The Class of 2022, a project of the Star News of North Carolina, is following a dozen kindergartners from around the Cape Fear region through their high school graduations to see what it’s like to grow up during the early years of the 21st century. Here’s a description of what kindergarten is like for these students:
“People have this conception of kindergarten as everybody gets cookies and milk and takes a nap, and you’re just not going to see that anymore,” said Kathy Fox, associate professor in the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “The focus on academics has been pushed downward.”
In her 22 years teaching preschool through second grade, Fox has watched unstructured playtime shrink, replaced by worksheets and nightly homework. Fox remembers the shift starting in the 1990s, when studies ranked students in the United States well below those in other developed nations like Japan in math and reading. There was a push to close that gap, Fox recalls, and one solution was to start emphasizing academic subjects at a younger age.
Walking into [a] classroom at Castle Hayne Elementary, parents will see fewer toys and more tables and chairs than they might expect, according to teacher Tina Weldon. Students have a 30-minute recess every day, and the rest of the time is scheduled for specific activities. The school day has stretched, from half a day to the full six and a half hours.
“It seems like kindergarten now is like what first or second grade was like when I was in school,” Weldon said.,