Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reflections on kindergarten

Three weeks into school and I still think all day kindergarten is too much. I know why the schools doubled the length of the day for 5- and 6-year-olds. They say that if they don't have the kids all day they don't have enough time to prepare them for standardized tests, tests that they won't take until 3rd grade. I think there's a problem with any system that makes experts think a few extra hours a day when kids are 6 will give the school a leg up come testing time when the kids are 9 (because while the kids take the test, it's the school that passes or fails). Besides, I've seen no evidence that kids do fare better on tests if they go to kindergarten all day. But that's a debate for another post.

Educators say one of the benefits of all-day kindergarten is that it opens up some free time for the kids to explore and play, that in a half-day schedule all they had time for was worksheets and lessons.

Which is why at first I didn't believe Lena when she told me she wasn't going outside for recess, that instead they were "doing work." But when she told me several times that they didn't have recess, and her story never changed, I decided to ask her teacher about her schedule at the open house earlier this week. Lena's teacher pointed out that they have PE every morning, and she admitted that sometimes she is so busy with their work that she forgets to get the kids outside for their 15-minute afternoon recess.

I think she could tell I was concerned. And the next day the kids did get their afternoon recess.

PE is fine and good. It's great for the kids to learn to play on a team, to take instruction from other adults, and running around is a great way for them to release their pent-up energy. But it's not the same as free play on the playground, when kids have to be creative in making up games, aned problem solve to make the rules. And since PE is in the beginning of the day, it doesn't help the kids with the energy they build up from lunch on.

And this isn't the first time I've been concerned about Lena's teacher, who is new this year to teaching kindergarten.

On Friday, in addition to sending her teacher a note, I told Lena's teacher that I would be picking her up at noon (of course I didn't tell her it was so we could go to the beach for the weekend).
"Thank you for bringing Elena for part of the day."
"Of course."
"She's such a delight to have in class."
"I'm glad to hear that."

That's where the conversation took a turn that concerned me. While she didn't actually say anything specific, she made it clear with her eyebrows and other gestures that while Lena was a delight to have in class, Niko would be just the opposite. I was so taken aback that I basically walked away and responded in some generic way over my shoulder. Now the day before Niko did have an incident where he "went to red" (they do dicipline on a green-yellow-red system, where you start at green, yellow is a warning and red is trouble). Luckily she's not Niko's main teacher (although since both classes meet in the same room the teachers share a lot), but to think she had already written him off eight days into the school year really made me mad.

Luckily, when I talked with Niko's teacher about his behavior, she had a very different approach.
"We're working with him on his behavior."
"Thank you."
"That's what we do."

And while I'm complaining, it seems Lena's teacher is forcing her to be E-lena. I'm not against her teaching Lena to spell and write her full name. But Lena has been having a bit of an identity crisis because her teacher is telling her she's someone other than she's been all her life. Would the teacher force Bill to be William? Luckily Nicholas' teacher is cool with Niko.

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