Making the Grade

Who didn’t love kindergarten? There was finger painting and story time, Duck Duck Goose and naptime, blocks and make-believe play. But today, those activities take place in preschool. So what’s left for kindergarten? “More academics and higher expectations,” says Anne Keen, veteran kindergarten teacher for Wyoming City Schools.

Yesterday
“We learned how to be at school, how to sit still and listen to a story,” Keen says. “It was more about socialization.” Students learned ABCs and numbers, a little writing, and basic math.

Today
Still snacks, but no naps! A major shift is that 76 percent of kindergarteners now attend full-day programs. Pressure to test well in upper grades has driven the increase in literacy and math education. Kids are expected to read and write by year end. Keen notes there is more help available now for struggling kids.

Keen builds up students’ attention spans by doing shorter activities that support the main content, such as listening to a story, drawing a picture, or playing a game. Keen encourages make-believe play, pointing out her “zoo nursery,” where children care for stuffed animals.

All work and no play?
Keen echoes the concerns of child development experts that many classrooms are taking away art, music, gym, or toys. “Everyone who teaches kindergarten knows that kids learn best through play,” Keen says. And research supports this. “It’s not developmentally appropriate for 5-year-olds to sit at desks all day doing papers. They need to be up and moving, to be learning in lots of different ways, to be playing and having time to socialize.”

Originally published in Baby Guide 2014

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