Question of the Hour: Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?

(Grab a cocktail, friends.  It’s a doozy….hold on, let me just step up here on my soapbox.)

Recently, there has been a renewed discussion of the current expectations placed on our kindergartners. “Is kindergarten the new first grade?” is the question debated amongst teachers, parents, policy makers and, because it is education and for some reason everyone feels they must have a say, super randos. Like the guy in line in front of me at Starbucks last week who was a self-proclaimed attorney without children who felt super-entitled (again despite NOT being an educator, working in a field remotely related to education or having a child currently in the education system) to tell me about how “lazy teachers shouldn’t be complaining about not letting kids play at school. School is for learning not playing.” Yeah, thanks, dude. Go drink your triple venti soy no-foam latte with a douchebag drizzle.

I don’t know if kindergarten is the new first grade. That question makes me nervous because, by that logic, fifth grade has become high school or something and that is just frightening. I do think we can all agree that kindergarten is much more intense than it used to be. Not only do I see it first hand in my work with teachers, but large number of kindergarten teachers report less time for art, music, content area exploration, center time or structured free play.

Doesn’t that just sound sucky?

When I’ve discussed this issue with kindergarten teachers, I hear about standards and schedules and tests and expectations and it feels as if everyone has gotten caught up in this frenzy of levels and standards and data. (Levels and standards and data, oh my!)  They talk about their commitment to play-based learning, but have abandoned it for one reason or another because they can no longer envision where it fits.

Intellectually, this makes me sad.  How have we arrived at this place where teachers’ deeply held values (not to mention a truckload of research) are in such odds with what is actually happening in classrooms?

And then my Mini Me came home.  She is a newly minted kindergartner (which is a whole other can of worms for another day) who one would think is destined to love love love school.  And she does.  Mostly.  Until the other day when she came home a bit bummed and, after battling my way through a field of non-committal responses, she told me that she “…loves school but just doesn’t like sitting all day because it makes loving school harder.”

(insert the sound of screeching brakes here)

Say wha?  Oh no you didn’t!

And that’s when things got real.  For me at least.

My daughter happens to go to a lovely school in which every adult there is hugely invested in the well-being of the students.  They are fantastic teachers who work hard to create amazing experiences for students, yet, just like everyone else, they are victim to all the same pressures and bullshit that surrounds life in schools today.

I know many of you out there have strong negative feelings about the Common Core State Standards, but can we really blame the standards alone for this mess?  Or is it more about the various mind-numbing teacher-driven programs aimed at achieving The Core while simultaneously robbing students of any sort of choice or independence?  Is it more about the hideous amount of testing we are slaves to in order to measure, measure and then mesasure some more?   And if we’re going to go down that road, let’s talk for a minute about teacher evaluation…or do you get where I’m going with this.

We have prioritized compliance.

It’s a bit of a cluster, don’t you think?  And while it is easy to sit around and complain about this whole mess, we don’t have the luxury of just sitting around a complaining like my buddy at Starbucks.  And we don’t have the luxury of waiting around for the Powers That Be to make meaningful change that…I don’t know…makes sense.

Because we are the adults.  And we are not the only ones suffering.

(mic drop)


Mrs. Mimi


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