This news story reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (with some good, and some so-so quotes from me – I hate when I get riled up and don’t say what I want!) and the comments by readers has me thinking about our little ones who are already, or almost, in school this year. I hope some of you will get in on the discussion about this article – and start your own at your schools and with your friends and family.
Kindergarten teachers in different regions of the U.S. have shook their heads, pursed their lips, cussed a little, and even shed a tear or two as they tell me stories about what they feel they have to “do” to their students. “I don’t even have time for teaching – all I do is assess, assess, assess,” one teacher told me referring mostly to the DIBELS (phonics-driven) assessment mandated in her school and used to evaluate teachers at the end of the year. Other teachers have written emails to me panicking that their principal had just taken away recess – or choice time – or crayons – or P.E. – or rest time to make room for more testing and test preparation. They wanted my help. I wrote thoughtful messages back to them, citing research about play-based approaches to learning and social, emotional, and academic needs of young children. I gave them ammunition from the “experts” in education…but politicians and publishing houses (who sell the big-money test prep and test materials) wield more power and often get their way in schools. These conversations and email correspondences have driven me mad. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in action – and they’re looking to me for help and I fail them.
I’ve also been in kindergarten classrooms where teachers weren’t outwardly questioning the mandates to make sure kids were writing complete sentences with appropriate capitalization and punctuation by December of kindergarten. And I saw children falling asleep, crying, acting out, and checking out. I didn’t blame them. I was checking out too.
Some of the trickle down of test preparation into the kindergartens has prompted particularly middle-class parents (who feel they can question the “system” of schooling) to keep their kids out of kindergarten a year longer until they’re “ready” for the more rigid behavior expectations (no running! no talking!) or the higher academic expectations. I’m all for kindergarteners learning a ton in that first official year of school – but through hands-on experiences, explorations, projects, play, and movement. Not through sitting-at-the-table-with-nothing-but-a-piece-of-paper-and-pencil. And no talking!
All around the country kindergarten teachers are angry about this, parents are confused, and children are suffering. Teachers are stressed, children are stressed, and families are stressed.
When are we going to say, “Give us back our kindergartens!”