Kyle Snow isn’t worried so much about the increased number of hours kindergartners are expected to spend on academics these days—it’s the lack of choice children have during their day to pursue their own interests that concern him.
I talked with the Director for Applied Research of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a Washington-based advocacy organization, about the results of the groundbreaking study released Jan. 27 entitled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability.”
The paper, authored by Daphna Bassok, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, and Anna Rorem, a policy associate at the university’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is the first to offer evidence that kindergarten is far more academically challenging than it was in 1998. It places today’s programs on par with yesterday’s 1st grade.
An increase in the presence of the traditional academic content areas is not so troubling, Snow said. It shows what is being taught.
And while “the modest increase in the percentage of kindergartens with three or more hours per day of large-group, teacher-led instruction is a bit concerning, more concerning is the dramatic drop in the percentage of kindergarten classrooms that provide one or more hours per day in child-selected activities.”
That’s because enabling children to make choices is empowering, Snow said. It “allows children to pursue things of interest, which tends to motivate their attention and open the door to learning opportunities.”
It’s not that the kindergarten teachers surveyed want only to teach academics. In fact, early-childhood educators reported that having students learn the alphabet, colors and shapes is less important than having them learn self-control. This means they feel that following directions, sitting still and completing their work ranks above math and reading.
“Increasing use of large-group instruction makes kindergarten seems more like later grades, but loss of time in child-selected activities makes kindergarten look less like kindergarten,” Snow said. “This may be the real challenge—how to maintain the approach (developmentally appropriate practice) even while increasing the focus on academic content.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.