School has changed a lot since we were kids. The early years have been transformed from a time of hands-on discovery to overly academic pursuits, and children have paid the price for it.
According to the study "Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" kindergarteners spend considerably more time with formal instruction, academics and testing than they used to. This has taken the place of art, music, science, and child-directed activities. Even though you can read an abundance of studies referencing the vital role of "play" in early childhood development and education, modern classrooms no longer give it the time of day. Children are too busy with workbooks and test prep to mess with such things.
The problem doesn't start in kindergarten. I recently read the article "The New Preschool is Crushing Kids." For all the academics and pre-academics we're forcing on children at younger and younger ages, many teachers agree that children are "less inquisitive and less engaged than children of earlier generations." And for all this extra school work they're doing, "young children are gaining fewer skills, not more." In fact, by second grade, children who attended preschool perform "worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills" than children who didn't attend preschool.
The increased academic pressure on children at such young ages has caused to advocate for delaying school altogether. There's a movement of parents and educators who push to keep children home longer than age five, and wait to put them in kindergarten until the maximum age of six. Most of our school-going friends have done this, making them part of the now one in every five families who choose to do so.
Luckily our boys didn't go to an institutionalized setting at the age of 4, 5, or even 6 because we homeschool. We start them in kindergarten at age 5, because they're more than ready for it at that age. But when I say kindergarten I don't mean hours of formal instruction, worksheets, workbooks and test preparation. Our kindergarten days include:
- reading a great variety of books aloud together
- creativity and art
- hands-on science discovery
- character building lessons
- imaginative play
- outdoor play and exploration
- short, hands-on Right Start Math lessons
- short, individually paced phonics instruction
As far as getting our kids "ready for kindergarten," our preschool days are pretty relaxed. The most important goal I have for their pre-school years is to to establish a love of reading. As long as that happens, the rest will fall into place. Of course we play some games that build their fine and gross motor skills too. We fly kites and do puzzles and enjoy our time together. So much of what is missed when children are sent to "school" at the age of 2,3,4, or 5 is quality interaction with their family. Playing together, cooking, exploring outside, and just talking to Mom is replaced with a classroom setting with one adult to every 10 or more children. "One major study of 700 preschool classrooms in 11 states found that only 15% showed evidence of effective interactions between teacher and child. Fifteen percent."<source> It's pretty hard to beat the home environment, but today only one out of every four 4-year-olds is found there. The rest have non-family care in a variety of institutionalized settings.
I know it's not an option for every family, but I keep finding more reasons why home schooling rocks. I love that our boys' early years include plenty of active exploration and real life learning instead of too much desk work, homework and testing.
For more info, check these out:
- The Vital Role of Play in Childhood Education
- The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development
- The Power of Play
- The Unconventional Guide to Improving Handwriting: Put Down the Pencil and Get Outside
- Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?
- The New Pre-School is Crushing Kids
- More Thoughts to Consider Before Launching into Early Academics