I have written before about the kinder prep frenzy, but as I prepare to register my second kindergartner, I’m finding the exact same headlines, debates, and anxieties continue to circulate.
Most recently in my state, an op-ed was published about how parents really ought to just go for redshirting if they are on the fence. But I appreciated insight from one reader who commented:
“I noted the author said the older kindergarteners in her class could form cursive letters, and I just cannot see how teaching cursive writing to a 5 or 6 year old is appropriate or necessary. How frustrating that could be for a child who is developmentally typical for his or her age but does not have the necessary fine motor control for cursive writing. I think instead of making kids wait until they are ready for kindergarten, we need to make kindergarten appropriate for 5 year olds.”
~comment by “arfeiniel”
What’s more, an analysis on EducationNext reviewed claims regarding the benefits of redshirting, finding them to be shaky at best. For instance:
“This initial advantage in academic achievement dissipates sharply over time, however, and appears to vanish by high school
…The positive impacts of being more mature are offset by the negative effects of attending class with younger students.”
~Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?
The authors go on to discuss the fact that children of parents with more advantages tend to be redshirted at higher rates, presenting a potential equity issue when it comes to the many parents who do not have the luxury to choose.
They do note, however, instances in which redshirting might be appropriate, such as trauma or extreme developmental delay.
Overall, redshirting seems to involve too much fear, too much short-term, and too much “not-enough-ness.” Barring extreme circumstances, we would all do well to start from a place of trust and confidence in our children, and deal with challenges that arrive as they come. As always, we must respond to the needs of the children, not the other way around.
Maybe I’m just biased as an August birthday here. Or maybe these strong inclinations toward courage and pushing back against the status quo were, in fact, shaped by always being the youngest in school…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.”)
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.”