Common Kindergarten

Today I had a conference with my second oldest son’s kindergarten teacher.

On Back to School Night, when I first laid eyes on her, I knew she was a kindergarten teacher that I would like my son to have. Her warmth radiates from her like a little yellow sun in a child’s drawing. The sound of her voice singing, “Stop, Look, and Listen,” makes you want to stop wiggling in your chair and pay attention.

The conference went well. My boy knows his letters and numbers. He is a beginning reader. He has even started writing stories!  I was so happy to see his invented spellings describing penguins from the classic story Mr. Popper’s Penguins that we have just finished reading at home. The teacher readily explained how she was challenging him to grow even though he has progressed past what the class is learning as a whole.

I was a proud mother, but I had to ask about the testing. Had the PARCC test impacted the way kindergarten was being taught? She said, “No but the Common Core has.” She described how now the children were expected to learn so much more in such a short period of time (our district still has half day kindergarten).

Well, education reformers would see this as progress. They claim that kids need to start young preparing to be college and career ready. But when I mentioned science to my son’s teacher, she admitted that there just isn’t really time for it, nor for social studies either. (Do people not study these subjects in college or have careers in these fields?) These subjects have long been marginalized in elementary school, but with so much stress being put on children learning more and more reading and math skills earlier and earlier; these subjects are getting even less attention.

Curriculum companies know this and have started marketing “integrated” science and history literacy programs. This means that instead of a cohesive science or history curriculum these textbooks include a passage here and there of science and history-related topics. So if they read The Hungry Caterpillar by, Eric Carle, .they might then read an informational text about caterpillars. That ought to cover it, right?

Wrong.

The best part about science is inquiry. Experience, experiments, and observations pique a child’s imagination and sense of wonder. Those raw feelings are the most effective impetus of learning.  Let a child hold a worm, feel moss, or build a house of sticks. Those experiences lead to questions. They drive children towards books about nature. They give them something real to write about rather than the same canned prompts.

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The same is true for history. A love of history comes from experience and wonder about people and places. Map skills are best learned by following a map. And field trips and artifacts have the ability to transport children to other worlds in ways that a short informational text cannot.

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Am I unhappy with the job that my son’s teacher is doing? No, because given the pressures of time and the demands of the Common Core, she has managed to inject joy and authentic learning into her classroom. She said that she is grateful that she is still able to give the kids some time to play. But I have to wonder what will happen to the pockets of joy that she is able to create, if and when the PARCC testing begins in kindergarten. How long until the block corner becomes a long table of laptops and recess a stand and stretch break?

In the race to get ahead, America is only falling behind. The answer to how to get children to be critical thinkers and higher achievers is to get them excited about learning, not shut them down with tests and test prep.

When I see articles like this one about forest kindergartens, it makes me ashamed that I settle for sending my child to school everyday, knowing that his “trouble focusing” has little to do with his behavior, being a boy or even his maturity.

It is his body and mind crying out for more.

5 thoughts on “Common Kindergarten

  1. Kelly says:

    Another thought provoking article, my friend. I was excited and proud to see that The Wesley School reposted!! The Wesley School uses the hands on teaching that excites preschoolers and fosters a happiness to learn at a young age. I wish my kids could go there through 8th grade!! Keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paige says:

      Thank you! Wow..I didn’t know the Wesley school did. The only reason I never sent my kids there is they are half day, and I didn’t have anyone to pick them up when I was working and then I home schooled. But so many people I respect have sent their children there with rave reviews. Maybe I should move back and open a preK-8 with them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • seahawk318 says:

      Hello!
      My Girls went to Wesley as well, and yes, one of the biggest draws for me, was the “incidental learning”. There were no promises as to their “predicted grade level”, except that they would be able to write their first name, and recognize some letters.
      BUT, trust me, they learned FAR MORE than was promised. Maybe not handwriting, and reading, but through mixed lessons, hands on experiments, field trips, and crazy class messiness, they learned FAR ahead of their time in a school environment. Such a great little school!! Awesome director, teachers, and volunteers!
      Can we strive to give more value to these little neighborhood schools?Trenton, Please listen. Time OUT of the classroom brings SO much more learning.
      -T

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Keri says:

    This is absolutely spot-on. When we toured K classes a few years ago, I asked one teacher how Common Core (CCSS) was affecting the way she teaches and she said she has no time for the fun stuff anymore (we have full day K in our county). When my youngest was in K last year, his days were filled with math and reading. They did have to take a standardized test at the end of the year (four days with about half and hour to an hour of testing each day). The teachers I have spoken to are counting the days until retirement. They can no longer teach like they used to. One SPED teacher I spoke with who works with kids in all grades at the elementary school said that she had never had younger elementary kids say they “hate” school until CCSS came into play. Also, she said that she has noticed the stress level go up considerably. Last year, in fourth grade, my oldest had maybe two weeks of history and one week of science. As you mentioned, they tried to teach history and science, etc., under the guise of a “reading comprehension” lesson. The problem with that is, at least in his case, there was no in depth learning—they would read about Rosa Parks one day and maybe Amelia Earhart the next and no historical context was carried through. Beyond that, what fun is history if you *know* that is really is a reading comprehension exercise meant to get you ready for a standardized test? We started homeschooling this year. My boys are excited to learn now and I am not angry (though I am still concerned because I am worried about how it will affect our society) at the process which I know what dulling their desire to learn as well as leaving out important details in the quest to make sure they pass reading and math tests.

    Like

  3. Your son will do well with you as his advocate. I am fortunate to have been able to homeschool my daughter from grade 2. She’s a junior now and thriving.

    Like

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