The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Kindergarten

The teaching of reading and writing in kindergarten until recently was not permitted. Now we have tests to determine if children are ready for the kindergarten curriculum which includes reading and writing.

Most school systems test children before they come to kindergarten. As a result of these tests some children are declared more ready than others. This can have a devastating affect on the parents. For five years the parents have been very happy watching and helping their child develop. Then the child is given a test, usually lasting less than a half hour, and the parents are led to believe that in some way their child is deficient. He or she is not as ready as his peers for kindergarten. Parents not only can lose confidence in themselves they can lose confidence in their child. Their wonderful child is somehow wanting in the eyes of the world. It does not matter that the child is performing well within the range of normal development, that the tests have big uncertainties, and that rates of development vary considerably. All the parent takes away from the testing is the feeling that there is something wrong.

Dr. Lilian Katz from the University of Illinois said that the most continuous and constant impact upon a child’s environment is made by parents. One of the goals of the school, therefore, should be to inspire a parent to have confidence in his or her child. This deep-down parental confidence will carry that child a long way. Schools should be finding ways of demonstrating to parents that their children have a chance to succeed in coping with life, rather than giving a negative message which deprives them of confidence in themselves and their children. Nothing is more disheartening than an expectation of hopelessness and failure for one’s own child. An article by Harriet Egertson, president of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists, makes a plea for recapturing kindergarten for five-year olds. Twenty years ago she reminds us, no one worried whether children had long attention spans, whether they could count to 20 , say their ABC’s or knew their sounds because it was expected that school would teach these things in good time. There was no imposed kindergarten readiness criteria based on eye-hand coordination or auditory and visual memory because the materials and equipment were designed to help these capacities emerge. Today the kindergarten curriculum is at least one year accelerated, requiring the teaching of specific skills which the children are expected to learn.

She goes on to bemoan the fact that the rich, creative experiences with real materials like blocks, clay, paint and dramatic play props have been replaced by worksheets, workbooks, and other didactic tasks. Egertson believes that children spend too much time practicing, over and over, a narrow spectrum of discrete skills that are seldom tied to anything young children care about, are interested in, or need. Also much of these tasks are just plain boring which deadens the enthusiasm for learning that children bring with them. Worse, they cause many children to feel like failures.

My brother tells the story about how much delight he took in watching his first child grow and develop. He was thrilled when he took his first step. He bragged about his child’s first word, and called everybody when he said his first sentence. He made tapes and movies not only of the milestones in his son’s development but also of his day-by-day progress. He then started reading a book about children and learned that his son’s development was unexceptional. Most children do these same things at this same age. Instead of being disappointed, he threw the book away and stopped comparing his son to other children. Instead, he resumed taking joy in the progress of his own unique, precious and wonderful child. It is important that parents feel this way and continue to be their child’s cheering section. The experts can help in pointing out the milestones at different ages in order to alert parents if something is wrong, but try not to let them lessen the joy you should experience in watching your own, unique, wonderful child grow and develop.

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