Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kindergarten Blues

A parent I know whose child goes to one of our southeast Ann Arbor Public Schools says that her daughter, who is in kindergarten, gets a packet full of worksheets every week for homework. She, as a parent, finds it takes her quite a bit of time at least twice a week to work with her daughter on these worksheets.

Another friend, hearing about this, is thinking seriously about sending her daughter to Rudolf Steiner. The Rudolf Steiner school follows a Waldorf, play-based curriculum and actually does not believe in teaching young children to read, but rather believes it is important developmentally to wait. In the Waldorf world, they are more interested in developing "critical thinking and innovation, open-mindedness and compassion."

Hearing this, I feel very sad. My oldest son experienced a very play-based curriculum in kindergarten and first grade. One of my favorite memories from that year was when a group of children decided to design a city. When I arrived at the end of the day they had not gotten very far, but they had figured out where they would put the church, the synagogue, and the mosque. [That, perhaps, is what happens when there are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim kids in the class.]

Seven years later, I noticed that there was a big difference in the kindergarten and first grade experience for my youngest son. The class was much more structured and there was much less time for open play. Unfortunately, it appears that in the years since my youngest son finished kindergarten that trend has greatly accelerated.

Where does this trend come from? Friend #2, above, says to me (completely unsolicited--I don't even think she knew I was involved with Ann Arbor STOP: Stop Overtesting Our Pupils), "is all this testing really necessary?"

And the answer, of course, is no. There is no reason to use the NWEA MAP test on kindergartners or first graders, something that we have been doing in the Ann Arbor Public Schools without a good reason for doing so, and apparently without an evaluation plan (at least, none that has been made public).  Its use exacerbates a trend toward "test prep" worksheets.

There is no reason that we shouldn't be teaching reading or math, social studies or science using a play- and project-based curriculum with early elementary students. If they are going to give kindergartners homework (which, to me, is questionable in any case), can't they at least be fun projects?


  1. As a parent you can do something about this, short of abandoning the public schools. I just don't have my youngest child (a first grader now) do the homework. I've explained my philosophy about homework to the teacher, and we typically just don't do it. I can't easily change what goes on in class re: the increasing structure, but I can change what happens at home. And I'm at a southeast ann arbor public school. I don't want to leave the public schools, but it is challenging at times.

  2. As a kindergarten teacher in southeast Ann Arbor, I am disturbed that children are getting extensive packets of worksheets, that should not be the norm. Kindergarten "homework" should be a connection to what we are doing in class which takes 5 minutes or less, to get students into the homework routine. Having said that, I agree that it is appalling the we are testing kids at this level, and try to integrate as much play into the curriculum as possible. It has definitely changed over the last 15 years.