How Kindergarten Prep Frenzy Changed My Teaching Perspective

I didn’t think the teacher/parent table would turn on me that fast. After all, not only I had just paused my teaching career in June–I was only back for a few weeks in September to mentor a student teacher–my own kids weren’t even in school yet.

As I sat in the teacher’s lounge listening to all the usual back-to-school lunchtime chatter, I overheard some kindergarten teachers anticipating their new batch of 5 year-olds. One exclaimed how many students failed to identify lower-cased letters of the alphabet in the initial assessments.

I froze. Normally, I’d commiserate a bit, perhaps reciprocating with how many students I had on behavior contracts. But it hit me: MY 4-year old didn’t know her lower-cased letters.  And she showed no signs of wanting to, either, despite the fact that she’d be starting kindergarten the following fall.

It was my first realization that in the school system, I was officially on the parent side of the table.

Preschool Pressure

I finished mentoring and went back to my extended parental leave at home. Over the course of a month or so, the stress in preschool-ing my stubborn four-year old grew.  Frustrations mounted each time she refused to sing her ABC’s or explore some carefully-crafted science station. Those fears finally came to light one evening when I realized that I had been subconsciously–yet intensely–internalizing the conversation from the teacher’s lounge all that time.  I remember actually saying out loud,

“What if she becomes the subject of her kindergarten teacher’s complaining in the faculty lounge next year?”

Once spoken aloud, I realized how silly the words sounded. However, as I began to conduct research to make preschool a more positive process, I also realized that I was far from alone when it comes to fearful parents.

“Preparation” on Steroids?

Wanting to give their children the best advantages, some parents have taken to “redshirting” their kindergarteners.  That is, they delay school a year in the hopes that their children will gain a “competitive learning edge.”

Other parents obsess over the school their child attends.  One article describes how parents went so far as to move to new neighborhoods, create spreadsheets, and attend Kindergarten 101–a prep class for parents.  But these preparations aren’t discussed as excessive, but as possibly helpful, citing a Harvard study that found that academic performance in kindergarten correlates to future earnings.

Top all that with an abundance of academics-heavy kindergarten readiness checklists, it’s no wonder that parents are inclined to worry.

Kindergarten Readiness Tips & Checklists

Kindergarten prep is indeed all the rage these days, especially for those who believe the Common Core standards mandate five year olds to read. But parents and teachers alike would do well to step away from the frenzy and examine what is truly developmentally appropriate for their children.  Below are tips for both to help them regain calm and clarity in learning with their preschoolers and kindergartners.

Parent Tips
  • Correlation does not equal causation. Remember that there are always a lot of possible causes for any given outcome.  Studies that find correlations for later successes are likely just picking up on the simple benefits of involved, loving parents.
  • Consider the effects of rushing your child.  The author of The Hurried Child, Dr. David Elkind, shares research that “students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.”
  • Travis Swan
    Travis Swan

    Step away from the workbooks. That’s not to say that if your child demonstrates genuine interest in more academic concepts, you should deny them.  But it’s essential to understand that play is absolutely critical for developing the most basic skills for kindergarten readiness and beyond–including problem solving, passion, experimentation, and more.  As Richard Lewis, founder and director of The Touchstone Center in New York City, explains:

“Play is the great discoverer, and its discoveries are the frontiers and landscapes of our imagining mind.” [“I Made It By Myself,” by Richard Lewis]

Teacher Tips
  • See each new student. Don’t allow your initial benchmarks or any other number to define your opinions of any child. Instead, make it your priority to discover their interests, strengths, quirks, etc.
  • Step away from the workbooks. (see parent tip above).
  • Evaluate what the Common Core State Standards are really outlining. If you are among those stressing about the perceived advanced standards for early elementary, remember that the political agendas and loud voices of a few have skewed interpretations of the standards for some. In our most recent post on the Common Core, we shared J. Richard Gentry’s example of what easily misinterpreted standards really look like:

For example, one contested language arts standard reads, “Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Gentry explains that this refers to memory reading in which, “The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence.” (We highly recommend his article, “An Ode to Common Core Kindergarten Standards.”)

Kindergarten Readiness

One of the best kindergarten readiness lists I’ve ever encountered was on a university’s laboratory preschool blog, prefaced by the following:

“Don’t be overly concerned with academics right now…You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”

Here is their list, which I heartily second as a teacher and parent:

  1. Feel capable and confident, and tackle new demands with an “I can do it” attitude.
  2. Have an open, curious attitude toward new experiences.
  3. Enjoy being with other children.
  4. Can establish a trusting relationship with adults other than parents.
  5. Can engage in physical activity such as walk, run, climb (children with handicaps can have a fine time in kindergarten if school and parents work cooperatively on necessary special arrangements).
  6. Take care of their own basic needs, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
  7. Have had experience with small toys, such as puzzles and crayons.
  8. Express themselves clearly in conversation.
  9. Understand that symbols (such as a stop sign) are used to provide useful information.
  10. Love books, stories and songs and can sit still to listen.

Whether a parent or a teacher, remember to ask yourself the following question:

With what kind of tone do I want to introduce formal education to my kindergartner? 

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