Education Special
Signs Of A Good "KinderGarden"

In 1981, psychologist David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (Perseus Press, 1989). Elkind had educators, administrators, and parents buzzing about the dangerous pressures to hurry children to achieve more at an earlier age. In 1998 the National Research Council, released a report that called for widespread reforms "to ensure all children are equipped with the skills and instruction they need to learn to read." The United States Secretary of Education Report on "Goals 2000" states that, "all children in America will start school ready to learn."

Kindergarten used to be a place where children prepared for elementary school. Now, in many cases kindergarten has become elementary school. Today, in our own state of Connecticut, we have the "trickle-down phenomenon" to get early learners ready with the skills necessary to perform well on the Connecticut Mastery Test. Many early child-hood educators are aware of the fact that the first grade curriculum has inappropriately become part of the kindergarten curriculum.

As an early childhood educator, I know the assumption that ALL children will develop competencies in reading in the kindergarten year runs counter to what we know to be true in child development. Certainly, I recognize the importance of literacy and other academic objectives: how-ever, I disagree with the time man-dated to reach such goals. Hurrying the process may indeed be destructive to children and may result in emotional stress and a feeling of failure for children, parents and teachers. Educator's anxiety about ensuring that children score well on the 4th Grade Mastery Test leads to their distortion of the Kindergarten program that contradicts everything we know about the early learning process.

In Connecticut the new demands in our reading curriculum are complicated by the "birth date effect." Depending on the state you live in, the cut off date for kindergarten age qualifications can be July 30, August 1, September 1, December 31, or even January 1! Connecticut is one of the only states where the cut off date for kindergarten age qualification is December 31st.* A study by Dr. P. Langer of the University of Pennsylvania, estimated that states using the kindergarten entrance age cut off of five years by December 31 or January 1 should expect 50 percent of the boys and 25 percent of the girls to be develop-mentally "NOT READY." States adhering to a fall cut off such as Massachusetts, can expect about one third of the boys NOT to be ready. Even the National Association for Education of Young Children reported " that younger children in the group have a slightly more difficult time academically in kindergarten and throughout the elementary years."

Susan Golant and Mitch Golant, Ph.D., relate an ancient Zen story in their book, Kindergarten, It Isn't What It Used to Be (Lowell House, 1990). The tale recounts an argument among three teachers who debate the proper educational approach. The first teacher views his pupils as vessels in which he must pour information. The second sees his charges as clay for which he is the potter where he will mold and sculpt them. The third, however, treats his students as plants and he the gardener. He realizes that each flower, tree, and shrub needs the proper unique balance of light, water, and nutrients. "I do not water cactus, as I would a rose, nor do I nurture a seedling as I would a mature tree." The latter portrait of a kindergarten program is very apt.

A good kindergarten program is a place where your child can "grow" through careful nurturing that encourages learning by recognizing the child's innate curiosity. A develop-mentally appropriate kindergarten classroom encourages growth of children's self esteem, cultural identities, independence, and individual strengths.

Here are the signs of a good KINDERGARDEN:

Guarantees a community of belonging through activities at block play, art activities, dramatic play, and readiness activities.

Actively invites your child to take risks and make choices.

Respects your child's uniqueness and learning style.

Develops and fosters happiness for your child's gifts and talents.

Empowers your child with a print-rich environment that will inspire your child to explore words and strengthen your child's understanding of the power of literature.

Nurtures a joy and curiosity for learning where your child looks for-ward to school every day.

*The cut-off date for kindergarten age qualification in Torrington, CT is January 1st.

To show your support for changing the attendance age for children starting kindergarten from attaining the age of five before January 1st to attaining the age five before September 1st, contact Representative Nancy Kerensky, 14th District at 860.240.8585 or HB-#5483 "An Act Concerning The Age A Child Starts Kindergarten" was defeated in the January 1999 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Lydia Forgetta-Sheffield, winner of the THANKS TO TEACHER AWARD and chosen one of the top ten Catholic educators by Catholic Teacher Magazine, is Head Teacher for the PreK and Kindergarten at Our Lady of Mercy School, Madison. An early childhood educator with more than 25 years experience, Mrs. Sheffield is President of the Kindergarten Association of CT, treasurer for the CT Early Childhood Education Council.


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