All work and no play makes kindergarten a grind, no matter when kids turn 5

Patti Ghezzi, a former AJC education reporter, works in university communications. She has a keen interest in education issues as this column on the changing nature of kindergarten demonstrates.

By Patti Ghezzi

A bill to change the date when Georgia children can enter kindergarten would not change the reality that modern kindergarten is not developmentally appropriate for 5-year-olds.

Now, children must turn 5 before Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten. With school starting in August in most districts, some kids are just 4 years old when they first take their seat in a kindergarten classroom. The bill would wind back the start date to Aug. 1 in 2017 and July 1 in 2018.

Young children need time outside and time to play, both of which are vanishing as kindergarten becomes more academic. (AJC File)

Young children need time outside and time to play, both of which are vanishing as kindergarten becomes more academic. (AJC File)

Unfortunately, even if this bill passes, too many kids will tumble into kindergarten classrooms that are not set up to meet their needs. They will find no play kitchen and no easels. They may only get one short recess period during the six-hour school day.

 Instead of free play, they will face pressure to read and write, ready or not. Many parents will be informed at their first parent-teacher conference that their child is not interested in reading, something the parents likely already know. Yet parents will be surprised to hear it’s a problem. After all, this is only kindergarten.

The teacher may suggest flashcards, online games and other things parents can do to get their child on the reading bandwagon. The teacher may remind parents of the daily reading log they’re supposed to keep, documenting the amount of time they spend reading with their child.

Some parents will hear their child cannot sit still. He talks too much. He doesn’t pay attention. He is disrupting the other kids who are trying to learn. The teacher may ask if there is something going on at home the school should know about.

How about asking when it became normal to expect 5-year-olds to sit still for extended periods, write detailed journal entries, complete worksheets and read independently, all in a school day that includes just 15 minutes of free play?

This bill merely gives children with late summer birthdays a reprieve from the kindergarten grind, something many parents already do by waiting a year to enroll their child.

The focus on age is misguided, because not all kids develop at the same rate. Of three students in a classroom, all born on September 1, one may arrive on the verge of reading, knowing all the letters and sounds. One may show no interest in sounds, letters or reading. Another may already be reading independently.

Instead of trying to fix kindergarten by focusing on age, let’s bring back the children’s garden, a time of exploration and learning through play. Bring back play kitchens. Build in several recess periods. For rainy days, stock up on board games, blocks, play dough and Legos. Make time to sing and dance. Have children dress up and act out stories. Encourage children who are ready to read to forge ahead, but don’t pressure kids who aren’t ready to cross the bridge from nonreader to reader.

Some say you can’t bring back kindergarten, because it never went away. It was just renamed pre-k.

My daughter loved public pre-k, even though she only got one recess. Several of her classmates, mostly boys, were routinely denied recess because of misbehavior. She adored “choice time,” when she went from center to center building with blocks, cutting out pictures and playing dress-up with friends.

When Celia got to kindergarten, her teachers worked hard to straddle both worlds. They sang silly songs and read stories with animation and joy, while still teaching reading and math as dictated by the state. I marveled at their ability to strike this balance, but teachers shouldn’t be torn between giving kids what they need and pushing them to advance at the same accelerated pace.

Today’s kindergarten seems built on the belief that squeezing out free play allows more time for academic instruction, resulting in kids who can read better at a younger age.

My review of research supports recess and learning through play and does not suggest test scores will decline if you let kids be kids. But those who dictate education policy have no problem ignoring research or common sense when it doesn’t jibe with their strategy.

Instead, apparently, Georgia policymakers would rather debate the date when children gain entry to this dysfunctional system.

 

Reader Comments 1

50 comments
Will Dobbs
Will Dobbs

Although, I have been trained and currently work in secondary education, I have always been interested in early child development. Many school districts, because of the pressure from legislators have lost focus on the meaning and purpose of kindergarten. I fully understand the importance for children to obtain early literacy skills. I am well aware of poverty and social factors that place many American children “behind the learning curve”. Nevertheless, have we forgotten the overall important question in education, “it this best for kids”? Is the rigor or structure of kindergarten today, best for kids? Play for a child is investigation, an interaction with their environment, and most important the development of an imagination. Let us not steal childhood, from a child.


Valonline
Valonline

I agree completely. To develop normally and have a love of life and learning, kids need to be able to play, pursue the skills that they are currently developing, solve the problems they are trying to figure out, and have the time to do that -- not being rushed by someone else's timetable. They do this through play, interaction with others, and expressing themselves freely. They need to feel joy in what they're doing, not be fit into a cookie cutter too soon. There is enough time for structured learning in their futures. We learn in college education programs that constructive learning works the best; what children get to experience they learn the best. Making sense of their worlds is only the first step on the "educational" pathway. They all develop at a slightly different rate, but usually even out in skills by second grade. There's no hurry; they will learn better when they are ready for what is presented to them.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Having spent nigh on 40 years between state testing and policy research, seems to me we started pushing first grade down into kindergarten about that long ago. I had the best decade of my career doing research with early childhood folks, most notably Dave Weikart, Larry Schweinhart, Steve Barnett and Ellen Frede (look 'em up). One of the pieces we did focused on the effects of Virginia's implementation of "Junior Kindergarten" - which was simply real Kindergarten for Kindergarten-age kids who weren't "ready" for what had become first grade. And that was 30 years ago. The most likely thing we teach kids by forcing them to do sitdownshutupandcounttoahundred in K is to hate school.

I guess the obvious solution is to require kids to be 6 for Kindergarten, then our so-called "preschool" becomes Kindergarten for 5-year-olds. The outcome of that is that 12th grade is effectively the first year of college. That means that Obama only has to figure out how we'll pay for one year of college for folks to get an AA degree (YES I'm being cynical).

bu2
bu2

@jerryeads 

And did those early childhood experts agree with Pstti Ghezzi?

panthergir88
panthergir88

I think its interesting.  Although  my older son went to all-day kindergarten, it wasn't that structured.  They had nap time, lego stations, drawing stations, etc.  He showed little interest in reading and didn't start really reading until the summer between kindergarten and 1st grade.  My younger son, on the other hand, went to a kindergarten class that was more structured and more academic.  They actually had desks.  And do you know what?  The child who went to the less structured,  less academic kindergarten is now a freshman at Georgia Tech.  My younger son, who started off with the more academic kindergarten,  has shown to be not nearly as good a student as his older brother.  I'm not sure that turning kindergarten into 1st grade has been a great success.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Birth order has a big deal in the success of children. The oldest child in a family tends to be most successful. Type A.'s. I am one of them. The baby in our family even has a higher IQ, but she doesn't have the drive have. She was just satisfied with marrying a Doctor 18 years older than her when she was 23. I could never do that.

newsphile
newsphile

As a retiree, I've observed a lot of children through the years.  Sometimes it's Mama and Daddy that push.  After all everyone knows that his/her child is smarter and more mature than all the rest.  We rush our young children into activities and clothing beyond their ages and maturity levels.  Then we wonder what went wrong.

Today's  typical high school seniors don't know what their college major will be or they change majors several times.  After getting a BS or BA, many can't find jobs and end up back home. 

I've often wondered if all kindergarten children shouldn't be older than five.  Why do we push kids to grow up so fast?  By increasing the starting age, it could eliminate some of the discipline issues in elementary and high school. Perhaps students would be mature enough when entering college to have a clue and perhaps more graduates would be mature enough to seek employment, rather than expecting the dream job on day one. 



FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Kindergarten is the first step into a structured learning environment. Balance is important. There are three types which should be used. Adult-led, adult-initiated, and child-initiated. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three but implementing them balances out the child thereby allowing the teacher equal opportunity.

Children are more resilient than we've been led to believe. 

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

You are complaining about kids not being able to play outside via school yet parents have no problem sitting their precious little kids behind a TV, computer, iPhone, etc., etc.?????

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@MiltonMan 


<140, here are the two grammatical issues with your sentence:


1. You put question marks in a declarative sentence.  My seven year old knows that is incorrect.


2. Yet is a coordinating conjunction; therefore it should have a comma before it.  <140, you just committed a grammatical sin when you wrote a run-on sentence.


The moron is here to help.  I believe there's a biblical verse about casting stones.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

Absent a developmental issue/special need that would result in benefit from structured learning (i.e., some degrees of autism), four-year-olds ought to be playing outside in the sunshine and getting dirt on their hands as much as possible, and alternating among playing with toys, being read to, and napping when they are indoors. I'd even extend that to five- and six-year-olds in most cases. I was reading Dr. Seuss books by four, but I didn't start school until I was well past six years old (back when the earth was cooling, as my kids like to say), never "did kindergarten," no play dates, no organized sports until 8th grade, spent a lot of time in the summer on my bike or in our treehouse with Batman comic books and Nancy Drew novels, and went to college on a full academic scholarship.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

The absolute BEST way to get a  kid to hate school is to keep him or her from participating in developmentally appropriate activities for his or her age. This means more PLAY! Kids learn through play!

Give them recess; afford them time to be outside and discover things; let them build with HUGE blocks (remember the cardboard bricks?).

Instead we give them sight words in pre-k, limit their recess to 20 minutes, make them sit and take a ridiculous (but lucrative for Pearson, et al) test for up to 140 minutes without moving or talking.

GEE.  Can't imagine why the kids get squirrely, act out, and then get suspended in high school.

The way education is legislated is criminal. It's child abuse...making third graders sit for 140 minutes without moving or talking...for four days in a row. Please.  No adult can do that.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't put my kids in school before first grade. Pre-K and Kindergarten are useless (and damaging) for many, many kids.

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

If pre-K is the new K, then the state needs to provide pre-K to all students.

Astropig
Astropig

@ProHumanitate


No! Can't do it! It would expand the state's reach into education!  It would create another state bureaucracy!!!! I mean,wasn't that the line here last week on the OSD?

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

@honested @ProHumanitate @Astropig

We're just going backward. There was no public kindergarten when I started school in GA. Public school started at 1st grade. At some point, they saw that providing the early childhood kindergarten learning to all kids led to better outcomes.

But over the last few years they decide that kindergarten needs to be more "rigorous" and it's now more like 1st grade used to be.  No surprise that some of the younger kids aren't ready for it. No wonder the teachers are supportive of having the kids be a little older if that's what they have to teach them.

What they've really done with this combination of moves is gotten rid of kindergarten and gone back to the old way of doing things. But it's now called Pre-K, and the only way to get it is to be able pay for a private program or luck into one of the lottery funded slots. All the other kids are out of luck. They'll get babysat for another year.

Let the disparities widen!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

We COULD do individualized evaluations of school readiness.  Anyone want to pay the cost?  In addition, you would hear nothing but complaints:  "The teacher was biased"  "The test was unfair"   "He doesn't test well"  "I demand a retest."  THAT is why there are these rules in place, in addition to the cost factor.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I agree with Patty that most kindergarten in Georgia is taught in developmentally inappropriate ways.  As a kindergarten teacher from back when Georgia started its program in a few districts, it galls me.   Of course, back then, the cutoff was January 1, so we had 4 1/2 year olds in kindergarten for a half a year before they turned 5, and not just the month we have now.


It would be nice if all parents made informed observations of their children's readiness.  I had a few parents who did, and whose very young children benefitted tremendously.  I had others whose (usually) sons struggled mightily, and who allowed me to keep them for another year.  With no exceptions, these young men have thrived and have great careers.  I had others who refused to give their child another year.  The results of this have been dropouts/jail time.  How much better if their parents had been willing to put aside pride.


I have an August birthday girl.  I struggled with the decision of whether to give her another year.  Her nursery school teachers convinced me to let her go--she was ready.  If they had recommended against it, I would never have let her start that year. I was prepared for her to have 2 years of kindergarten if she needed it.  Her teacher said no.  She was one of the youngest of her cohort, but still managed to graduate 6th in her class, and participate in band, cheerleading, and drama.  She had to put more effort into it, however, than her September birthday sister and brother. 

RealKat
RealKat

@Wascatlady In the same family, a month made that much of a difference? If this is the case, then people need to seriously check their own child's readiness.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

This article doesn't address the flip side of the coin.  Plenty of kids that miss the cutoff ARE ready for kindergarten and are told to get lost.

HollyJones
HollyJones

@MaureenDowney @RichardKPE Our elementary school in Cherokee County does kindergarten assessments, but I don't know that a child has ever not started kindergarten because of the assessment.  I think it's a county rule, but I'm not 100% sure.   I think they use it more to see where the child may need more help once kindergarten starts.  That's just my guess, though.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@RichardKPE How do you get around that? Every activity -- club sports, summer camps, children's choirs -- imposes age restrictions. A friend directs a well-respected summer music enrichment program and says parents are always assuring her their young kids are ready for the challenge. She used to make exceptions and let in kids who were younger than the cutoff but said most kids really weren't ready. She doesn't have time to pretest kids so relying on an age cutoff is essential. And she said even younger kids who might be musically ready aren't always behaviorally ready for her program.

Not sure how schools would walk that line without a team to assess kids.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@MaureenDowney @RichardKPE What a fantastic idea.  "Assess kids" in a way that goes beyond "he was born on September 2nd."  Or, better yet, allow the parents to get an assessment from outside the school.

RealKat
RealKat

@RichardKPE @MaureenDowney Our child was assessed because he had been in special needs pre-K, with Asperger's, but he did fantastic in kindergarten. BUT, his teachers have always had the wonderful para-pros in there. 

BCW1
BCW1

The K curriculum is now what used to be taught in 1st grade. And that curriculum and pace dose not allow for much down time other than recess. There are times that we are asking our K students to do things that developmentally they are not ready for. By the old standards, being 5 years old before Sept. 1st, some students come to school more of a 4 year old than a 5 year old.

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

And some districts, like APS, take those 5 yr olds and plunk them in front of a computer screen over and over to take standardized tests (last year 3 times for CAAS and this year ).

Frequently the kids are frustrated and crying. Some have never used a computer keyboard, and manual dexterity at that age is still developing.

This, even though they know the test results for kids that young are unreliable and worth very little to the teacher. Kids who get frustrated quickly figure out that they can just "click through" and be done with it. The only plausible reason is to "train" them to take tests on a computer. What a colossal waste of time and money.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

Oh, when your 5-year-old can't sit still for 6 hours straight, the teacher will always suggest he has ADD or some other medical issue.  The "condition" you're looking for is called "FIVE-YEARS-OLD" you nitwit.

HollyJones
HollyJones

@RichardKPE And that condition can be "Six-Year-Old," "Seven-Year-Old" and so on. Some kids, particularly boys but not always, just need to move. One first grade classroom at my son's school has those exercise balls for some of the kids to sit on so they can bounce, which helps them focus better.  Gotta meet them where they are.  


honested
honested

Common sense and results of exhausting research will always be lost on Georgia education policy makers.

Chances are, the current focus on age is derived from some for-profit Kindergarten company's research (and the need to ensure a target for a contract).

At least they aren't focusing on adding confederate history and free market worship, those don't come until the Second Grade.

Astropig
Astropig

@honested


Thank you for your constructive input into this important subject.

Lynn43
Lynn43

@Astropig @honested I am already receiving lobbying material from Charterschools USA in hopes of taking over Georgia's schools.

honested
honested

@Astropig @honested 

Why thanks, but I believe yours was more constructive and introspective.

I was just referencing the Georgia Policymakers who consistently chase the easy fix rather than focus on what is needed.

Currently, although it may be a bit cynical, I can only assume that any changes are in advance of the next for-profit scam that will be foisted on Georgia's children.

Lynn43
Lynn43

@honested @Lynn43 @Astropig This is an "annual" report which tries to make them sound like the best solution for Georgia schools.  I will read the "fine" print, but I think they will go along with whatever the governor wants just to get the contract.

Astropig
Astropig

@Lynn43 @honested @Astropig


If it offends you so much,there's a trash can right over there in the corner of your kitchen.Use it. I'd do that with anything that came in the mail from GAE.

newsphile
newsphile

@Lynn43 @Astropig @honested  CharterSchools USA is being investigated in some other states for failure to deliver as promised.  I personally know several families who left their school in our county because they didn't add the high school grades as promised and they closed their library and divided the books and materials among classrooms.  They are more concerned with sending our education dollars to corporate in FL than educating local students. 

Astropig
Astropig

One thing I learned really early on with my kids is that there is a very good reason that "Sesame Street" is broken up into short segments-kids have a short attention span.I agree that its pretty unrealistic to expect kindergardeners to sit still for any length of time and not suffer distraction.Smart teachers move 'em right along and don't let them get bored. Play time (to me ) is important because it opens their mind to learning time."Why?" is a normal question for kids this age to ask.Using examples and metaphors,similes and visual demonstrations reach their young minds better than the printed word could ever hope to.


I later applied this knowledge when I coached 5-6 year old tee ball. Practices were short, well planned and had snappy segments with lots of "how to",along with the occasional silliness to lighten things up. We rarely lost,and parents would fight like rabid badgers to get their kids on my team.I still keep my trophies on the shelf and see my old players around town all the time.

EdUktr
EdUktr

School choice offers relief to parents with differing views on the subject. 

Think kindergarten should be all about fun? Think it should have more academic substance? Breaking up the public school monopoly by offering parents tuition vouchers would provide real alternatives to one-size-fits-all.

honested
honested

@EdUktr 

Where are these voucher schemes providing improved output at lower cost for a broader group of Students?

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Of course it takes the fun out of kindergarten.  But when schools are under pressure to perform, a child who does not know how to sound out their letters, know their sight words and some basic math are left behind in this age of Common Core.  Speaking with a kindergarten teacher last night, she said that 4 year-olds simply do not have the maturity to handle the work now demanded of kindergarteners.


So the question really needs to be "is kindergarten play school or learning time?"  If it is play school, then bring the four-year olds in and party all the time.  If it is school, then recognize that it is a place of learning with a little fun thrown in for good measure. 

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@MD3 @Looking4truth  Thank you for your reply.  I don't think I'm missing the point.  Kindergarten aged children need lots of love, support and acceptance.  Play and interaction is (and would be) still a part of kindergarten. 


But when academics creep in, as they are whether we like it or not, there does need to be a certain level of maturity to begin to sit and see a class activity through to completion, even if it is only 5-10 minutes.  That is the level of maturity I'm talking about.  Teachers, not experts who aren't in the classroom, are having to balance this academics vs. fun everyday and keep the kids engaged.  They've indicated it's easier to do when they are a five and not an "almost five". 

MD3
MD3

@Looking4truth You're completely missing the point. It IS still learning time. But research has proven, again and again, that children at the kindergarten age learn through play and through interaction with people and in different situations. Forcing kindergarten children, whether they turn 5 on Sept 1 or on July 1, to sit silently and work the same way you'd expect high school students to work is simply insane. Why do policy makers ignore the experts in the field? Why do we toss aside sound research and buy completely into one fad after the other? The only thing we are doing is making kids hate school at a very young age, which will absolutely affect their long-term feelings regarding school and could very well lead to a rise in dropout rates. Politicians need to consult experts when crafting policy and stop trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they know what they are doing.

dg417s
dg417s

@MD3 @Looking4truth You hit the nail on the head - we keep ignoring the experts in the field.  We do this over and over again in this state.  Unfortunately, if we say we're actually listening to the educators who are doing the work with these children, people would accuse us of bowing down to the evil nasty unions.  We've become a society that doesn't trust the experts - regardless of the profession.  Just yesterday, a state representative in Idaho was asking a doctor if it was possible for a woman to swallow a pill that would take a camera to her lady parts.

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

@Looking4truth Learning for 4 and 5 year olds IS play time.  There have only been about 1000 studies that show that independent play is essential for emotional and social intelligence, leadership skills, decision-making skills, compromise, patience, all skills that are necessary to live and work together in school and later in life.  It isn't play vs learning.  It is age-appropriate learning.