The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten

nclbOne of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten.

A new University of Virginia study found that kindergarten changed in disturbing ways from 1999-2006. There was a marked decline in exposure to social studies, science, music, art and physical education and an increased emphasis on reading instruction. Teachers reported spending as much time on reading as all other subjects combined.

The time spent in child-selected activity dropped by more than one-third. Direct instruction and testing increased. Moreover, more teachers reported holding all children to the same standard.

How can teachers hold all children to the same standards when they are not all the same? They learn differently, mature at different stages – they just are not all the same especially at the age of 4-6.

Is this drastic shift in kindergarten the result of a transformation in the way children learn? No! A 2011 nationwide study by the Gesell Institute for Child Development found that the ages at which children reach developmental milestones have not changed in 100 years.

For example, the average child cannot perceive an oblique line in a triangle until age 5 ½. This skill is a prerequisite to recognizing, understanding and writing certain letters. The key to understanding concepts such as subtraction and addition is “number conservation.” A child may be able to count five objects separately but not understand that together they make the number five. The average child does not conserve enough numbers to understand subtraction and addition until 5½ or 6.

If we teach reading, writing, subtraction and addition before children are ready, they might memorize these skills, but will they will not learn or understand them. And it will not help their achievement later on.

Illinois kindergartenChild development experts understand that children must learn what their brains are ready to absorb. Kindergarten is supposed to set the stage for learning academic content when they are older. If they are going to push our kindergarten children to move faster, what does that say for the push for “educating” Pre-K?

Play is essential in kindergarten – in fact in any child under the age of 5. Through play, children build literacy skills they need to be successful readers. By speaking to each other in socio-dramatic play, children use the language they heard adults read to them or say. This process enables children to find the meaning in those words.

There is a wide range of acceptable developmental levels in kindergarten; so a fluid classroom enables teachers to observe where each child is and adjust the curriculum accordingly.

Two major studies confirmed the value of play vs. teaching reading skills to young children. Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.

Yet current educational policy banishes play in favor of direct instruction of inappropriate academic content and testing; practices that are ineffective for young children.

The No Child Left Behind Law played a major role in changing kindergarten. Upper-grade curricula were pushed down in a mistaken belief that by learning reading skills earlier, children would fare better on standardized tests. Subjects not tested by NCLB were de-emphasized. Lawmakers insisted that standardized tests assess reading at earlier ages, even though standardized tests are invalid for children under 8.

ccs I cantThese changes have the harshest effect on our most vulnerable children. The UVA study found that in schools with the highest percentage of children of color and children eligible for free-and-reduced-priced lunch, teachers had the most demanding expectations for student performance.

To make matters worse, the drafters of the Common Core ignored the research on child development. In 2010, 500 child development experts warned the drafters that the standards called for exactly the kind of damaging practices that inhibit learning: direct instruction, inappropriate academic content and testing.

These warnings went unheeded.

Consequently, the Common Core exacerbates the developmentally inappropriate practices on the rise since NCLB. Teachers report having to post the standards in the room before every scripted lesson, as if 5-year-olds can read or care what they say. They time children adding and subtracting, and train them to ask formulaic questions about an “author’s message.” All children are trained in the exact same skill at the same time. One teacher lamented that “there is no more time for play.” Another wrote “these so-called educational leaders have no idea how children learn.”

It may satisfy politicians to see children perform inappropriately difficult tasks like trained circus animals. However, if we want our youngest to actually learn, we will demand the return of developmentally appropriate kindergarten.

Wendy Lecker – she is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center.

57 thoughts on “The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten

  1. We have forgotten the child!!!!!!! It is all about Politics and money. We have put all of our children in a box and if they do not fit….TOO BAD. The people who write all of this new STUFF need to be a classroom teacher for a year and then write a program. I suspect they would view children a little different…..As Individuals Not Robots working some type of technology.

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    • The very countries they are trying to hold our children up to as “excellent in education” do not test but maybe once every 4-5 years because they found it not to be valuable. The CCS is a political power scam implemented by non-educators politicians.

      • The heart of Common Core is to take time to go into a subject rather than to skim over lots of subjects. It is to help students explore big ideas and see how they relate to so many other areas of their life. It give students the freedom to learn to read a wide range of text and to broaden the traditional view of text. Text and the reading of text includes the materials that relate to a given subject. So if you are in art you discover how artist read paintings, sculpture and mores and

      • Kristen, unfortunately our children will not get that reading tecnological and instructional manuals in middle school. I am sorry you are still asleep and I hope you have no children as it will be hard to watch the Commie Core” turn your child into a dumbed down idiot.

      • This is for anyone who can answer my question… i have a 6 yr old that can count and is very smart she can talk very good. She recognizes some letters and words but can not read. She is going into 1 st grade, and i was wondering if her school is the same as a waldorf. They say its a inspired waldorf school so do you think theres a difference. Do you think its ok for her not to be able to read a book.. im just worried that i messed her up in school. She loves books she pretends to read the book with her dolls… what should i do? Help.
        And sorry if i dont make sense.. .. my first time here.

      • Sorry I did not get back to you sooner, but no for me there is no such thing as a Waldorf inspired school. If they are following anything of Waldorf I would stay very far away. It is another form of indoctrination. If you can possibly do it with a smart child at 6, form a Home School Coalition or check and see if there is one where you live. This is currently the only preservation for any of our children. Charters won’t help they teach Common Core, Vouchers aren’t going to help as Catholic and parochial schools are teaching Common Core for the money. Any Charter school claiming they are a Classical school is using Core Knowledge curriculum which is Common Core aligned.

        I am so sorry for people with children in school right now and I look at my great-grandkids and I worry. Good luck!


      • So what your saying is I as PARENT did wrong to sign my daughter up for a waldorf inspired elemantary school.? I feel really bad now and i feel i did something wrong, i went to a public school a normal school. I HATEED it so much…. can you tell me the differences….pls?

      • Sorry this is late in response to you. Waldorf schools are not good and have been on the outside of the norm for years. Most anyone I know from around the country believe the Waldorf schools and their beliefs are a form of religion as is the curriculum for International Bacculaurate. If you have any other questions you may e-mail me at Safest bet in today’s world – Home School!

      • Dear Liliana,
        I had all 3 of my daughters attend a Waldorf school and am totally happy. They are independent and unique. They make their own choices and are not swayed by advertisements and peer pressure. The important core of Waldorf education is connecting – with the world, with other people and with ourselves. Learning how to live together in our multi-perspective world is not taught anywhere besides Waldorf. I think you made a great choice. And I do know there are a lo of negative people on the internet ‘dissing’ Waldorf. I don’t know why. SOme say it is too religious. SOme say it is heretical. I think it is really about the particular people (teachers and admin) at a particular school that determine that aspect.
        Don’t be swayed by people’s opinions on the internet. Go to the school. See what it feels like for YOU. How is your child doing? Thriving or not? These are what really matter.
        Wishing you the best!

      • Stephen you are right, however unless you make unannounced visits to your child’s school you will never know what is going on for sure. Waldorf schools and their well known “emphasis on the worship of the earth and the “spiritual world” are similar to what the United Nations is teaching through the Earth Charter.

        This is a quote of Steiner to his teachers: ” We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds.…Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work“. –Rudolf Steiner addressing Waldorf teachers

  3. Play time is so very important to a child’s development. I believe children want to learn and will at their own pace. We are all learn differently. Just becaus a child is not ready for certain challenges does not mean they are slow or need to be medicated. Let them grow and become who they are meant to be.

    • Who cares about what? Many parents care but not enough and Home School is the sanwer as long as the parents stay away from HSLAD! Charter schools and vouchers are certainly not the answer – do your research or don’t you care?

  4. “Two major studies confirmed the value of play vs. teaching reading skills to young children. Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.”

    Do you have citations for these studies?

  5. Educational standards need to be set by teachers and perhaps by child psychologists as well. That would go a long way in improving our children’s education. But politicians, votes, butt-kissing to demographics, money, etc. screw EVERYTHING up. And that’s just the good aspect. What if we were to really ponder all of this and it’s just a bunch of wackos trying to groom/brainwash our kids into something awful later on? Loss of independent or deep thought is just one thing they’ll lose.

    Wake up America!

    • Standards today are being put in place by non-educators to use our children as human capital in their public-private partnerships to make more money. If you want to get rich today start a business that is about education. Most states have no oversight on teaching curriculum and projects a teacher uses from the internet. Make sure your children’s teachers are not a Bill Ayers follower. Push for strong regulations and oversight on the textbooks and curriculum offered. Stanardized tests treat our children as the CCS do – as common and all the same. Take away the means to get rich off of the backs of our children and hold these monsters accountable.

      • Dianemarie,
        I saw you twico saying “stay away from HSLDA”. May I ask what you find dangerous or wrong about HSLDA ?
        Thanks !

      • Rebecca, I fully support Home Schooling but independent of HSLDA – I suggest you read my article <a href="I suggest you read my article which details in length Michael Farris and how he relates that parental rights come from the legal/law side rather than being unalienable from God. He has made a considerable amount of money making the Home School parents of America believe he is their savior. I only ask you do some research on the man as I and many others have. He is not what he seems. As a supposed constitutional attorney his interpretation of the constitution is rather far left and not in relation to the founders intent.

    • You are welcome! Network! Challenge your friends and family to understand what is happening! Call your legislators out to their faces – fire them at the ballot box! Blog – write what is happening in your area – create a web site like mine which is cheap but gets the info out. Feel free to contact me at

  6. So what can I do? I am a parent whose first child should be entering kindergarten this fall, and this trend of testing, no playing, computers in the classroom, etc just worries me. I want my children to like school, to enjoy it – not dread or fear it. I want learning to be fun and developmentally appropriate. I want to be a part of positive change in our education system, but I am not sure how.

    • Until we can get our schools back to what they used to be – education, you need to get into a Home School Coalition and stay away from HSLAD (the legal defense for Home School parents). Here again a political agenda telling parents their rights as a parent at given by law rather than God. If there isn’t a HS coalition in your area form one – those kids are much smarter, have more time for interaction with their family and friends and the things they like to do. Good Luck! And Charter schools and vouchers are not the answer!

  7. We had a focus on reading in kindergarten in NYC schools… 55 years ago… Back when they were excellent. What’s new about this?

    • They weren’t teaching them communism nor indoctrinated our children to be a “dumbed down” society 55 years ago! The clear sign should be all the money being funded into Pre-K – they what our children from cradle to grave so they are followers with no minds of their own. They are not really supposed to learn – how many high schoolers’ have you seen in the last 5 years who cannot even make change unless the cash register tells them what it should be. Most of the college students have to take remedial reading and math. That is not education – it is indoctrination. 55 years ago kids in school knew the name of their President – not today!

      • “Teaching communism”? We learned New Deal values, which I’m sure you think are the same. And most of is went to pre-school as well; though it was not state-run, it was run by the only people who thought children were actually important to educate instead of train, the liberals.

        As for making change, it is as important as a manual skill today as driving a buggy is. The world has changed around you, and therefore, so has what it takes to be functional. Making change is not an essential skill.

      • To be functional and addddvance is fine but to form it after something that HAS been tested in several states in the past and FAILED miserably, who do you think was affected by that failure other than the children. I object to my children being using as “Human Capital” in public-private partnerships for fill the coffers of politicians and busness men and woman who know absolutely nothing about how to educate a child of which are NOT common, but mature and learn all differently. If you are willing to “settle” you are hurting your child as much as the others.

        If you did your research into Pavlov and Skinner and then the education Hitler, Lenin and Castro put on their children there is no different. You need to take your blinders off and do your research.

  8. This is so true with my son’s Kindergarten class. I taught Kindergarten 11 years ago and it wasn’t like this. My son rarely has recess in his 4 hour class, and half the time it’s taken away because he was too chatty during centers or carpet time. We told the teacher to run him around at recess as “punishment” instead of taking his recess away because he needed that outlet so he didn’t continue to disrupt. The teacher laughed at us. She’s been teaching 20 years :/

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  10. Common core is NOT to improved education but to start the indoctrination of our children at the earliest age. The goal is to develop an ideology of support for the Socialist. It is not for the benefit of our children and their future but for the benefit of the Socialist State. Looking deeper in to the Common Core curriculum, there are discrepancies in history, social studies, etc that manipulate the true historical facts.

    • The actions that have been taken since the early 1030’s with instructions from the Carnegie Foundation have all followed the Communist Manifesto and have NEVER been for the good of our children and it has always been non-educators behind it – psychologists, psychiatrists!

    • There are no common core standards for social studies or history–only English language arts and math. Perhaps you’re referring to your state’s social studies standards?

      • The Social Studies are part of the ELA and wait until your children are hit with the lies in the Science Standards along with those distorted regarding History.

      • Social Studies and History is within the ELA at this time. Unfortunately the “powers to be” are using Literature to push age “inappropriate” reading, distorting our History and the Science is filled with Agenda 21 and worship of GAIA. Parents need to be monitoring EVERYTHING their children are being taught.

  11. Could you please share your source for the quote “standardized tests are invalid for children under 8″? Thank you!

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  13. I started homeschooling for this very reason, to give my child a true year of Kindergarten that I had envisioned for him, one of play and discovery, no testing, no measuring stick. It was the best decision for him and we’ve never looked back. I wish more parents would consider homeschooling.

  14. I appreciated your main point but am not sure why you’d publicly bad talk the Home School Legal Defense Assoc as they are a group defending the rights of educating parents.

  15. I was horrified when I found out what they’re doing to kids in Kindergarten these days when I started tutoring a little girl in Kindergarten 2 months ago. Her mother also believes it is unreasonable what they expect kids in Kindergarten to do. She keeps saying she never had to do any of that stuff when she was in Kindergarten.

    One time the little girl said to me, “I’m a failure,” because she knows it’s impossible for her to do what her teacher expect of her. That’s what they’re teaching normal kids in Kindergarten now: that they’re stupid. And they don’t even care.

    When I’m tutoring her, I just ignore what the school expects her to do, since it’s crazy. I’m just teaching her to identify numbers and count higher and higher and to sound out simple words, like 5-year-olds should be doing! And she loves working with me.

    I told her mother that I believe she is right where a normal 5-year-old should be, even though the school’s standards say otherwise. She liked hearing that.

    Even though I refuse to teach her what the school says she should be learning to do, her teacher said in a parent-teacher conference last week that she is improving!
    At least she feels like she really can learn now, and she’s not a failure after all. And that is helping her to do better in school.

    • Your story is repeated so many times and unfortunately, it is the truth especially for the higher learners. Wait until you get to what is expected of a K child from the National Sexuality Standards. Legal pedophilia as in legal murder through abortions.

  16. Politicians DON’T want our children to learn, or especially to think. They need a generation of circus animaks, trained to perform as instructed, no questions asked. ThT is how you control a population. Keep them hungry, poor and uneducated. Politicians are doing all three simultaneously while making us fight among ourselves for left over scraps. If our children’s education is being hampered by politicians, then that is where the answer is….we need to get them the hell out. We need to put in politicians with the best ideas for our society, not ones that have the most ads on TV or are the best looking. This requires critical thinking and effort on our parts – a valuable lesson that our children could benefit from seeing.

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