K is for Kindergarten


When my wife and I went to kindergarten in the 1950s (me) and 1960s (her), it was designed to acclimate us to going to school, learning how to be away from home, and an attempt to teach rudimentary things such as learning songs and telling time.

I still remember the Roman-numeraled clocks in my classroom, and the yellow rug that I, and a year later, my sister Leslie used to take our naps. In fact, I specifically remember once waking up at 11:45 a.m. and realizing that no one was there. I actually fell asleep at naptime, and Miss Cady let me sleep, knowing I would just get up and go home afterward. (If a teacher did that now, he or she almost certainly would be fired.)

The book pictured in this post above was/is actually a gift to my wife Carol from her family just before she actually went to kindergarten. The lead character in the book is coincidentally also named Carol.

But now my daughter is now in kindergarten, and it is far from the “children’s garden” its name suggests. In the United States, it has evolved from that “transition from home to the commencement of more formal schooling” to the “first year of compulsory education.” Where once kindergarten was where kids learned skills through creative play and social interaction,” in half-day increments, it is now often the full-day entry level to the standard curriculum.

I mean, my daughter has HOMEWORK! Not just learn the numbers and letters, but adding numbers and combining letters to make words. It’s far more rigorous than her mother and I experienced in the day.

There is this 87-page PDF from early in this century called Original Purpose and Development of Kindergarten in California, which addresses these issues

…kindergarten, inspired by precursor early childhood education concepts, included children from ages six and seven to as young as two and three. It sought to lead children gently “over the threshold of learning by the seductive charm of music, flowers, games, pictures, and curious objects.” Later, kindergarten was integrated into the first to 12th grade system, gradually and subtly changing its focus to emphasize emergent literacy and early academic skills. An apparent consequence was that the minimum entry age was raised several times to its current level. This philosophical divergence is still not fully resolved.

The daughter got a note home from school at the end of the semester, noting that she missed nine days from school, mostly for illness. We were informed that she won’t pass into 1st grade if she misses more than 28 days for the year. Could she “fail” kindergarten? She IS graded on concepts such as “identifies sight words in text”, “interprets data from graphs”, and “communicates ideas, feelings and elements of design,” and is doing well.

This is NOT her parents’ kindergarten.

I’d write more, but I have to go help her with her homework now.


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