5 Reasons Why Kindergarten Today Is Unkind to Kids
The Life Lessons Kindergarten Once Taught Are Being Demolished
When I began my teaching career over 25 years ago, a friend gave me the bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. It was a huge sensation at the time, resonating with so many people who fondly remembered their first year of formal education: all they learned, all the fun they had, and all the friends they made. In the book, Fulghum beautifully explains how kindergarten teaches the big life lessons that shape us into competent, creative, and caring grownups: “share everything...don't hit people...clean up your own mess...live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some."
Kindergarten Has Become Destructive to the Hearts, Souls, and Minds of Young Children
Fulghum and his readers, though, would now be disheartened by how far we've moved from that magical once-in-a-lifetime kindergarten learning we loved. We've shifted from classrooms where the big lessons of life were learned into ones that are void of imaginative play, saturated with narrow skills to acquire, and are potentially destructive to the hearts, souls, and minds of young children. We've allowed those with no background in early childhood education to seize control and turn kindergarten into just another year of schooling, not the introduction to life it once was. With this in mind, here are five reasons why kindergarten is now unkind to kids.
1. Imaginative Play Has Been Eliminated in the Classroom
If you walk into most elementary schools today after not visiting one for many years, you'd find all the classrooms disturbingly similar in appearance. When entering a kindergarten, you'd immediately wonder: Where's the play kitchen? Where's the puppet theater? Where are the dinosaurs, the farm set, and the doll house? Where are all those things that meant the most to me when I was that age?
Your heart would ache for the little kids who show up with their imaginations wired to play but have no materials to do so. You'd wonder why their parents aren't pounding on the principal's office door and demanding toys for their youngsters. The sad truth, though, is that most of their moms and dads have bought into the premise that earlier is better when it comes to kindergarten learning and are clueless of its many dangers.
Our country's push for academic rigor has resulted in the death of imaginative play and the corresponding increase in mental disorders among children and teens. Dr. Peter Gray has studied the evolutionary function of play in young mammals and how crucial it is for their emotional and social development. As children's play has decreased dramatically in the last 50-60 years, Gray has seen the following problems emerge in youngsters:
an increase in depression and anxiety
an increase in suicide
an increase in narcissism
- an increased sense that they lack control over their lives
- a decline in creativity
- a decline in empathy
All Parents of Kindergarten Children Should Watch This Video About the Decline of Play and the Corresponding Increase in Mental Disorders
2. Developmentally Appropriate Practices Are Not Respected
When I started teaching over 25 years ago, developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) were the cornerstone for all we did in kindergarten. Those practices were based on scientific evidence that showed young children learn best through hands-on exploration, play, social interaction, and real-world experiences. David Elkind, the renown child development author, wrote: “To develop the higher areas of the brain, children must be able to experience things for themselves and feel the sense of accomplishment that goes along with completing tasks independently.”
This learn by doing approach worked beautifully in kindergarten for decades. Then, schools became politicized and the quest for academic rigor trickled down to our youngest learners. With no input from early childhood scholars, a new belief system took hold: Whatever works with older kids will surely work with younger ones.
In kindergarten learning today, we have distanced ourselves from developmentally appropriate practices and the decades of research that support them. We have youngsters sitting too much, listening too long, and doing too many activities they're not ready to do. We expect them to read, write paragraphs, and do mathematical operations by the end of the year. We eliminated the child-centered activities that were once the foundation of kindergarten learning and developed the critical skills youngsters need for a successful life: curiosity, autonomy, creativity, empathy, and an ability to work with others.
3. Homogeneous Reading Groups That Make Kids Feel Stupid and Inferior
In the United States, we've long been obsessed with getting children to read at younger and younger ages. Parents get ecstatic when their youngster is an early reader, believing it signifies supreme intelligence, and brag to their family and friends. Conversely, parents of late readers feel ashamed as if they've failed in some big way. This fixation with earlier is better has gone so far that there are even products pitched on TV that claim to teach babies how to read!
Sadly, many kindergarten teachers today do nothing to ease parental anxiety about this issue even though there's a wide age range in which children acquire reading skills. Some kids pick it up at 4 but others don't until 7 or 8. Research reveals there's no benefit to early reading, and late readers will catch up with the early ones around third grade.
In the report, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose, the authors discuss the harmful effects of teaching reading too soon. One of them, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood scholar, discusses the devastating psychological impact reading instruction has on youngsters who aren't ready for it, causing them to feel confused, anxious, and inadequate. Placing youngsters in homogeneous reading groups based on their ability further damages the self-images of those who get the low designation. They think: I'm stupid. I'm an embarrassment to my parents. I'm not as good as the other kids.
I've spoken with dozens of kindergarten parents who were devastated when their child was placed in the low reading group. My neighbors, for instance, were so upset when their son was with the bottom bunch that they vowed it wouldn't happen to their daughter. Even though she was only four-years-old, they enrolled her in a tutoring club to learn pre-reading skills so she'd be well-prepared for kindergarten. Every day she'd cry and scream when her mother made her do the homework (boring worksheets about phonics and sight words). It was a horrible ordeal as her mom would beg and bribe her to get the pages done. The insanity of early reading instruction had trickled down to this unsuspecting four-year-old who learned to hate school before ever setting foot in one.
4. Too Many Standards and Assessments
As a former teacher, I have many friends and acquaintances in the profession, and I hear the same complaint from every one of them; there are too many standards and assessments in kindergarten! These dedicated educators must spend an ungodly amount of class time measuring students' progress and recording the results instead of teaching. This is beyond frustrating to them, not a good use of their talents, and not beneficial for their students. In fact, research shows that assessment results garnered from five and six-year-old youngsters are highly unreliable and largely meaningless.
When a teacher must spend countless hours assessing each child, the fun and creativity of kindergarten learning is greatly diminished. She's forced to give the other students tedious worksheets to complete so they stay busy and quiet while she evaluates each child. The whole climate of the classroom changes from an invigorating place of hands-on discovery, in-depth exploration, and dynamic conversations to a library-style setting where students get hushed and real learning gets squelched.
5. Open-Ended Art Is Minimized
With dozens of standards to present and assess, teachers are forced to eliminate one of the best parts of kindergarten learning: open-ended art activities such as painting, coloring, drawing, printmaking, creating collages, and sculpting with clay. Not only do these pursuits stimulate imagination, independence, and initiative, they help students relax, express themselves, and build fine motor skills. Easels were once a staple in kindergarten classrooms but now are put away in storage closets, waiting for a more enlightened time. Their disappearance is a troubling sign that we no longer celebrate a child's individuality. If youngsters produce any art at all in kindergarten these days, it's teacher-directed craft projects that all turn out the same and are designed to look impressive on bulletin boards.
David Elkind first published in 1981. It's a book every parent of a kindergartner should read and has been updated over the years to reflect our changing times. I can't recommend it enough for moms and dads who want to prevent their youngsters from falling into the trap of growing up too fast, succumbing to depression and anxiety, and escaping through drugs, alcohol, technology, or suicide. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon
Tragically, the things Elkind warned about decades ago have only gotten worse, including the reduction or outright elimination of open-ended in kindergarten. He writes, “As concerned citizens, we need to assert the value of the arts in the schools. The overemphasis on the basics in contemporary education without a corresponding emphasis on personal expression through the arts hurries children by destroying the necessary balance between work and play.”
With so many little kids now attending all-day kindergarten, the need for open-ended art is more critical than ever. For their mental and emotional well-being, they need downtime during the day. Without it, they'll feel undue stress, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. Open-ended art is a necessary part of kindergarten learning and should never be seen as optional or frivolous.
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© 2018 McKenna Meyers