What the hell has happened to Kindergarten?

My daughter is about midway through Kindergarten and all I can say is wow. And not in a good way.

Granted as older parents in our mid to late 40s, the oldest parents in the class actually, our view of Kindergarten may be a bit skewed. I started Kindergarten in the fall of 1979 and it was a kinder, happier place. First, it was half-day. I went in the afternoon and I remember doing some work with letters and sounds. We had art once a week where I learned my primary and secondary colors by dipping oversized brushes in glimmering pools of tempura paint and brushed up and down furiously on white posterboard. We had gym 3 times a week and went outside every day it was nice to play on the metal jungle gym of death. There wasn’t an official nap time but we laid on mats for 15 minutes with the lights off with music playing. Then it was time to grab our Star Wars or Holly Hobbie backpacks and head home.

Now, fast forward to 2018. There are still Star Wars backpacks but pretty much everything else has changed.

Every morning my smurfling of a 5-year old puts on a backpack bigger than her – a full size backback was required on the school supply list – and climbs on the bus at 8 AM. She steps off that same bus at eight hours later at 4 PM. This is the girl who took naps after her half day preschool program last year. She and the other 25 students in the class crowd into the room where the morning is spent on reading. Not reading prep, not phonics, reading because by the end of the year all are expected to read at minimum Level D, whatever that is.

Every day they have gym class, twice a week there is music and once a week there is art. Some artwork has come home and each piece is accompanied by a three-by-four grading matrix. Yes, in the Kindergarten of 2018 art gets graded.

She gets 20 minutes to eat lunch and about half of that is spent either talking or trying to get help to open a thermos or a drink box. Most of her lunch ends up coming home. Another 20 minutes is spent outside on the playground for recess.

The afternoon is spent working on the myriad worksheets that get stuffed into her folder every day.  I’m pretty sure all the permutations of exploring letter blends, cut and paste, rhyming words, color by letter, trace and write, have found their way into the school’s copier, my daughters desk and ultimately, my garbage can.

They also work on writing and not just upper and lowercase letter formation. In the Kindergarten of 2018 that’s preschool stuff. Now they have to write full sentences with correct punctuation. They are told to place a finger to create space in between words and correct punctuation.

At the end of the day that already overstuffed tree killer of a take-home folder also contains a behavior chart. It works like a stoplight: there is red, yellow and green. The goal is to stay on green but depending on how well she listened to the teacher and how nicely she played with the others it may move down to yellow or worse, red, in which case I get a phone call. I am not sure which is worse, the fact I have to initial it each day or that this will continue through second grade.

Yes, there is even homework. For my daughter it’s usually a short book and honestly we would read at bedtime anyway, but I know of Kindergarten classes that have assigned worksheets nightly or weekly packets so the worksheet insanity continues after school.

Then there is the testing. Our public school district subjects Kindergarten students to standardized testing in math and reading where they sit in front of a computer screen for about an hour for each test. This happens twice a year. At least it’s not three times a year; that will start next year in first grade.

So why all the reading, writing, arithmetic, testing, behavior charting, and graded art? Because Kindergarten is essentially first grade now. By the end of the year they are expected to read simple words, write a complete sentence with uppercase letters, lowercase letters and correct punctuation, retell a complete story with beginning, middle and end. They are also expected to count and recognize numbers from 1 to 100 at a minimum and add and subtract to 10.

The problem is, most of the children but especially the younger children in the class have not yet acquired the skills developmentally to complete many of these tasks, specifically the motor skills needed to write legibly and complete addition and subtraction. According to Understood.org, by the end of Kindergarten students should be able to count and recite to 20, not 100. Not to mention this age group still learns by playing, by trial and error. With this in mind, the fact they are forced to sit in a computer lab for at least an hour attempting to fill in the correct answer is heartbreaking.

In short, these children including my little girl are being set up to fail the Kindergarten class of 2018.

Most days I wonder if sending her to public school Kindergarten was in effect feeding her to the academic sharks. Will she swim to first grade or sink in the Common Core infested waters of Kindergarten? 

There is more than blood in the waters of Kindergarten. I suppose she is treading water since she can read now and has even moved up a reading level. At the beginning of the year I thought she would never learn the sight word “the”, now she has a few dozen down and picks up more every day. Her drawings have become much more complex and she is writing lowercase letters. She is learning. She is growing. Just not at the developmentally inappropriate pace expected by my school district’s curriculum planning group.

Because the very fact of the matter is that the Kindergarten curriculum of 2018 is more advanced and moves at a crazy fast pace but the kids themselves are still growing and developing at the same pace they always have, and that simply is not going to change.

Again I ask, what the hell has happened to Kindergarten? Of course I don’t expect it to revert to that kind, happy place of my youth in all its half day glory. But I feel like the Kindergarten curriculum has ODed on steroids even in the five years since my son went through it. Should I get out my Common Core Voodoo doll and put a few more pins in it?


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Tags: MBA Toddler, parenting

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