“I just don’t understand this math homework,” my bewildered friend texted me late one night at the beginning of the school year. His oldest had just started kindergarten, and yes, he already had homework. Homework that was perplexing to even his bright, 30-something-year-old parents.
Today, pre-kindergarten prep is not just a bonus; it’s expected. Students are expected to learn how to read during their kindergarten year, and standardized testing has become, well, standard. Unstructured free-play and “center time” in the classroom may very well be on the way out.
So what does all of this mean for your children?
Pre-K is More Important Than Ever
An excellent Pre-K program can set a strong foundation for your child’s kindergarten success. Look for programs that make kindergarten-readiness their top priority, as well as providing ample opportunity for socialization and free-play. “Young children’s first experiences in school are quite different today than they were in the late nineties,” said researcher Daphna Bassok. “These changes likely have important implications for children’s learning trajectories.”
Getting your child started early in Pre-K will give him or her the school experience he or she may need for future success.
It Doesn’t Have to be “Either Or”
There is a place for both academics and unstructured-play in today’s kindergarten classrooms. Professor of early childhood education Lilian G. Kats stated, “the traditional debates in the field about whether to emphasize so-called free play or formal beginning academic instruction are not the only two options for the early childhood curriculum...another major component of education...must be to provide a wide range of experiences, opportunities, resources and contexts that will provoke, stimulate, and support children’s innate intellectual dispositions.” There is a place for both academics and unstructured-play in today’s kindergarten classrooms.
Parents are Still in the Driver’s Seat
Every child is different, and kindergarten should be a place that appreciates and nurtures different learning styles. If your child’s school doesn’t meet his or her needs, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. You, the parent, know your child best. If your child’s kindergarten experience feels like it’s spinning out of control, allow yourself to feel empowered to pull back and make some changes.
Nurturing Your Kindergartener’s Intellect at Home
- Read, read, read! Read out loud with your child every day, and encourage independent “reading.” (Even if that just means flipping through books and looking for familiar letters, shapes, colors, and sight words.)
- Practice writing the alphabet, including upper and lowercase letters.
- Play! Giving your child ample time to play outside, independently, and with other children is the best thing you can do for their growing minds.
Concerned About Milestones?
It’s important to remember that every child is different, and there is a huge range of what’s considered “normal” when it comes to children hitting his or her physical and intellectual milestones. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns at all; the pediatrician will be able to help, and likely put your mind at ease.