Does Kindergarten Give Kids What They Really Need?

4577952434_ff71e042fa_bAlicia Whidden

I can’t sleep at night; which is stressful because I have three kids under the age of five and the odds are that I will be woken by at least two of them sometime during those precious hours.  Usually I sleep like the dead.  My days start early, 4:30 or 5:00 and are filled with diapers, feedings, play, piano, Legos, paint, and usually lots of negotiation.  By the time my head hits the pillow at night I think I usually take two breaths and then I am out.  But not lately, not since we have been looking into schools for my son Jack.  Jack is five and will be starting Kindergarten next school year.  I remember my friends going through the same process and thinking, “what’s the big deal?  Why are they so anxious?  Kids are resilient.”  But now I am that mom who can’t sleep at night.   My husband and I started visiting schools a few months ago and what we found truly shocked me.   Not one of the schools had play centers, or blocks, or reading nooks.  What we found were desks, drills, and silent lunches (which seems so unnatural…would we ask adults to do this?).   There is little to no recess time in most schools and at one highly recommended school I found that recess was on a rotating schedule with art and music.   Moms continually tell me about all the homework their children bring home and the time it takes away from their family.  Most of the homework consists of worksheets that have little to no value and are developmentally inappropriate.

I vividly remember kindergarten.  Ms. Powell was my teacher and when you hugged her she felt like a warm teddy bear.  She was amazing and the best part of each day was free time where we could explore books in the claw-foot bathtub that was magically transformed into a reading center or create worlds with our friends at the playdough table.  Unfortunately, the schools of today do not align themselves with what research tells us about child development.  Our constant pushing and prodding is not only unnecessary but harmful.  You see for the past half year, I have been working with i.b.mee as a researcher and the research very clearly tells us that we are doing it wrong.  Eminent researchers such as Peter Gray at Boston College have advocated for the creation of a more open, democratic school.  Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University has conducted vast amounts of research on how students essential educate themselves.  Brene Brown’s research has taught us about shame and the detrimental effects it can have on one’s development.  The school’s’ focus on testing and standards are doing a disservice to our children.   We need to focus on developing the whole child and we need to create empowered children who have a voice in their education.

So my husband and I will continue to search for the right school for Jack and for our family.  We will trust that there is a solution out there for us.  But as a mom, at night, I find that I am worried for my sweet little boy.  He has such a light within him and I am scared that if we put him in the schools we have visited that light may dim just a little bit each year.


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