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Thursday, June 25, 2015

More Play or More Academics for Kindergarten?

From The New York Times' Parenting Blog
"Motherlode"

By K.J. Dell'Antonia
June 10, 2015 

Therese Iwancio playing a game with her kindergarten class
at Cecil Elementary school in Baltimore.
GABRIELLA DEMCZUK FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

If you’ve watched a succession of siblings go through kindergarten, you may have noticed that things have changed, and are still changing. As Motoko Rich writes in Kindergartens Ringing the Bell for Play Inside the Classroom, after a national movement toward more academics in that first year of school, many kindergartens are bringing back play: sand tables, blocks, easels, toy kitchens.

Many — but not all.


Some research, described in the article, suggests that schools with large concentrations of nonwhite children were more likely to cut back on play, art and music while increasing the use of textbooks.

Middle-class parents, says the dean of education at Stanford, are doing the kind of academic work that kindergartners do at home. If schools don’t do the work with students whose parents aren’t, “they are going to start at an even greater disadvantage.”

As a parent, it’s hard to assess the impact of kindergarten. I wanted it to give my children what I did not. We had plenty of play kitchen toys at home, but with four young children close in age, I wasn’t doing much that could be even remotely called academic there. I hoped for more “academic” work, especially for my oldest, whose kindergarten was half-day and seemed to me to consist almost entirely of taking snow gear off and putting it on again.

Our younger three stayed in preschool for kindergarten (in part because it was full day for four days a week). They had more rigorous experiences, went into first grade knowing more, and had an easier time throughout elementary school. But who can say whether that’s because of their experience, or because of other differences?

No one, really, and my children had the data in their favor before they walked through the classroom door. Factors like income, a mother’s educational achievements and social background have as much, if not more, impact on a child’s success in school as shifts in pedagogy.

It’s those distinctions that schools are trying to make up for as they move along the play/academic continuum, with limited success.

They’re also trying to appease parents across the income spectrum who may equate more academics with a better program.

Is there a one-size-fits-all prescription for kindergarten, nationally or even within a school? One teacher may be able to create a fun educational environment that keeps children engaged and wanting to learn with sand tables, and another may do the same with paper and pencils.

What do you (or did you) want from your school’s kindergarten, and what should we want for all kindergartens — and is that the same thing?

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Follow K.J. Dell’Antonia on Twitter at @KJDellAntonia or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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