You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
~Clay P. Bedford
I remember little about pre-school and kindergarten when I was a child, but my memories are happy ones. I went to a Montessori style preschool, where I remember coloring, finger-painting, searching for pennies hidden in a sandbox, and other child-like play. My favorite activity was sitting in a group and listening to stories that the teacher read to us. If shapes and numbers were introduced to us, I do not recall, which means that if they were, it was done in a very unstructured and un-stressful sort of way. Certainly there was no strictly structured teaching of anything, to the best of my mother’s and my own recall. The teaching was done through play and interactive activities, and the education was child led, as opposed to adult led. The concept was that the child will indicate what kind of things he or she is ready to learn, and the adults would teach it. In kindergarten I remember a warm teacher, older and grandmotherly, who read to us as well and had us sing delightful songs that were fun and educational.
Although my memory is vague about these times, my mother says that in kindergarten we learned the alphabet, and some children learned to write letters and numbers, but I was held back from both these things because of my dyslexia. The teachers waited until first grade to teach me these things (and apparently, I taught myself most of it over the summer with a minimal amount of my mothers help, which is a strong argument that home based learning at an early age is more effective than school based learning, and also that a child will learn things on their own, if given some instruction by their elders). To put is simply, there was no big deal made about my slow progress in this one area. The idea the teachers had was that I would learn at my own pace with concern to reading, and pushing me into something I was not ready for would only hurt me, possibly taking away from my natural curiosity and love for learning.
My parents say that they also did not worry because I seemed to excel in other areas. For whatever reasons they had for their calm attitude, the gentle approach seemed to work best, as I developed a great love of reading after I learned how to work around the dyslexia problem, and I soon was reading at a much accelerated level. I still am sometimes bothered by dyslexia, although the problem is not severe. I think that if I was pressured or strong-armed into learning reading and numbers too quickly I would of become frustrated and possibly lost interest in reading, and thereby gone astray from one of my greatest pleasures in life, which is curling up with a good book surrounded by blankets and pillows.
I also would have probably developed a complex about my learning disability and most likely this complex would have “bled over” into other areas of my education. Many of my friends have learning disabilities, which they were held back for or their parents and teachers made a big deal over, and they are still ashamed to this day. They do not believe that they are capable of learning like other people and they seem to have given up. Their curiosity is stunted in fundamental areas. Newspapers frustrate them, books frustrate them, the whole idea of reading anything is daunting to them. They seem to, instead, receive most of the information and fun from television. I can only imagine the joys that they are missing out on, and am angry that this kind of deficiency could have been entirely avoided.
Are the practices that parents and the educational system have put into place for making pre-school aged children ready for kindergarten harmful to them? Will it hurt their learning experience and be dangerous? Can it shape the way they grow into adults and effect their entire lives? In this paper I will argue that yes, by putting children through the experience that most children are being subjected to in pre-school, we are endangering children and their educations, stunting the imaginations and self-esteem of children, and therefore endangering the future for them as individuals and society as a whole.
The anecdote from my childhood is being told to convey an idea and compare my experience with the experiences that many young children in preschool and kindergarten are having today. More and more young pre-school aged children (this is the four-year-old range that is being discussed) are being pressured to learn things that are not age-appropriate. The scurry and bustle to get children ready for standardized testing due to the No Child Left Behind act has invaded pre-school. Upon studying and researching this topic I am confounded by the changes that have taken place in pre-kindergarten education and am actually horrified at the ramifications that these changes most likely will have on young minds. The experience I had twenty-three years ago as a four-year old is becoming insidiously rare for the young children of today.
Parents and the education system are doing much to prepare a child for kindergarten, and mostly these methods are harmful and detrimental to the child. It used to be that the only requirements to enter kindergarten was that the child was able to generally handle bodily functions, the child was healthy, and the child was generally developmentally ready, with no major learning disorders or handicaps. If the child had a learning disorder that was severe, special classes were available and the child would not necessarily be “held back” but put in an environment that was conducive to their education and aware of their special needs.
Children now are being held back a year in pre-school not only from the results of the testing that will be discussed more in depth later in this paper, but also because of issues of social maturity. Many pre-school directors believe that “socially immature” children could benefit from an extra year of preschool. But why are these children considered “socially immature”? What grounds do they use to measure maturity? I have found no research on the subject, so the directors must use their own “measuring stick” about maturity, per-say, which is subjective and therefore dangerous. It could be intuited that the stress and bustle of these children’s lives, due to hard driving parents and schools could be causing this “emotional immaturity”.
Some of the procedures and testing that is taking place today is harmful to both the education system and the children themselves. More and more screening and testing is taking place to allow entrance into kindergarten, a trend that is most rigorous in
The Gesell screening is one of the most prevalent and sinister of these tests. This screening test and others like it were originally developed as an indicator for teachers of kindergarten classes to judge and estimate what needed to be focused on in class, and also as an indicator to tell whether the child had a major learning disorder or handicap. This screening and others were never meant to be used in the way that they are being used now. The Gesell screening test is now used as a screening tool in some states to judge whether the child is ready for kindergarten, and some children are held back if they do not meet the requirements. 18 percent of school districts in the nation use the Gesell Readiness Tests and the number is increasing (1) That statistic was from 1999, so one can imagine that the number is much higher today. During the Gesell Readiness tests a child may be asked to:
1. Arrange ten one-inch cubes into designated structures
2. Answer questions about his age, birthdate, members of the family, his or her parent’s job, and other family members
3. Using a pencil and paper, copy different geometric shapes and forms
4. Write his or her name
5. Write numbers in order from 1 to 20
6. Complete a primitive drawing of a man (“tadpole” drawings score less points than pictures drawn with a complete body)
7. Name all the animals he or she can think of in sixty seconds
8. Talk about what he or she enjoys doing at home, at school, indoors, and outdoors.
In evaluating the tests, the examiner will look at how the tasks were completed, using such measurements as follows.
1. With which hand(s) and in which direction does he or she build the structures? Is a demonstration necessary?
2. How well versed and how spontaneous in the child during the family interview? Can he or she identify the month and date of his or her birthday?
3. Can he or she remember and respond to questions that have one or two parts?
4. How does he or she hold the paper and grip the pencil, and where does he or she place the shapes on the paper?
5. How closely does he or she reproduce the shapes?
6. How accurately does he or she write numbers? Does he or she reverse them or write them out of order?
7. Where does he or she begin the writing and copying exercises: Top or bottom? In what direction does he or she write the numbers: right to left or left to right?
8. How accurately does he or she complete the drawing of the man? Does he or she work too much on one area and ignore the others? Are eyes and limbs drawn in symmetrically? Does he or she elaborate on parts of the body or add clothing?
9. Can the child name animals for the full sixty seconds? Does the child include usual zoo animals? Does he divide the animals into categories such as fish or fowl?
10. Is he specific about favorite activities at home and school? (2)
The score of this test is given in developmental age. A five year old could be labeled as a “young five”, “five”, or “five with evidence of five-and-half behavior” (3), and the same system of scoring by “developmental age” is now being applied to four year olds. This kind of screening can determine what kind of class a child is placed in, such as a “slow learner’s class” and even be used to suggest or enforce that the child be left behind for a year in a special program to ensure that they are indeed “ready” for kindergarten.
Rather than changing the curriculum to make it more aligned with the children’s abilities, testing is now used as a measuring stick that determines whether or not a child is ready for kindergarten. This kind of thinking and the implementing of these standards for young children is completely harmful and irresponsible.
There are many problems with this kind of grading and screening. First of all, the measurement tools that the examiner uses to see where the child is in the spectrum of developmental age are completely subjective. The child is tested in a one-on-one manner, and a child could have different results on different days, due to different factors. Maybe the child is in a particularly tired, shy, or angry mood the day of the testing. There is also the very real fact that most children this young would be intimidated or scared in this situation, especially if they grasp the pressured put upon them to do well in the test, which most would because of strain put upon them by parents. Most children are prepped for this screening by their parents, so the possibility of stress is a very real possibility, which is likely to skew the results of the test.
The score of the child is also subjective because it is scored by one examiner, and can be dependant on the examiners training, experience, mood, judgment, and other factors, and sometimes, unfortunately, including the examiners personal liking or disliking of the child, even if this particular factor is subconscious. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has stated that “school readiness tests all have error rates in the range of 50 percent”. (4) The implications of this fact are truly astounding, meaning that as many as half the children that are placed in special programs based on the results of these tests are being erroneously placed. This kind of blatant misjudgment can have lasting effects on the self-esteem and education of a child.
Experts (and common sense) would tell you that a child may lag behind in some areas and flourish in others. Attributing these natural differences in the child to “immaturity” is irresponsibility on the teacher’s and parents of the child. Children react better to learning environments that are less demanding to the child, and go at the child’s own personal pace. To place a stigma on the child be labeling him or her as a slow-learner is dangerous. As one can see by the story of my dyslexia, these differences in my “maturity” (as called by testing experts) usually work themselves out on their own, due to the simple and reasonable idea that pressuring children and holding them back will effect them both in their educational drive and socially.
I feel that only within very narrow parameters that testing of children this young is justified, such as for screening for what the teacher should be teaching the children (not as a measurement for the child’s intelligence level within itself), or using more basic sort of physiological testing to look for more severe learning disabilities or emotional problems. I certainly feel that the testing going on today such as the Gesell Test, is a complete waste of time and money, and damaging for both children and the educational system.
David Elkind, a notable expert on child development, is an avid and outspoken advocate for children who is very much against this kind of testing and “pushing” of young children. In a very thorough and well-written book on the subject titled Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk he makes a convincing and accurate argument about why these kinds of extreme measures put children at risk for “short-term stress and long-term personality damage for no reason.” (5). He feels that the efforts of the 1960’s to ensure that all children are educated in a manner which ensures a proper education for children of all groups has spurned a much more competitive learning environment today. What was once a good train of thought has turned into a run-away train speeding down a mountain, destined for a horrible crash in the future. That crash is happening now, and will continue to cause a “pile-up” if things are not changed.
In Elkind’s book, The Hurried Child: Growing up too Fast too Soon he states that twenty-three states are considering special readiness programs for four year olds. Keep in mind that this book was written six years ago, in 2001. Kindergarten has become elementary school, and in effect, pre-school has become kindergarten (and in some cases, elementary school as well). Our culture is putting so much stress on the principals and teachers of primary school, which puts greater stress on kindergarten teachers, and as one can see, this stress is therefore placed upon pre-school children and teachers as well.
To paraphrase a quote by one researcher (whose name is unknown to me), When you give a starving child rich and calorie ridden food you are helping that child. But if you give a well-nourished child the same food you are creating obesity. Children need to learn at their own pace. This has been proven time and time again and is no great revelation.
The amount of nursery schools and preschools has increased hundred-folds over the past ten years, and the amount of time preschoolers spend in class has increased over the years as well. Preschoolers now typically have a five or six hour day, unlike the preschoolers of the past who had (usually) a three hour day. What happened to the idea of young children learning at home? What happened to the idea of young children being at home, and not even being consciously taught, but following their own personal rythms and curiosity? Certainly this would be a better option, as they would probably be learning in a less stressful environment. They would be surrounded by familiar people and objects, and would not be subjected to the runaway-train of the No-Child-Left-Behind stress that has trickled down into pre-school education.
Although I advocate this style of learning I can understand how it is simply not possible for most children and parents. The system does not allow for it. Besides the obvious factor of one-parent households and homes where both parents are working, a child would probably be unprepared for the “elementary school” atmosphere of kindergarten if they were educated at home, unless the parents were very aware of the rigors of academics in the school system of young children and prepared the child at home, thereby again feeding usually well-nourished children calorie ridden and rich food. It is a fiercely difficult bind that the education system has placed society in.
Elkind and many national organizations researching child development argue that:
1. Many young children are subjected to rigid formal reading programs with inappropriate expectations and experiences for their level of development.
2. Little attention is given to individual development and learning styles.
3. The pressures of accelerated programs do not allow children to be risk takers as they experiment with language and internalize concepts about how language operates.
4. Too much attention is focused upon isolated skill development or abstract parts of the reading process, rather than upon the integration of oral language, writing, and listening with reading.
5. Too little attention is placed upon reading for pleasure; therefore children do not associate reading with enjoyment. (6)
The most important aspect of the list above is the idea that children will not associate reading with pleasure. With so much concentration and force on children to learn their ABC’s, children are not learning that reading can be satisfying and fun. They are learning that it is drudgery and painful at worst and boring at best. Instead of being read to they are being drilled.
As has been said over and over, reading is a fundamental skill. It increases vocabulary, abstract thinking, and imagination. These are all important qualities in the education of a child. These qualities effect all other aspects of a child’s learning, as well as their likelihood of success in life. As we can see, the miseducation of children in the practices described in the list above puts children at risk for learning problems for no practical reason. The danger of the miseducation that is practiced today heavily outweighs any advantages or gains that may be received.
Again we can go back to my experience with dyslexia. My experience mirrors many other children’s problems, but the actions taken with regards to a minor learning disability in my time (the mid 1980’s) of pre-school, kindergarten, and the beginning of primary school, certainly does not mirror what would most likely happen today. Today a child would be held back for not being able to read by the end of kindergarten. They would most likely be held back in preschool or placed in a slow learning class today.
As mentioned above, I can not stress the dangers of this kind of thinking, and I really think there is no excuse for it. My reading problem was handled in such a way that I was not made to feel ashamed. Therefore I learned to read at my own pace and it did not hurt me a bit. It actually helped me tremendously. As mentioned above, I am an avid reader, which I do think has been beneficial in all areas of my life. Had I been made to feel ashamed, or was pushed into something and therefore learned to dislike it (which is exactly what is happening now), I would not have the advantages I have today.
It is because of the way I was taught in school, a way that is child-led instead of curriculum led, that I have become the person I am today. Education and the way we are teaching children is that essential, that important. The person I am today is a successful and generally well rounded individual. While I may have certain aspects to my character that are seen by most as “disabilities” or “psychological disorders”, this is certainly not due to the way I was educated, and it is probably because of my education that I handle these problems in the way that I do. I research them, study them, and increase my knowledge of the way I work both as an individual and a human. I can truly say that the individual focused education that I received is responsible for the way I handle the problems I do have, instead of forcing more upon me.
Children need to learn in an environment that suits them and their needs, but at the same time does not shame them for the way that they develop. Education is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and should never be used as such. The stresses we put on children at such a young age (4 year olds needing to know the alphabet and the numbers up to 20! Just to enter preschool? That is ridiculous!) are harmful. They will disrupt their love of learning. They will disrupt their imaginations and their curiosity. It is not unreasonable to say that it will therefore disrupt the future of society itself, and not in a high-quality way.
1. Kindergarten. It Isn’t what Used to b. p. 30
2. Kindergarten. It isn’t what it used to be. p. 30-31
3. Kindergarten. It isn’t what it used to be. p. 31
4. Kindergarten. It isn’t what it used to be. p. 27
5. Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk, p. 3-4
6. Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk, p. 10
Apologies for formatting at the bottom of page six. My computer, for some odd reason, refuses to cooperate with instructions for that particular page.
So, if you want, thanks for reading and feedback. :)
Cross posted to a lot of education communities.