“Kindergarten Cram”

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine had a great article, Kindergarten Cram, about the problems with today’s kindergartens. One of my favorite lines: “How was it that the same couples who piously proclaimed that 3½-year-old Junior was not “developmentally ready” to use the potty were drilling him on flashcards?”

Here’s the beginning of the article:

About a year ago, I made the circuit of kindergartens in my town. At each stop, after the pitch by the principal and the obligatory exhibit of art projects only a mother (the student’s own) could love, I asked the same question: “What is your policy on homework?”

And always, whether from the apple-cheeked teacher in the public school or the earnest administrator of the “child centered” private one, I was met with an eager nod. Oh, yes, each would explain: kindergartners are assigned homework every day.

Bzzzzzzt. Wrong answer.

Read the rest of the article here.

15 thoughts on ““Kindergarten Cram”

  1. Great article.

    Kindergarten has become such a source of stress for so many parents. There are so many parents I know that struggle with the whole idea of “kindergarten readiness”. My son had to go to a screening at the school to see if he was “ready”. The whole idea just flabbergasted me, I mean wasn’t kindergarten the place where we used to “get ready”? The only thing we used to have to do was learn to show up everyday and share and sit in our seats. Many of my son’s preschool peers (especially the boys) were held back by their well-meaning parents. And maybe they were the smarter ones, I don’t know. It means that my son is now disconnected from many of his friends, and that he is in a class with many kids that are a year older than him and always will be. We didn’t have that option — my son was going to start on time because I didn’t have the financial resources to continue paying for full-time care.

    I refused to do any homework with him in kindergarten and thankfully his teacher didn’t assign much and also respected my opinion on that.

    First grade is fairly grueling. I’m looking forward the summer so we can have our evenings back. I can’t wait to see the workload in 2nd grade. In the meantime, my kid is still only 6!


  2. Funny…back when school was sane, they used to ask parents of children entering kindergarten if the child was toilet trained. That was the minimum expected. Now they ask what books they read, if they know all their colours, letters and can at least count to 10. Oh and can they write their name too?

    I thought that was what kindergarten was for?
    It wasn’t meant to be rigorous. And there certainly was never any “testing”.


  3. I would like to see some real statistics on parents’ attitudes to the achievement of young children. I don’t know anyone who used flash cards with their 3 1/2 year old child. And I just can’t believe that schools have increased homework because of pressure from parents. Speaking as a parent who has tried and failed to have an influence on my local public schools, I can tell you that it is unbelievably difficult for a parent to make her voice heard.

    I feel that there’s an urban legend about pushy parents driving their kids too hard. Do such parents exist? Sure, but how many? I’m tired of hearing parents blamed for problems in the schools, when we have no real voice and no real influence. And of course, when we complain about “parents”, we all know it’s really the mother we’re criticizing.

    I feel that line of Peggy Orenstein’s about the parents with the flash cards is irresponsible. Did it really happen, or is she just plugging in to an urban legend for some cheap yuks?

    If I had tried flash cards with my kids at that age, one would have burst into tears and the other would have eaten the flash cards. (Hmm … a good source of fiber?)


  4. I don’t know FedupMom…I’ve known an academic who used flash cards on her young children. And I have heard more than once that a parent wants their children to have good daycare/preschool, not just send their kids to ones where the kids just “play”. Heaven forbid a child should just “play”. They aren’t learning anything that way.

    And a few months ago when our school had a parent discussion night on the topic of homework, some parents thought anarchy would ensue if families were allowed to opt out of homework. It doesn’t seem to matter how much actual evidence you give them. Some parents hold strong to the belief that kids will be slackers and unprepared if they do not do homework.

    All I can visualize is that parents see their children as mustangs that need to be broken. They are doomed to be pack horses and the sooner they get used to it, the easier it’ll be for everyone. It’s so sad.


  5. I think parents push homework (and flash cards and potty training…. ) because they have been made to feel that if they don’t, they are failing their children. I have sat in a gazillion school meetings (my son has an IEP, so I have more meetings than the average parent) and I can tell you that teachers and administrators are pros at making you feel that if you make alternate suggestions to their suggestions (especially suggestions that decrease workload) that you are a bad parent. I just think that is dirty pool, manipulating parents by making them feel like bad parents if you don’t.

    Fedupmom — I also did not like that line. I ignored it, and went on. But, yea, it seemed to be for effect. Overall, I am not a fan of the direction kindergarten is taking and I thought the article spoke to that.


  6. As a kindergarten teacher (don’t shoot me) policy and curriculum is not set by the teacher and many times not by the school, but by standards set by the state and federal government. I agree that we are overtesting and not giving children enough “free” time. We do not even get “recess” for our kindergartners. What kind of social skills are we giving them? What adult wants to go somewhere for a meeting/educational activity without much of anything but a bathroom break in 3-4 hours? This is what many kindergarteners face. I am proud of the parent that “checked” out the school she was sending her child to and their policies. Most of my parents are not even aware of no recess in our schools….. We are burning out our kids on reading before 2nd grade because we are not teaching the LOVE of reading but attaching a test every time they read a book. The teachers do not have control. Parents need to get involved and push for change. Teachers would lose their jobs if they didn’t do what is considered their job “the way the standards” make them teach……


  7. I too teach kindergarten and cringe at the things we are required to teach and test our children on! I know it is not developmental appropriate, yet my hands are tied in some areas and I have no choice. My only saving grace is in the way I present it! Our kids are going to graduate from school and be able to pass a multitude of tests, but they will have lost their desire to know more, search deeper and we as parents/educators/administrators will have dampened their desire to be life long learners! We have forgotten the famous quote- “Childhood should be a journey, not a race!” And all for the sake of a test score! Shame on us!


  8. In my profession, the expectation is that I do things that are consistent with the professional ethics of my discipline. My knowledge base is expected to be current, and my skills are not allowed to stagnate. If I were required to do something by my employer that goes against what is considered “best practices” in my profession, I’m in trouble and I’m obligated to say what my professional responsibilities are.

    Teachers are supposed to be the experts in relation to the education of children. We parents rely on your judgement. If you know that testing kindergarteners is developmentally inappropriate, why are teachers not banding together and saying “This is inappropriate and we cannot morally and ethically participate”. I’m sorry but I can’t just accept that your hands are tied.

    If you were to come to me for my professional service, wouldn’t you expect me to know the best current practices of my profession?


  9. Who employs a professional should make no difference. There are ethical codes in professional roles which guide your practice no matter where you work. So it should be with teaching.
    From the electrician to the physician…there are ways to do things that are special to your profession and you can be held accountable for what you do.


  10. I too teach Kindergarten and have had many discussions with our curriculum director about testing and curriculum goals that are not developmentally appropriate for my students. Her response every time is “we are not a developmental district, we are a standards based district and we teach and assess based on standards.” And nothing changes. So, I don’t call recess “recess” in my plans and I don’t get rid of the play centers, or the legos, or the blocks, and if they fire me, so be it. I’ll leave with a clean conscience. The problem is, the new teachers coming out of school aren’t learning about developmentally appropriate practices and think that if they require more and test more, they’re better teachers. As for refusing to administer tests that are required? That would get me fired for sure and then one of those new teachers who gives homework every night and gets rid of the toys will be the K teacher. Who wins then?


  11. Our son started started Kindergarten this year. My husband and I are shocked at the amount of work he has to do. We feel sorry for him. He starts at 9.45 in the morning and gets his lunch at 10.30 for one hour. Parents had to fight to get snack time implemented in the afternoon and when the school finally agreed they explained that it would be a ‘working snack’. WHAT? These kids are 5. The other day a note came from his teacher to say he had been identified as a student that could benefit from the 37.5 minutes after school program to develop his academic skills. We declined to take them up on their offer. Personally I think the Kindergarten curriculum is way over the top and not enough emphasis on play. I listen to parents in the park discussing honors and accelerated programs for kindergartners. Its just all madness.


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