Monday, November 24, 2008

Four year old kindergarten

Yup, you read that right. Four-year-old kindergarten. It's here, and I'm afraid it's here to stay.

Kindergarten, I grew up with the half-day kindergarten. Boy, have the times changed. I had morning kindergarten when I was 5 years old. I went in the morning, we did story time on the rug, letters and numbers at tables, a little free play time in the space in the room for free play and even had some recess. I remember I liked it. I met my best friend for all of elementary school there. I think I must have learned plenty, because I did fine in school.

When we moved to our state, we found our new district had all day kindergarten. I hadn't encountered that before. I was very leary of it. I couldn't understand why kindergarteners should need a full day. My oldest didn't have issues with it, he did fine with the lunches and all that. I was shocked that they had kindergarteners writing full sentences and stories. And I thought, "Great, is this what No Child Left Behind is bringing us?" I'm still not sold on the full day of kindergarten. My youngest is getting better at the hot lunches and dealing with it better, but I keep wondering if she had only had half day kindergarten and got into that routine, would she have done better with the lunch situation next year? She was in preschool two mornings a week for two years, so the routine of school was handled pretty well, with story time, songs and games.

So, not yet sold on the full day of kindergarten requirement, our district just started four year old kindergarten. They don't have room in their buildings, so they created a partnership with the area preschools to hold all the four year olds for this program. It is offered free to all four year olds in our district boundaries. I've been at PTO meetings last year at our elementary school, and they've talked about it then. One of the arguments is that it will get kids ready for kindergarten.

Ok, stop, hold it there, isn't kindergarten supposed to be the year that kids are helped to get ready for the rest of elementary school? Isn't kindergarten the year when those teachers take all those kids and help sort them into a more even playing field with social skill work, playing with others work, and learning to be a student work? Hmmm...but, on thinking about it, wasn't my kindergarteners already pushed to write full sentences (before you freak, they don't have to be perfect in spelling and punctuation, but still)? I am concerned, because, after reading parenting books and websites, I've seen it again and again, that young children learn through PLAY. So, why is the school routine being pushed so early? It seems like play time is being diminished.

So then, at these last year PTO meetings, the school district line is that not all kids have access to preschool or have parents that have all the skills to teach their children to function in our school society. Ok, fair enough, then let's call a spade, a spade and say that we are doing this because we need to bring those on the lower socio-economic rungs up to a more level playing field. And to make it fair, they will offer it to all students. But instead of telling me this is good for everyone, could you please be honest and say that it's for those people who don't have my background? And then, this begs a bigger question, besides making the school districts carry the burden of trying help students achieve more than their socio-economic status would normally allow, why isn't the whole of society working harder to solve the problems of the poor and disadvantaged? Yeah, don't get me started.

Then, at this month's PTO meeting, the principal mentioned that the school district, because it is getting state funding for the four year old kindergarten, will be operating with a surplus. Something like a $700,000 surplus.

Ok, now that's a good thing. Though, where did this surplus come from? Are we getting more money from the state than we are spending on 4K? And how could that be ok with the state? I don't know all those details, and I keep thinking that maybe I should be attending school board meetings. Perhaps getting the local paper (have I mentioned that I'm cheap) to understand this more. But, I won't knock the surplus, because that means my school district has some back up funds in these economic times. But, again, then, let's call a spade, a spade. We do 4K because it is good economic sense, but maybe it might not be the best for our 4 year old kids. Though, I think it will be more of a win-win situation. I just wish that they wouldn't sit there and pretend it is all about the kids, because it's not. That has been the impression I have gotten from the main arguments.

I'm still not sold on more school structure for our younger students. But I don't think it is a horrible thing. I'm sort of down the middle, because I will concede that the school district having more money at its disposal without raising local taxes. Though, it is taxpayer money one way or another and we pay one way or another. So, while I am glad that my tax money is going to help people who might be at a disadvantage economically and couldn't send their kid to preschool like we did, I wish our local governments would be more honest about the fact that we pay one way or another through various taxes for these programs. And if we didn't help these students to succeed, we might be paying for them with tax money to hold them in prisons or through welfare.

It is all very tricky and I don't have any answers. But, questions are a good start.


Jump Hi said...

I have a 4-year old who is currently in training to become a kindergartener. We are traumatizing him. We are telling him that he can't play the way he wants to because running on concrete might result in injuries. We are telling him that he must sit still even when he is desperately bored a pay attention. We are telling him that he must write his name holding the pen properly and forming the letters correctly. If my child doesn't end up in prison in self defense of being a round peg forced into a square hole, it will be a miracle. This is not preparation for kindergarten it is breaking his spirit.

Jump Hi said...

As if California schools weren't bad enough. I've learned yet another racist steriotypical term to generate fear, "white flight." Everyone in California wants to get into a good public school and the real estate market reflects that. But, once you get there, you apparently are faced with crazy people. There are a significant number of parents in these districts that value education so highly that they get tutors and teach their children everything they need to know before they get taught it in school. This is designed to give their children an advantage and get them into ivy league schools. But, for normal children and parents who think soccer or piano lessons or simply unstructured play are also important - they get behind. So, in California, since these dedicated souls tend to be Asian (told you it was racist), the white parents are taking their kids out of the public schools and sending them to private schools where they can achieve a better balance. I CAN COMMENT ON SCHOOL BLOGS FOR AN ETERNITY.

Wild Child said...

Jump Hi,

I do not envy your situation. It's crazy all around. All we can do is hope for the best for our children and try to do OUR best by them. Hmmm...maybe the current school system itself won't be what your 4 year old needs. The school model we have at the moment doesn't necessarily work for everyone. I have the added challenge of working with teachers to challenge my gifted child. It takes vigilence, dedication and involvement.