I recently discovered an article shared via social media that resents the fact that “kindergarten is the new first grade.” Because I’m not an educator and am currently living in somewhat of a university bubble, it was interesting for me to see this perspective on current elementary school happenings. For better or for worse, the idea that our school systems may be changing its structure is of interest to me.
What the author, Nancy Bailey, laments most about this shift from kindergarten as a learning and playing environment is that the system sets kids up to hate reading. The article cites some interesting research from headlines written at The Oregonian and research out of the University of Virginia, which I encourage you to read. In a nutshell, kids are being made to read too early; and as a result, they may end up worse off in the long run.
Bailey summarizes the following concerns with changing kindergarten culture:
1. When you begin assessing children’s reading skills too early, children are taught that reading is associated with standardization, pressure, and boredom.
2. When teachers emphasize vocabulary memorization over the excitement of a story, for example, kids lose interest.
3. If kindergarteners’ reading skills are assessed and they are determined to be behind the curve (when in reality, they are right on schedule), they may actually develop problems as a result.
4. Too much emphasis on reading, at the expense of other important kindergarten tasks, destroys critical aspects of learning. They need to learn how to think on their own.
5. While it is fine for some children to show up reading in kindergarten, other children may not be reading yet and may lose their feeling of self-worth.
6. Kindergarteners who already read well might have other problems that are overlooked by the teacher, simply because they’re already labeled as intelligent. Reading may also bore them because they are given nothing new to learn.
7. Socialization skills (that are normally developed in kindergarten) are pushed aside.
8. Children learn that reading is associated with competition and may simply read to gain approval from teachers and their peers.
9. Some students may come from households that either cannot afford books, or whose parents were not able to teach them to read prior to kindergarten. This creates a divide between privileged and disadvantaged children.
10. Pressuring kindergarteners to read too soon goes against the results of past research.
I found these concerns both interesting and valuable. I had not given much thought to the fact that if parents engage their children in reading prior to kindergarten, it could be damaging rather than beneficial. I have always been of the mindset that if kids are socialized to enjoy reading from an early age, there is a better likelihood that it will stick with them throughout their lives. Of course, I have always been aware of the key component there: parents and educators somehow have to find a way to teach kids reading skills without pounding them with memorization, vocabulary, and grammar. The enjoyment of reading is culminated simply by doing.
Like anything, the critical strategy is to strike a balance. Encouraging children to read at an early age is not dangerous if we encourage reading for the right reasons. It is only when we standardize reading and force pressure onto children that our efforts become counterproductive.
What are your thoughts?