Friday, December 09, 2005

Full-Day Kindergarten? No Thanks

A few weeks ago, I came across this newspaper editorial about legislating full-day kindergarten. I am adamantly opposed to the idea of mandatory full-day kindergarten for all public school students in this state, so I read the whole article. (I'll wait, if you want to go read it, too.)

The article quotes a school superintendent whose number one personal priority for new funding would be full-day kindergarten, because, she says, students are arriving in kindergarten "who haven't been read to, and who don't know their numbers or their ABCs."

I can hardly imagine a child who reaches the age of five (or six) without knowing these things. My kids seem to learn by osmosis, which doesn't explain why my daughter keeps counting in Spanish, because I only speak English--for that, I thank Dora the Explorer. How can parents not read to their kids, not speak to their kids, not teach their kids during their time spent together?

I am not naive. I do understand that some children are growing up in difficult circumstances . . . but adding a half-day of kindergarten is going to solve these problems? Might not funding be better spent intervening in these high-risk families?

For a long time, I've been annoyed by the (possibly imagined) pressure I feel to send my children to preschool. I've never done so and my children seem to be fine (although on bad days with my Reluctant Student, I would tell you that I am clearly a horrible failure of a mother and if I'd sent him to preschool, perhaps he'd be a genius). Not that there's anything wrong with preschool, mind you. But I don't think it is necessary.

Is this the first step? Will four year olds soon be required to attend preschool? Will three years olds be the next target for enrollment? Will our two-year olds be sent to mandatory daycare where underpaid young women will chant their ABCs and count until everyone is dizzy? Where does this all stop? And why do I get the feeling that the state thinks parents aren't qualified to educate their own preschoolers?

More and more, kindergarten seems like first grade and preschool seems like kindergarten. Children are rushed faster and faster to grow up quicker and quicker. At the Veteran's Day program, I noticed a bunch of second-grade girls with highlights in their hair and pantyhose and high-heels on their feet. Slow down! What's the big rush? You'll have to get a job and pay taxes soon enough, little girl!

In movie theaters, I see children watching movies intended for adults. You know as well as I do that at home, children see even more inappropriate material as parents cuddle up on the couch watching movies with their kids--and sometimes, in concession to Parent Guilt, they cover their children's eyes at the worst parts. I know 3-year olds who watch rated PG-13 movies and I can't stop feeling judgmental about that. It's just not right to expose children to mature themes and images.

The school district officials will tell you that full-day kindergarten will help more kids graduate from high school. I doubt it. But legislating such a law will keep lawmakers busy and will pad the salaries of school teachers and will give the appearance of making children a top priority.

Kindergarten should be a gentle introduction to school. None of my kids could have lasted through a full day of school that first year. And that first year, it took us all morning just to get ready for kindergarten.

And while I'm talking about school, can I just request an immediate halt to homework for elementary school kids? I hate kids' homework! But the school requires it--not the individual teachers, but the school administrators. Perhaps if the school wasn't so busy teaching children non-essentials and preparing the kids for yet more mandatory state testing, they'd finish their seat-work while still at school.

I love my local public school. I really do. I love the shiny checkerboard hallways and the festive bulletin boards with seasonal displays and the flickering fluorescent lights. I fondly remember my own school days. I want my children to love their school days. (At least I have hopes for the younger two . . . the 12-year olds' hate school now.)

I just want those full-time days to start in first grade. I don't think that's too much to ask.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Stacy said...

Ours is a mostly rural school district with a large number of low income families. As an added "plus," the district is also recognized by law enforcement as a major hotbed of heroin and cocaine use/trafficing. There are a lot of kids coming into the school system from less than desirable circumstances. As a school bus driver I see these kids every day and I see something the schools don't see...Mom, Dad (or the lack of) and in a lot of cases, the home. A lot of the kids start kindergarten not knowing their letters or numbers....or frighteningly, not even their own last name, their parent's name or their phone number. A lot of them come to school hungry. The district began full-day kindergarten last year. It makes a long day for the little ones. Trust me, by the time I get them at the end of the day they are tired, crabby and ready to be free of school. They are also eager to tell me what they did in school and read to me from the free books they get. By being in school all day they get a good, healthy, hot lunch. The only such meal of the day for many of them.

Is all day kindergarten the perfect solution? No, but at least in this district the pros out weigh the cons in my opinion. Also, I don't know about Washington, but here kindergarten is optional. Most everyone goes, but they can't make you send your child.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Hear! Hear! My kids never went to preschool and they only went to half-day kindergarten and one of them is excelling and the other one is struggling. Neither preschool nor all-day kindergarten would have changed that. And neither I nor my siblings went to kindergarten at ALL and yet all of us were A students. AND I don't remember getting homework in elementary school, and yet I managed to graduate from University with honours. SO QUIT TRYING TO OVEREDUCATE MY KIDS!

There, I'm off my soapbox now.

9:02 AM  
Blogger The Writer said...

Studies show that preschool helps with the most at risk cases. Which is why the head start program was implemented--to give the poorest families a chance at school sucess. However, there is very little convincing evidence that preschool has such wonderful benefits for other Children. Your kids are lucky.

Based on research, I can see that preschool is very beneficial for some children, but I really don't want it to be mandatory. Children's minds and attention spans aren't developed enough for all day pre K.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Julana said...

Mel,
Our son is in his third year of half days at school. I like this plan.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

I feel so bad for all the wee children that live in situations that are just plain bad. But I do not feel that full day kindergarden is the answer. The day is just too long for these little tykes. We must look at other solutions.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous beth said...

my son is in half day kindergarten and it's just fine for him. I don't think he could possibly make it a full day. but, the amazing thing is, there are kids in his class that have never held a book, never held a pencil, have no idea what the ABC's are, let alone how to say them. it's shocking to me. I have no idea what the answer is.

2:17 PM  
Blogger sallyrogers said...

My son (now in first grade) went to school for full days in both pre-k and kindergarten. He/we had no choice. Had we had a choice he would have gone for half days. All of the little ones were exhausted at the end of the day. One mother told me that she could barely get her daughter to eat dinner because she was falling asleep at the family table. That's not childhood!! Now, my son handled it better than that, but I still think it was too much, too fast and that he would have been better off with something slower.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

You are probably right. Full time kindergarten will not solve a social problem (i.e. inadequate intellectual stimulation of a preschooler.) I never went to kindergarten and started Grade One late due to being sidetracted with polio. I did fine in school probably because I have a mother who was very involved with us, for whom education was the road to salvation and who read to us all the time.

My son was one of four white kids in a kindergarten class of 64 inner city kids. The school was a wonderful one with lots of special programs available. Those kids who came to school enriched by their home environment took advantage and did well. For those who came from homes without book or newspaper in sight and where parents communicated by grunting at each other, it was sadly too late. My son, out of necessity, was in full time day care from age 2. That enriched social environment was gravy on top of our stimulating time together at home. Schools seem to be used as places for social engineering rather than education, at all grade levels.

3:03 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Mel, I am totally with you on the lack of necessity for *mandatory* full-day kindergarten and *mandatory* preschool.

My daughter loves her full-day kindergarten and is learning a ton. We're grateful that it's available, because we're both working full-time (in fact we pay for full-day K, as our district doesn't fully fund it). But should it be required? Absolutely not. It's not the best thing for all kids, and I know my own kid is beat by the end of the day and is learning much less than in the morning.

I'm with you on standards and homework, too. MG's wonderful teacher says that in the time she's been teaching kindergarten she's seen it change, until now it really is what first grade used to be. She does her job and teaches to those standards, and because she is excellent she makes it as age-appropriate as possible and MG continues to love learning. But I can see it's a strain--for the teacher as well as the kids--and honestly, I don't see that it's necessary. Most of the kids would be much more ready to learn to read next year, rather than this year.

What I'd like to see is more public preschool *available* to families, especially low-income families; smaller class sizes; and kindergarten turned back into kindergarten, whether full-day or half-day.

3:16 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Oh, and homework? In Seattle, it is required *by the district*. All students are supposed to have homework. Period.

So MG and RW and I struggle through the evenings as MG compounds her bedtime stalling by laboriously writing a couple of sentences or counting the spoons and forks. Result: less sleep for her, more frustration for all of us. Thanks, SSD.

3:19 PM  
Blogger The Daring One said...

There's a lot of pressure amongst my friends to start preschool for the kids at 2 or 3 years of age.

I feel like my kids are learning great things at home. We do an informal one-day-per-week co-op preschool class for 2 hours to get them ready for eventual schooling but I really agree that kids are being pushed too far too fast.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Mel, you are correct in that what they are taught in preschool is what they used to teach in kindergarten and so on and so forth.

I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who has a son the exact same age as Mr. P. Her child is in daycare or "preschool." She said that they are having the children do special hand strengthening exercises so that when they hit kinder, they can hold their pencils for the length of time required, which apparently is a lot! I could not believe it.

And sad to say, there are plenty of children who know absolutely nothing when they enter school. Here in CA, many of them are immigrant families whose parents are working lots of hours and themselves have only a limited education, as well as a language barrier. Although I am sure that there are plenty of kids from troubled homes and the like who also have no clue about anything.

Mandatory kinder is not the solution, I think it is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. If the parents are not involved in the child's development from the get-go, why would anyone think that all day kinder is going to solve the problem? The problem is not necessarily with the teachers or the schools, but with parents who take no responsibility for the education of their child and then blame the schools for their child's failure.

Can you tell my sister is a teacher? ;)

8:55 PM  
Anonymous ggirl said...

A study on the benefits of preschool, recently published by University of California, showed that preschool benefited at risk kids (kids neglected at home, for whatever reason) and that kids in homes where they were read to did not benefit as much, indeed, it showed that after more than 20 hours a week, they tended to become more agressive. So, I think studies support your decision not to send your kids to preschool. Having said that, my neice and nephew, who were not at risk, attended full time day care/preschool from 3 months and they are wonderful and not aggressive.

Like you, I'm against full day kindergarten and homework in elementary school. I'm also against year round school, which I've heard murmurings about lately. The homework I've seen strikes me as busy work at best. Ithink administrators and teachers assigning it are well intentioned, however. I theorize that they're just trying to get less involved parents more involved, someway, somehow.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

I have to comment. I can't help it.

While I don't think full-day should be mandatory, you are right in the idea that kindergarten is like first grade was when we were kids. And now PreK is kindergarten. My daughter was learning spanish, using computers and doing a music class in kindergarten. That is just how it goes, society is evolving and in order for our kids to compete globally, we feel this need to teach them more. I am not at all opposed to teaching them more, I find that our country pales in comparison to other in the education arena and it is pitiful. But I don't think a child should be pushed if they are not ready. In my own life, my daughter has been bored out of her mind at school, because she isn't challenged. With kids like that, they certainly should be given more, until they are ready to stop.

On the other points about growing up too fast....some things I agree with you on (the high heels on 2nd graders) and others, not really. You know I let my 10 yr old use a temporary dye on her hair (now it is a dark purple color) because she wanted to, just to see how it looked. I see no harm in that. Would I let her dye it for good? No. Would I let her wear makeup or heels? No. But I let her have access to "adult" technology and I let her read some books from my bookshelf, perhaps they are topics that one might deem too mature (stuff like Buddhism, How animals are raised for food, the immigrant labor economy) but if she is ready to ask the questions, then I must be ready to answer right?

Anyway, here kindergarten in public school is all day (8-2:30). I never gave it a sceond thought as my 5yr old was very ready and enjoyed it very much. If one wants a half-day program, they have to go to private school. I plan to put my twins in a PreK class next year, as to whether it will be full day or half day, the jury is still out.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

Huh, I didn't know Kindergarten wasn't a full day anywhere. When I taught, the class next door was a K class, and it was all day, as were the rest of the ones in the school district. I just assumed that was everywhere now. Oops!

My kid is turning three in January. He can count to 20, knows most of his abc's, and is now intent on learning what these "words" are, and makes me read every single one he sees to him. He can even read some very basic sight words all by himself (on, off, stop...). It always appalls me that there are so many kids entering five year old K w/o these skills, and even lower than that. I taught special ed, and I know for a fact that a lot of my kids' problems stemmed straight from the lack of anything educational coming from their parents their whole childhood. As far as homework went, since I was a special ed teacher, they kind of left me alone. I didn't assign homework for a long time. No one said anything who was in charge of me. I eventually had to start giving out homework b/c the parents were mad that their kids didn't have anything to do to occupy their time in the afternoons! I'd get work back from them that their parents had either done for them in a rush (and still missed tons of them!), or else ignored them completely, and the work was just busy work and a waste of time. It is sad, very sad.

Thus the reason I'm going to homeschool!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

In response to Heather...

Do you really think a person can be overeducated? I don't think so. I can't see how more educaton will ever hurt anyone.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

I am reading a lot of "When I was a kid we didn't do this or that...." Maybe so, but a lot of things have changed since we were all children. This goes along with the old argument of, just because I did or didn't do it as a child doesn't mean it is or is not okay. Now we use seatbelts, now our kids wear helmets on bikes....these are good changes don't you think? I don't find any harm in preschool, but don't think it should be mandatory, nor should kindergarten be. My kids live in a highly stimulating environment but they go to morning preschool. They love it and there have been zero negative effects. They go because I wanted them to benefit from what other loving adults had to offer, I wanted them to speak to other kids rather than speak in their twin-speak only to each other (now they won't stop talking!) and I wanted time for the things I needed to do in order to remain a positive and healthy mother. I can't find any harm in any of that. (Not that you think preschool is harmful, but just going with the tangent here)

8:25 PM  
Blogger k said...

I don't have any children... yet. When I eventually get married and have babies, I'll be sure to find an inutero iPod so that I can hook it up to 24/7 broadcasts of educational material so that when my child emerges from the womb she/he will be able to do quantum physics and speak 9 different languages. Of course, as soon as he/she is able to he/she will have a fabulous job with great benefits and profit sharing so that he/she can support me in my old age. Nope. None of that playskool, hasbro or parker brothers junk for my kid. Uh uh. We're going straight for the fortune 500!

I look at kids nowadays and wonder how much their lives really are "enriched" by all the TV, radio, automatic, video game, instant foodstuff, microwave generation that we as a society has provided them. I didn't have any of that stuff as a kid and I had a glorious childhood -- but back then we used something called an imagination. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to buy one of those for my young niece, but am thinking she may need one soon...

Let them stay little as long as possible. I agree full-day kindegarten is great for the reasons others have set forth, but it shouldn't be mandatory. It used to be know the ABC's, 1-100's and colors to be well prepared for kindegarten -- are we adding reading, HTML and keyboarding to those basics now?!

I applaud your super-mom-ness and the fact that you spend time with your kids. Your kids will have a moral compass when they grow up. They'll benefit immensely from it. I know I did - and I was one of the last kids on the block to have a stay at home mom.

9:23 PM  
Blogger tab said...

I don't think it should be "mandatory" either. My oldest went to all-day kindergarten. His class was the first year that went to all-day. He loved it (my kids thrive in school atmosphere). His teacher really liked it because for all that is expected for them to teach that extra time was a good thing. When his class moved to first grade, the teachers were very impressed and pleased. It made it easier for teachers and students to achieve the "requirements" that are now expected. What I don't like about it is the ones that are "late bloomers" really don't stand a chance but would be fine and catch up just fine if they weren't pushed so hard.

My second child went to pre-k and his was the first year that they switched to all day. I wasn't thrilled about it being all day and thought about not sending him, but he had his heart set on going and absolutely loved it(I was prepared to pull him out if I felt like it would be best). I still think that half-day prek is better because it makes it such a long day for them.

Part of the problem is what I learned in kindergarten is now pretty much required before you go and what I learned in first grade is now taught in kindergarten. I think it's great that they teach kids a lot more but the "requirements" IMO are getting out of hand. They are pushing for too much too soon.

I was talking to one lady and I haven't researched it, but she claimed that studies have proven that ones that go to preschool, pre-k (and probably even kindergarten)---once they reach the 3rd grade there is NO difference in their grades/learning/etc than the ones who did not.

6:29 AM  
Blogger The Dung Beetle said...

"And while I'm talking about school, can I just request an immediate halt to homework for elementary school kids? I hate kids' homework! "

Now see... THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKIN ABOUT!! It's so good to know that I'm not the only one who despises this stuff!

7:24 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

Our kindergarten is still a nice, "backward" half day, and I feel just fine about it. I think for most people, it's an issue of the parents working, right? Every family has to do what they have to do. What I would have to do, is homeschool for that year, if the full day was mandatory....

11:42 AM  
Blogger grace said...

The only thing left to comment on about this post is the part where you mentioned that full-day kindergarten will "pad the salaries of school teachers." Teachers don't make more money for teaching full day over half day....when they teach half day Kinder they teach it in the morning and the afternoon. The district WILL have to hire MORE teachers but the salaries, I assure you, will not be padded. Just FYI. Just stopped by your blog and have enjoyed reading about your family!
grace
(a Texas teacher)

10:08 PM  
Blogger Susie Q said...

I just wanted to add my two cents. I am a mother of a soon-to-be three year old (in four days..). I am also a PhD candidate. My daughter is my only child. We have read to her since she was born and have made sure education is important to her. However, we also believe in a child being a child. As a result we were reluctant to put her into a preschool. However, by the time she turned two and a half she was very lonely and wanted interaction with children her own age. As a result we researched (extensively) preschools and enrolled her into a private catholic preschool here in town. (we are not catholic--- but they emphasized a mix of learning and playing...). For her first 'semester' we had her in half day. She would go from 8-12 each day. She loved it. She mastered her alphabet, couting to 20, basic spanish, has made friends, and singing in the span of a few months. Her school is part of a larger campus of schools that also has a performing arts complex on campus. As a result of her new found love of music--- we have decided to put her into 'almost' full day preschool now that she is three. Each afternoon she will spend two hours in the performing arts school doing music. She has asked if she could stay and have lunch with her friends at school and play with them in the afternoon. She loves coming home and playing with me--- but she has found extreme joy from preschool. She has been able to experience a social network that we cannot give her at home.

I think preschool is an issue that is best decided by parents and their unique children--- it is not something that can or should be state mandated. Before my daughter's personality started shining I would have never considered putting her into full day preschool! However, because of my UNIQUE child--- I decided it is the best for HER! There is no one size fits all!!!

4:45 PM  

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