Kindergarten Ain’t What It Used To Be

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of May 1, 2017

Kindergarten — I still remember my kindergarten years. Mrs. Lewis was my teacher, and kindergarten in those days was half days. You either were assigned to morning or afternoon kindergarten.

Since I was only 5 at the time, I don’t remember what we had to know before we started that phase of our school life. I probably knew my colors and could count to maybe 100 or not. I don’t remember, but if I did know those things it was because of my mother, being a former teacher, took the time to teach me the basics. But it wasn’t close to anything those entering kindergartens have to know today.

A friend of mine who works in an area school recently showed me the list of desirable skills the kindergarten students of next year need to know before entering kindergarten. She attended school somewhere around the time I did, maybe a few years later, and was astounded at what needed to happen before these tiny little people could enter school.

I would assume today’s young parents know what D’Nealian handwriting is, because a child needs to know how to print their name in D’Nealian handwriting. I had to look it up. D’Nealian is a style of writing and teaching cursive, print and block handwriting, derived from the Palmer Method. How many of you know what the Palmer Method is?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not protesting all of the skills a child needs. Some on the list were: Recognize difference between upper and lowercase letters, shows an interest in learning, can attend to one activity for 10 to 15 minutes independently, has a working understanding of basic vocabulary words, can draw simple figures, can color within a given space, can grip a pencil correctly, stays in own space, can get along with a group, able to express a thought in words, and there are more stipulations. It is quite a list.

I know I did not know all of those things before I went to school. I have a feeling our list was quite short. The one thing I do remember is the rug we had to bring for our naps. Kindergarten was fun. When we first got there it was play time. Then we settled down and had a story. Some days we had show and tell. We did have teaching time but it wasn’t too long. Then we had a snack and a nap. It was a time of learning how to get along with others and learning basics to get us ready for first grade. And it was only three hours. I would say in my day and age the most basic function it served was for us to learn how to interact with each other.

There was no preschool in my day. We were kids. We played outside and played with friends or kids in the neighborhood. Our day was not scheduled with learning. We did learn while playing. We played house. We played cops and robbers. We played school. We had fun with no stress.

I wonder at the importance of coloring within a given space. To me, that says color inside the lines. Coloring inside the lines caused me great stress because I am not a color-inside-the-lines person. Why is it important to learn to color inside the lines in kindergarten? They should be exploring their child creativity, and it shouldn’t be wrong at that age to forget about the lines.

I don’t know if I still know how to hold a pencil correctly. As a parent, would I know how to teach my child to correctly hold a pencil, or would I have to ask someone for help? They probably taught me that in kindergarten, but in the scheme of life it wasn’t important enough to retain that knowledge.

A pre-requisite for attending kindergarten seems to be preschool or early childhood education. Because we didn’t have that in my day, did it hamper our learning experiences in elementary, grade school, high school and college? Were we dumbed down because we didn’t have this advance learning experience?

In spite of all the advances in education, we here in the United States seem to be lagging other countries when it comes to education. According to Pew Research, the United State ranks in the middle of the pack in education, behind many other industrialized nations.

There is a push going on in the Legislature to provide vouchers so children can go to private schools and attend more early childhood education programs so no child is left out. It doesn’t seem to be working to send our kids to school earlier and earlier. Will it work to provide vouchers to families to send more kids to early childhood education or preschool or to make private schools available to those with poor economic status?

I don’t know the answer, but in the rankings, the nations that rank the highest have public education. They pour government money into the public schools to educate all. The schools aren’t funded according to neighborhoods or school districts. They have quality schools and education for all. Perhaps, instead of lowering the age and qualification of what children need to know, or providing vouchers that still might discriminate because of parental choice on seeking them out, it might be better to funnel that money into our public education system and treat all schools equally, no matter where they sit in a geographical area. Perhaps we should put our money toward paying quality teachers who have the future of our children in their hands.

That is just my opinion based on an old person’s view of what could be important for our children. But what do I know? I am not sure how to hold a pencil, and I color outside of the lines and I didn’t know what D’nealian is. It must be because I only had kindergarten three hours a day and then I took naps.

2 thoughts on “Kindergarten Ain’t What It Used To Be

  1. Interesting–I’m for fun first and then aim to integrate learning along the way or after that fact. Of course, as you point out with the Pew Foundation research, we’re falling behind around the world on all sorts of indicators of achievement so what do I know? Staying engaged and looking forward to school seems like a good first step to establishing habits that will serve children well during their school years. I’ve read elsewhere that kids with poor attendance slip behind others quickly. By second grade they’re in big trouble. Maybe getting to them even earlier [preschool] is part of the answer. I had such good feelings, though, when you reminisced about your experiences in Kindergarten. I wonder if the current generation of children will have any of those pleasant memories? Thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

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    • Maybe we are burning kids out by starting them too early. I see the anxiety sometimes in my Granddaughter about trying to be perfect with her grades etc. She doesn’t get that from her parents but from the school. Kids need time to be kids.

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