DSM: NYTimes.com Article: No Time for Napping in Today's Kindergarten

Mon, 23 Oct 2000 07:22:56 -0400 (EDT)

This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by Dana Bennis has been sent to you by Dana Bennis dbennis@umich.edu.


Hello everyone,

   I am a senior music education major at the University of Michigan, and I just recently subscribed to this email list after discovering the Sudbury school. I've been dissatisfied with traditional schooling for a while now, and learning about this type of school has been absolutely wonderful.
    I just read an article in the NY Times that seems to be the antithesis of everything that I believe and everything for which the Sudbury school stands, and I wanted to email this article to you. I have never emailed an article through the NY Times website, but I hope this gets through to you all.

Enjoy - when I read things with which I disagree, I always experience a combination of complete frustration that some people believe this and complete joy knowing that I don't believe it.

Dana Bennis

Dana Bennis

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No Time for Napping in Today's Kindergarten

October 23, 2000


It's only October, but already Nicky Beldoch is exhibiting symptoms
of student ennui. The other day, when his mother asked him the best
thing about school, he said lunch. Most boring? Art history.

 No surprise, given that he has homework every night and has been
anxious about an oral report he has to deliver in science.

 But Nicky is 5, and he is in kindergarten. And while his mother,
naturally, says that he is smarter than the average kindergartner,
his day at Public School 9 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan
looks much like the average day in kindergartens across the

 Once an idyll of graham crackers, fingerpainting and naps, the
"children's garden" has become a thicket of academic challenges, a
result of increased state testing in the elementary grades that
demands students know more, sooner. States and school districts are
writing formal curriculums for kindergarten, requiring students to
learn skills like simple addition and reading that once were taught
in first grade.

 More school districts are offering a full seven-hour day of
kindergarten because they found that traditional three-hour
programs did not allow time for the math, language arts and science
lessons that are becoming standard fare. The changes hold true in
poor schools as well as rich, in small suburban schools as well as
large urban ones.

 This month, Gov. Gray Davis of California signed a law raising the
eligible age for kindergarten to 5 from 4 1/2, saying that tougher
state standards demand more maturity. In well-off communities,
principals and teachers say parents are going a step further,
delaying their children's entry till age 6 in the hopes that they
will be better prepared for the challenges. In 1991, 6.5 percent of
parents held back their children one year. In 1995, the last year
for which data is available, it was 9.7 percent.

 "The notion that kindergarten is a place where kids come and play
is an anachronism," said Karen Lang, deputy superintendent of
schools in Greenwich, Conn. "The expectation by the professionals
is that whatever children do, it's going to be time that leads to
some kind of ultimate achievement. That doesn't mean it's not fun
and kindergarten doesn't look at all like it used to, but things
are done for a purpose."

 But the move to a more academic kindergarten has prompted a debate
about how much is too much. Some teachers, parents and child
development experts say the increased focus on reading and math has
come at the expense of play, and risks souring children on school
at an age when the goal has long been to socialize them to it.
Alarmed at the increased demands on kindergartners, a national
association of early childhood educators put out a call to action
this year warning against pushing children to read in kindergarten
and criticizing the increased use of tests to evaluate how well
kindergartners are learning basic skills.

 "With my others there was a progression throughout the year, but
this is the first day of school they're doing this," said Helen
Young, who, after watching six children go through kindergarten in
Seneca Falls, N.Y., was amazed this year when her seventh, Katelyn,
was asked to write in a journal and brought home books dissecting
the parts of bees. "Never mind the mother-child separation, it's
'Get to work!' "

 While report cards used to assess kindergartners on whether they
could speak in complete sentences and recognize their names, the
new requirements demand much more. In detailed standards,
California sets out what kindergartners must learn about basic
probability and statistics, like gathering and recording data on
charts and graphs.

 North Carolina's social studies curriculum suggests kindergartners
choose samples of their work and plan how to discuss it with
parents at a student-led conference, and requires children to be
able to identify facts in nonfiction literature.

 And in Connecticut, the language arts curriculum requires
kindergartners to read familiar books out loud with fluency, be
able to give written and oral responses to questions about books
read to them, and "make valid inferences about characters and
events using supporting details." Using check-off lists, and in
some cases tests, teachers evaluate students on these skills
several times during the year.

 One reason for the sophistication is that researchers now say
children learn from a very early age. This same research has
parents reading to their children in the crib, and many quote E. D.
Hirsch Jr., the author of "Cultural Literacy," (Houghton Mifflin,
1987) who describes kindergartners' minds as little sponges, ready
to absorb information.

 In addition, with more and more women having entered the work
force, about 60 percent of the nation's four million kindergartners
have attended preschool. So most children have already been
socialized to school, taking that task away from kindergarten. Some
preschools also introduce the prereading concepts that were once
left to kindergarten: knowing the alphabet and identifying the
sounds letters make.

 "The feeling before was, `When they're ready, they're ready,' "
said Richard Leadem, an elementary school principal in Fairfield,
Conn., where 92 percent of this year's kindergartners attended
preschool. "There's a constant struggle to be sure we don't hurry
the child, but the reality is, most of the children have already
been in preschool for a full day for two or even three years."

 There is pressure from above, too. Most states now test students
extensively in the fourth grade, and there is almost universal
agreement that if students do not read by third grade, they will
not succeed in school.

 College admissions have become more competitive, and even that
adds to the scurry. When Montgomery County, Md., revised its
kindergarten curriculum last year, cutting out art as a separate
subject and reducing time in physical education classes so schools
could add more reading and math, one school official predicted that
the district's SAT scores would "skyrocket."

 "In this business, as in any other, everybody looks down," said
Robert Fiersen, an assistant superintendent in Manhasset, N.Y.,
where the schools now include beginning conversational Spanish in
kindergarten. "The high schools look to the middle schools, the
middle schools look to the elementary schools and the elementary
schools look to kindergarten. Ultimately, you're going to end up
with prenatal reading."

 In the kindergarten classrooms at the Osborn Hill School in
Fairfield, the teachers' tone is still Mister Rogers, but the
agenda is all business.

 Before the 9 a.m. bell rings, students begin with journal-writing.
Then, they sit in a circle with one student leading the class to
discuss the day. Everything has a purpose. When they discuss what
month and day of the week it is, they recite the days of the months
and the days of the week it is not. They discuss what color leaf
they should place on their calendar according to the pattern of
red-yellow-orange established over previous weeks.

 They count, using the concepts of "tens" and "ones," to figure out
how many days they have been in school. And after discussing the
weather, they draw a bar graph of how many cloudy, sunny and rainy
days there have been so far this month, analyzing which days are
"the most" and which "the least." Later, in math time, they use
small blocks to build houses or designs, learning how to identify
patterns (A-B, A-C, A-B) and identifying shapes like rhombus and
hexagon. Asked to name a red block, a 5-year-old replies, "A
trapezoid," as if the answer should be obvious.

 "We're trying to bombard them, to come at them from a whole
assortment of ways," said David Meglathery, the principal. "We know
more about learning; we know ways to make it more enticing. This
batch of kids, they're going to be stronger."

 The debate over kindergarten in Fairfield, in Connecticut's
richest county, captures the larger debate over kindergarten. Last
year, administrators pushed for a full-day kindergarten, saying
they needed more time to teach the expanded curriculum. But parents
resisted, saying children were too scheduled already. Ultimately,
the town decided to offer both full-day kindergarten and an option
to stay late just two days a week. Even then, parents worried that
the full day would give some students an unfair advantage later on.

 Teachers prefer the longer day because, as Carol Bertilson at
Osborn Hill said, in a half-day program, "by the time they settled
down and took off their coats, it was time to turn around and go
home again."

 But after a full day, some parents report that their children
arrive home at 3:45 and promptly put on their pajamas. One student
falls asleep in the car on the way home, although he lives only two
blocks from school.

 And some teachers say academics have squeezed out some of the

 "We used to do more creative arts and crafts," said Trish Tasco,
who teaches at Osborn Hill. "We didn't feel the crunch of the

 That complaint is heard elsewhere among parents. In Manhattan,
Nicky's mother, Tracy Beldoch, said that she had been disabused of
the notion that kindergarten was all play by the second year of
nursery school, which already included some academics. Still, she
said, she was surprised that her son's kindergarten has only 25
minutes for recess in a seven-hour day.

 "The teacher said, `We have a very busy curriculum, we have a lot
to accomplish,' " Ms. Beldoch said. "What's to accomplish by the
end of kindergarten?

 "There's nothing bad about children being exposed to these
things," she added. "But does it have to be at the expense of
running around and letting out some energy?"

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