Several months ago, a letter arrived in the mail from our public school department. I ripped it open and, after reading it, danced around my kitchen with joy. Our town has decided to offer a full-day kindergarten program five days a week. Unlike many of my friends, I’m thrilled.
A friend I’ll call Dan had me convinced for a while that I should consider the expensive private school his daughter, Emma, attends. Watching his bright five-year-old reading chapter books while my daughter, Julia, drew smiley faces and triangles on a clipboard of white drawing paper did get me wondering. I asked Dan how long she had been reading and, rightfully, he boasted that she’d started at four. He credited the school, their style of instruction, and the low teacher-student ratio for the results. Suddenly I was convinced my daughter should attend. When I looked into the school, however, I dismissed it when I saw the price tag: $10,000.
But the image of Dan’s daughter reading stuck with me. I couldn’t help but think I should be doing more to cultivate Julia’s learning. I ordered up a copy of The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons, from Amazon. While I waited for the book to arrive, I started to consider the possibility of home-schooling. I imagined us, as a family, sitting at the dining room table engrossed in exciting books about world history, literature, art, and math. But when the reading book arrived and I cracked it open, Julia sat for one minute before grabbing her American Girl doll and abandoning me at the table. After several attempts, I let it go.
I wasn’t surprised by the response. Her attention span is short, and she spends most of her day moaning, “I’m bored.” Despite my best efforts to keep her stimulated, fourteen hours go by very slowly when you have a child that likes constant variety and interaction. Preschool has been my saving grace these past three years. Julia learns well in a social setting and she doesn’t care if the school sign says public or Montessori. She’s just happy to be at school.
The real truth is I’ve never been any good at teaching my own kids. We do read for pleasure, and we count when we want to know the quantity of something. We find out answers when we’re curious. But I’m all for putting my child’s formal education in the hands of another.
I know there’s bad news out there for public schools. Funding is down, teacher cuts are spiking, and programs like music and art are being slashed out of curriculums. What’s more, from a national level, research shows the United States is far behind our international peers in educational outcomes.
So why am I not worried? I happen to believe that my daughter will learn just fine even if the teacher-student ratio is 20-1. I believe that most teachers are good and that children can learn even when their teacher is not perfect. I believe that public education needs to be improved by participating in it, not abandoning it. And I believe that more is better when it comes to kindergarten.
Current research shows the benefits of full-day kindergarten are numerous. Children spend significantly more time on reading, literacy, and math and show they are better at independent learning, working with peers, and involvement in the classroom over their half-day kindergarten counterparts.
I don’t really need research to tell me this. The past few years of watching my daughter thrive in preschool tell me what I can expect. Perhaps she won’t be reading chapter books all on her own, but she’ll be happy to be in a place with other kids – where she gets to pack a lunch and ride the school bus and feel like a big kid. I will be happy too. I’ll be happy she’s off the couch and that her education is in someone else’s capable hands.