Has Kindergarten Become Too Academic?

Share Button

Has kindergarten become too academic? The New York Post has an article about what kindergarten is like in New York City public schools these days:

“The city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write ‘informative/explanatory reports’ and demonstrate ‘algebraic thinking.’

Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.

‘For the most part, it’s way over their heads,’ a Brooklyn teacher said. ‘It’s too much for them. They’re babies!’

In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, another teacher told The Post. When one girl cried, ‘I can’t do it,’ classmates rubbed her back, telling her, ‘That’s OK.’

‘This is causing a lot of anxiety,’ the teacher said. ‘Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.’

In math, kids tackle concepts like ‘tally chart,’ ‘combination,’ and ‘commutative property,’ DOE records show.

The big test: ‘Miguel has two shelves. Miguel has six books . . . How many different ways can Miguel put books on the two shelves? Show and tell how you know.’

Teachers rate each student’s performance as ‘novice,’  ‘apprentice,’ ‘practitioner’ or ‘expert.’

An ‘expert’ would draw a diagram with a key, show all five combinations, write number sentences for each equation, and explain his or her conclusions using math terms, the DOE says.” (Read more here.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little puzzled by the Miguel question—and I’m way past kindergarten!

I’m with the teacher who says, “Kindergarten should be happy and playful”—and so is evidence from psychology and cognitive science (see, for example, the work of developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik).

(Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs.)

Share Button

10 Responses to “Has Kindergarten Become Too Academic?”

  1. Lisa Degliantoni says:

    Overall I think the emphasis on academics and the de-emphasis on play is making for very boring, screen-addicted children. I wouldn’t be surprised if these students have homework. This over-academic culture at school at such a young age is making children really dislike school and causing them stress before it’s appropriate to feel stress. I am thrilled at my children’s school district, District 65 in Evanston, where we are working toward raising well-balanced individuals, not stressed out robots.

  2. Don Davis says:

    “An ‘expert’ would draw a diagram with a key, show all five combinations, write number sentences for each equation, and explain his or her conclusions using math terms, the DOE says.” ”

    All five? Uh… Which five would that be? Even if the order were always the same, there are more than five possibilities. Assuming that Miguel doesn’t only have six identical copies of the same book – there are many more than five permutations. Let’s also consider that there is more than one correct way to put books in a shelf – without being snarky – there are at least 2 – vertical and horizontal.

    • Elizabeth says:

      My thoughts exactly!! My son just started kindergarten and he could figure that out. Academic learning can be learning through play. Good teachers teach to each child’s zone of proximal development and don’t have students in tears because they don’t feel good enough. Set expectations high, set goals high, give high support and make it fun. But also be realistic about student abilities, whatever their abilities may be. Group by ability not age.

  3. Alex Hernandez says:

    I know articles like this get headlines and trigger lots of debate about play, child development and unrealistic expectations. But I’ve also seen lots of kindergartners who can do 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade math who do not get appropriately challenged because educators say they are “just babies.” And this is not about drill-and-kill with 5 year olds or stress-induced academics – teachers can create engaging, stress-free lessons for kids who LOVE math. We can help them LOVE math. Some kg’s are developmentally ready for advanced math (and reading btw) and can still fit in 3+ hours of play-based learning or other enrichment every day (it’s not an either/or). There are also students who just need more time before they are ready for such work and will spend more time categorizing, sorting and developing early math intuition. The big issue is that our preK-2 classes should be far more personalized to honor the massive range of academic ability that exists but very few acknowledge. Play vs. academic pressure-cooker is a false debate that harms real discourse about what our children can do as they continue a life of learning.

    • Suzanne says:

      I agree with your explanation, that these concepts can be offered without creating stress. Unfortunately, teacher development is not always up to the challenge. My son’s kindergarten teacher seems to struggle with basic instructional scaffolding, and he comes home feeling defeated every time a new concept is introduced. You can create a future by raising the bar on a curriculum. You have to invest in the teachers as well (in the same positive, take people where they’re at sort of way).

  4. I taught in an elite day school in Boston (K-12), and this would NEVER happen there. At expensive private schools, the curriculum is all about play, relationship-building, music, art, and physical activity. Parents — and teachers — would literally revolt if anything like this was proposed. I fear that the growing academic emphasis in younger and younger grades not only contradicts the research about how young children learn, but it also will contribute to the widening educational inequality in our country. When children’s first experiences of school are characterized by anxiety, boredom, and failure, they will soon “check out” of school altogether and it will be harder to strengthen their motivation and self-efficacy levels.

  5. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with challenging kindergartners or, maybe more appropriately, allowing kindergartners to challenge themselves.

    We need to stop separating out the ideas of play and work. They’re the same thing when presented in the right context. My daughter even at 15 months almost always wants to challenge herself. She wants to try and climb on to the chair that is just higher then the last chair she climbed on to, she wants to pick things up and put them in to her bag over and over again. None of these activities would be considered “fun” by most people, but to her they are just the right amount of challenge. She believes she may be able to accomplish them so they engages with them and, even if she fails, the process if satisfying enough that she’ll try again in a few minutes.

    I get so frustrated when people try to say “kids should play more” or “kids should be more academically challenged”. We need to focus on creating environments that allow kids to challenge themselves when they want to, to rest when they want to, to spin around while yelling until they fall over when they want to (my daughter’s current end of day “fun” activity).

    We need to stop trying to micromanage our children and focus on giving them the exposure and opportunities to challenge themselves. I guarantee we’ll be surprised by the results.

  6. David Radcliffe says:

    I think that mathematics standards sometimes use unfamiliar vocabulary, and this leads people to assume that the concepts are advanced. The commutative property sounds complicated, but it just means that order doesn’t matter when you add. 2+3 = 3+2, 4+7 = 7+4, and so on. I would expect any first grader to learn this fact, but I wouldn’t expect them to know the word “commutative”.

    Miquel’s problem is easier that it sounds. It is just asking for all ways that two numbers can add up to 6. The combinations are 1+5, 2+4, 3+3, 4+2, and 5+1.

  7. I know I’m missing the point here, but I think Miquel’s problem is so vexing because it can reasonably be construed as a much harder problem. First, he could put 0 books on a shelf, so that 5 becomes 7. Second, there are different ways to choose which books go on which shelves, and then many ways to order them. Such considerations make this a good exam problem for a college-level discrete math course!

    Instead of giving out arbitrary problems like this, kindergarteners should be discussing how problems are defined. Does it count as using two shelves if Miquel puts all books on one shelf? Does a “way” include the ordering of the books, or are all the books indistinguishable?

  8. Mr. Mell says:

    I teach 7th grade, and many of my students have very poor “number sense.” As youngsters, they didn’t get lots of chances to play with sand and water and blocks and marbles and just mess around with materials, making stuff, wrecking stuff and developing a physical sense of their place in the world. This translates into students who have a difficult time grasping and applying simple concepts. Instead of trying to solve Miguel’s word problem, let these kids play with plates and try putting them away in different ways.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for The Brilliant Report, a monthly newsletter full of the latest findings on how to learn smarter:

Close