Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?

Legos, the kitchen set, and blocks were part of my fondest kindergarten memories. I remember playing with white, red, and blue Lego blocks during free play. Every day I tried to build my house (my dad was an architect), and just when I got to my roof, playtime was over (there is a message there, however, I haven’t explored it yet).

In between playtime, nap time, snack time, and story time, I learned my ABC’s, numbers, how to write my name and address, and pay attention. (Actually, I knew quite a bit of this beforehand thanks to my preschool programs, parents, and grandmother, so I was ahead of the game.)

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My preschool and kindergarten experience occurred during the early 70’s. My school district had a full-day kindergarten, and since both my parents worked, I attended full-day private preschool. My brother also attended full-day programs. In my opinion, kindergarten was nurturing, easy, and relatively uneventful. I managed to graduate from high school, go to college and graduate school, and succeed as an educator and NBCT.

Today’s preschool and kindergarten children are in for a different educational experience. During my last 20 years of teaching, I have witnessed a drastic change in the curriculum taught in our schools, specifically in elementary schools.

 

Students in grades 1-5 are expected to accomplish more throughout the school day. This change is due to more research on how the brain develops. We are more aware of other countries’ successful education systems. There is also an increased demand from parents to incorporate the latest educational trends that will help their children succeed. The last reason is expected and in some ways encouraged.

You as a parent may advocate for current curriculum programs that will help your child compete for entrance into top colleges and universities. However, when you increase curriculum demands at one grade level, the previous curriculum demands are pushed down to the lower levels. That means today’s first grade is not like the first grade we experienced or first grade a few years ago.

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This brings me back to kindergarten. Many students now attend full-day private kindergarten programs. Parents have paid top dollar to make sure their children are ready for the demands of first grade.

In spite of this preparation, these students still need help with the basic reading, letter and number recognition, and classroom behavior skills that are necessary to be successful in first grade. There are also more parents who appear to be surprised that their children are not ready. 

What is causing this disconnect between private kindergartens, parents, and elementary first-grade classrooms? I think the answer is a bit complicated. To increase a half-day kindergarten to a full day program, you need money and room. Some school districts have offered Extended Day programs. However, these programs may not be as academic in nature. Some parents have opted to have their children tutored to “catch-up” before entering first grade.

As for full-day private preschools and kindergartens, encouraging communication between these schools and their neighborhood elementary schools should be an important goal. This way teachers at both schools can coordinate instruction. However, in reality, it may not be possible. I can tell you trying to coordinate lessons within a grade level at one school can be challenging. I can only imagine how it would be between a private kindergarten teacher and an elementary school first-grade teacher.

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The increase in curriculum demands at the elementary school level may mean that entering kindergarten at age 5 and first grade at age 6 is a thing of the past. Parents need to really consider many factors before their child starts kindergarten. A good place to start is to look at the first-grade curriculum at your neighborhood school.

That’s right, I said it, you need to think about first grade when entering your child into kindergarten. This even sounded odd to me.  You should also consider your child’s maturity level. Maturity is an important part of how a child learns and how they are able to adapt to the classroom environment. If your child is immature for their age, they may have difficulty succeeding as a first-grade student.

On the website Education.com, there are articles that help parents to see if their children are ready for kindergarten. You will also find worksheets and articles about other grade levels.

Remember, preschool and kindergarten provide the foundation children need for their elementary, middle, and high school careers. Information acquired at each grade level provides the bricks in their house of learning. It is difficult (but not impossible) to repair a weak foundation once those walls have been built.

 

Check out these two articles:

10 Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs

Kindergarten Cut-Off Birthdays: Push Ahead or Hold Back?

 

 

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First Published: September 28, 2014