What's the 'Next Generation'
Q. This will be my
third child in all-day kindergarten, and I don't really like it and don't know
what to do about it. I've noticed with our older two children and their
classmates that the ones who are ready to read and learn are kind of put on the
sidelines in kindergarten, while those who have problems are getting most of
the attention. Kids have all different levels of preschool preparation, and
their reading readiness, for one thing, is all over the map. It seems like it's
letting down the top half or two-thirds of the pupils in our district to
cluster them all together in the "intake" year of kindergarten. I like to
innovate and would like to help our district create a more forward-looking
kindergarten experience. What should I do?
The wave of the future seems to be in matching the
learning experience better to the needs of the learner, and making use of
community resources and a more flexible approach.
What classroom teachers have been noticing with increasing
concern is the increasing diversity in the learning readiness of the students.
This appears to be the most troublesome in the kindergarten year. For example,
one kindergartner is already reading while the next one doesn't even know the
alphabet letters yet. One might have enough self-control to be doing simple
science experiments, while his seatmate can't sit still for five minutes.
"Segmenting" the transition to all-day school is an
exciting solution to the problems of diversity that you have experienced. With
segmenting, the kindergarten day and the kindergarten year are broken down into
parts. Part of the kindergarten learning occurs at home or a child-care setting
or private school such as a Montessori, part occurs out in the community in
places such as nature centers and art museums, part occurs online with home
supervision, and part occurs in the traditional classroom setting.
Those children who need full-time kindergarten -
especially disadvantaged children and the non-English speaking - can be in the
traditional classroom setting all day to be brought "up to specs," which is an
irreverent way of saying to learn the alphabet, colors, numbers, how to share,
and so forth. Meanwhile, the other classroom might host two half-day
kindergarten sessions for those children who already meeting the minimal state
learning standards on the first day of class, and they can work with learning
activities more appropriate to their skill level.
save a considerable amount of money, since the schools would no longer be
paying teachers to basically "back-burner" children who already have mastered
the kindergarten curriculum, and are ready for more music education, foreign
language, arts education, or just time at home playing and exploring.
Then those children will be freed up to participate in
more meaningful learning activities until the group has caught up. As an
example, they might be in the traditional kindergarten classroom setting five
mornings a week; go to a day-care center or parent co-op two afternoons a week;
stay at home two afternoons a week and go to the library, do computer learning
games or work on their hobbies and interests; and go out on mini field trips
every Friday afternoon.
Since the alternative is to lose those children to private-sector
schools, that do allow for enrichment and accelerated learning, the public
schools may be forced into offering segmented programming.
You can innovate and get this started in your
district, without costing the district a dime, by recruiting some other
like-minded parents and meeting a year, or at least several months in advance,
with your building principal to work this out. The key is that most states will
pay for a full-day's enrollment as long as the child is at school through the
lunch hour. So your district will still receive the full amount of money for
your child's education even though the child will only be there for a half a
After a couple of weeks of orientation, once your
children are pre-tested to make sure they already have the skills expected of
them at the end of kindergarten, parents will start pulling their child out of
school in the afternoons to do enrichment activities, also known as
"complementary learning" opportunities. You might start doing this just one
afternoon a week, and work your way up.
These might consist of art lessons, mini field trips, more
time spent at the park and library, community learning activities at the zoo
and museums, and so forth. You might have a good child-care center nearby that
would take school-age children part-time and offer a quality curriculum, for
working parents who can't supervise the afternoon sessions.
Invite the other parents to join you and collaborate and
carpool on this. Teachers like it because if the kids who are already "getting
it" in school leave part of the time, teachers can focus better on the kids who
are NOT "getting it," and then everybody will be happy and have their needs
If it is a success, then your school can start
counting the enrollments of participating kindergartners as part-time, rather
than full-time, for monetary reimbursement of tax dollars, thus saving
taxpayers in your district thousands of dollars per child.
Here's a way to go about it:
administrators and school board members privately, quietly and well in advance
- over a year is preferable. To avoid hurting feelings or polarizing people,
avoid pejorative terms about all-day kindergarten or insulting words like
"bored" or "wasteful." Stress the achievements of your older children to show
that you know what it takes to build a good learner. Stress, too, their
comments about being bored and pushed aside during their all-day kindergarten
The two key tasks of
kindergarten are (1) to build phonemic awareness and to teach children phonics,
the building blocks of literacy, and (2) give them a taste of school before
first grade begins. Those services can be delivered in just a few minutes a
day, and anything more than that really is just babysitting for parent
convenience. If your child is already reading, it makes the idea of an
"enrichment pull-out" a lot more convincing.
Tell them you can't find
any scientific evidence (not just opinion) that full-day programs provide
academic benefit on down the road. That's because it doesn't exist: the
benefits of full-day kindergarten wash out within a year or two, and neither
educators nor researchers can tell if kids had full-day kindergarten or not. If
educators try to block your idea, ask for the evidence that your child will be
better off in a full-day program than in a more flexible, segmented program.
They can't give you any.
On the other hand, there
is significant research pointing to increased aggression, difficulties with
attachment to parents and self-esteem issues, and "sour attitude" about school,
in young children who are placed in controlled, out-of-home environments at too
young an age for too much time.
Recruit other parents
and older taxpayers to your cause. There are safety and strength in numbers.
Recognize that schools
are under a lot of peer pressure to adopt all-day kindergarten to "keep up with
the Joneses." The educators at your
school have already shown that they care what other educators think about them.
Now show them how they can be the innovators and the leaders in parental
involvement! They'll love putting positive peer pressure on other schools to
copy what you're doing.
If they turn you down,
notify them that you will be taking your child out of school every day before
lunch. Then they will only get a half-day's state aid and other tax support for
your child's enrollment. Encourage the other parents to do the same, and follow
through on your enrichment idea. Always be polite and gracious, and you may
wind up educating the educators!
Read and interact a lot
with your child before first grade begins. Voila! You'll "grow" an excellent
learner at no charge to taxpayers . . . and in just minutes a day. Parents can
do what no school ever can: love that child with all their hearts.
Homework: Educators often do not realize that a preliterate child winds up with
better literacy skills if the time spent before first grade is spent on
non-reading activities that still build vocabulary, concentration, listening
ability, hand-eye coordination and other skills. That's the best use of the
kindergarten year for those children who don't come to school ready to read. See
pre-literacy information on www.nrrf.org