of reason, advocating for our youngest learners. Too many experts in early childhood education have gotten silenced in our country's push for academic rigor. Nancy does a fantastic job of explaining why kids need more imaginative play and down-time and fewer teacher-directed lessons. If you're concerned about kindergarten being too academic, stressful, and sedentary for your child, you're absolutely right and should read this book.

 

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 McKenna Meyers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        5 months ago from Bend, OR

        Drives me nutso as well! Moving away from just the education realm, I'm concerned about this whole anti-intellectual, anti-research, anti-experts, anti-science sentiment in our country (there's no global warming, the flat earth society, the majority of Republicans thinking college is bad for the United States). Very strange and scary times!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 months ago from Olympia, WA

        We are such a weird country. We seem incapable of learning from other nations, convinced that our way, even though it is failing, is the right way always. Drives me nutso!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wehavekids.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wehavekids.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)