We’re counting down the days to the first day of kindergarten over here, so I reacted very strongly to this story on MSNBC. And by “reacted strongly,” I mean, “shook my head and said ‘are people frickin’ nuts?’ ”
It’s about parents hiring tutors for their kids to prepare them for kindergarten. Yes, that’s right, kindergarten. The first mom profiled hired her daughter’s preschool teacher to work on her daughter’s reading skills with her during the summer, although every teacher interviewed said kids are not expected to enter kindergarten able to read.
Experts are really concerned about this shift away from play and into academics (and competitiveness) at an earlier and earlier age. A group called the Alliance for Childhood, headed by a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, issued a report earlier this year decrying the shift in kindergartens “from places where love of learning was thoughtfully nurtured into pressure-cooker classrooms…. Kindergarten has ceased to be a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress.”
Some of this can be attributed to “No Child Left Behind,” with its relentless emphasis on testing, but more of it is plain old parental competitiveness. As much as parents claim they just want their kids to be on par with everybody else, they’re doing things like redshirting (keeping kids out an extra year) to give them more of a competitive advantage. Interestingly, my daughter was born eight hours after our state cutoff date and we shopped for a school that would look at her and her readiness versus a date on a calendar because we were pretty sure she was ready, and so was her preschool teacher. Instead of being one of the oldest kids in her class, she’ll be the youngest. She’s also the size of a six year old and has had two years of preschool, so I think she’ll be fine. I’ll be in need of a Xanax prescription when she’s 17 and heading off to college (assuming she never repeats a grade), but she’ll be just fine.
This kind of high-pressure environment is not good for kids; retention rates (the amount of kids held back) in kindergarten and first grade are rising. Many countries whose academic prowess we envy, such as China and Japan, take a play-based approach to school until second grade. And even those kids who respond well to the pressure often find themselves bored and unchallenged.