If You Cancel the Kindergarten Show, Do It for the Right Reason

It’s the Manic Month of May – and every kid must perform. Parents, you know what I mean. Kids from age three through high school are putting on productions for school and after-school activities. Those of you with more than one child are juggling a complicated calendar packed with special events. The show must go on, or must it?

Photo by Quinn Norton

Photo by Quinn Norton

Last month, the annual kindergarten show was cancelled at Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y. My Facebook feed exploded with outraged posts because the kindergarten teachers felt they had to devote all of their classroom time to, “preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills” rather than putting on the show. Because kindergarteners are now expected to “become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers” by the time they are six, there was no performance.

Of course, I am outraged by the reason given for canceling this show. But I also wonder if every child in preschool, kindergarten, and classes that cater to young kids needs to be in a show. Any parent, grandparent, or friend of a young child who has sat through as many of these performances as I have will understand what I am about to tell you. Not all little kids really love these things. And, despite how cute kids are at this age, the shows can be painful to watch.

Sometimes I wonder why it isn’t enough for a 4-year-old to take preschool dance and just enjoy it. I’ll never forget sitting through a performance that included my shy daughter at this age. She looked at her feet, her friend sobbed because her leotard was the wrong color, another child picked her nose, and another squirmed because she had to go to the bathroom. All the while, the teacher stood in the wings frantically modeling the routine for the two girls who actually wanted to dance.

As a backstage volunteer at more May ice shows than I care to remember, the preschoolers who were pushed out onto the ice in adorable costumes always caught my eye. There were some who cried, some who tottered on their skates away from the group, and some who fell. I remember one child in particular whose mother was nursing her backstage. Looking at the skates on her feet dangling off her mother’s lap, I had to wonder what the upcoming performance would mean to her.

Finally, there is the kindergarten show at my grandkids’ school. Really, do we need 45 minutes of songs? There are always a decent number of non-performers – kids with special needs who cover their ears, shy kids who whisper the words and avoid looking at the audience, kids who can’t stand still for that long. I’m glad they have had fun learning these songs, but wish (if we really feel compelled to showcase what they have learned) there was a way to acknowledge the non-performing arts as well. What about the children who love to draw or write stories? Are their contributions any less valuable than those who love performing?

I guess this all boils down to common sense. Don’t cancel the kindergarten show for college prep. Instead, make it developmentally appropriate for these little guys. A couple of cute songs for the kids who like to sing, an authors’ table for the kids who like to write, an art show for the kids who enjoy drawing, and refreshments all around.

And while we are at it, be merciful to working parents who have to go through all sorts of contortions to attend these command performances. Shows during school hours can be heart breakers for kids whose parents can’t get off work. Early evening or weekends challenge families with children involved in multiple activities. Whatever time you choose, some families will have gone to a lot of effort to be there. So it is definitely a good idea to consider that less is more. And how about cutting back on intimidating command performances for little guys?

Do you have a favorite preschool or kindergarten performance story? Please share.

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