A preschooler’s developmentally appropriate response to academic readiness

My four-year-old grandson will be one of the youngest boys in next year’s kindergarten class.  My daughter knows what kindergarten is like in her community because his older sister is now in first grade at the school he will attend.  He will be expected to know his letters and letter sounds right away.  He will be expected to be an emergent reader by the end of the year, while he is still just five years old.  He will be expected to sit at a desk for long stretches completing worksheets.   Not much about kindergarten will be developmentally appropriate for a young five-year-old boy.

My daughter feels she has to prepare my grandson for the assessment that will take place the summer before kindergarten. She worries he has no interest in letters or letter sounds, so she asks him to draw some letters. Here is what he drew:

Awesome robot shooting A's and C's

Awesome robot shooting A's and C's

My grandson described his picture as a robot with "rectangle legs, a square body with 3 medium sized robot batteries, triangle arms, with 9 fingers on one hand and 11 on the other hand to grab lots of guys, a square head with rectangle eyes and spiky hair.” As an afterthought, he declared, “Oh and he shoots out A and C."

I thought about a piece I read recently by Blakely Bundy called A Grandmother’s Story about the Impact of Today’s Kindergarten on One Little Boy.  In it she describes her grandson’s heartbreaking experience in a highly academic kindergarten.  She shares,

 …this is a little boy who can spend hours creating elaborate block and Lego structures, inventing scenarios for his cars and trucks, which all have names and personalities.  Also, his fine motor skills are ahead of many five-year-old boys, as he observes and copies his sisters’ drawings.  On the other hand, he is not as interested in spending a great deal of time on art projects and drawing and has not indicated an interest in learning letters and numbers yet, although he adores being read to and has a long attention span for some fairly sophisticated books, including those of his sisters. On the fifth day of kindergarten, William locked himself in his room and refused to go to school.  

Back in 2001, my daughter Alissa Levy Chung and a Cherry Preschool teacher, Kristin Loeks Jackson, wrote a newsletter article together about developmentally appropriate kindergarten readiness. Both went on to become mothers a few years later, but I am sure they would write the same article 12 years later.  In fact, I think they were sadly predictive of the direction in which educational practice has gone.  Please check out their article.  It’s well worth the read:  Play, learning, & literacy

I look at children like my grandson and pray that their joy, creativity, and love of life are not squashed by the demands of our lock-step approach to education.  Instead of having to get him ready for kindergarten, maybe kindergarten needs to get ready for an amazing little boy who draws robots and wonders why teachers don’t get time outs.

What are your thoughts about academic versus play-based, developmentally appropriate kindergarten?  I'd love to hear.

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