I don’t know about you, but I went to a half-day kindergarten. And that was a pretty common thing at the time. In fact, I have vivid memories of getting home from school, changing out of my clothes, and into my pajamas, to take a nap after lunch.
Nowadays you will be hard-pressed to find a kindergarten in Dallas that offers half days, let alone a nap time. And that was a problem for me as I began researching schools for my oldest child several years ago.
You see, at the age of four my daughter was still taking a nap almost everyday. And I didn’t see that suddenly stopping (without some effect) as soon she walked into those kindergarten doors. Second, I felt like she was a bit immature to be in an academic setting for eight hours straight. And my “tour of schools” had made it clear: kindergarten was no longer finger paints, ABC’s, and play time. It was full on reading, writing, and arithmetic with very little down time.
But my instinct told me that my daughter still needed time to pretend, to play, to be outside, and, yes, to rest.
Now I understand why half-day kindergartens (and even half-day preschools) are disappearing. Schools have to cater to the rise of two working parent families. But instead of marketing it that way, schools seem to tout their advanced curriculums – taught at much younger ages than decades ago – as if to persuade parents that more school equals better students.
But a little research shows that’s not necessarily the case.
You may have read recently about how compulsory education in Finland does not start until the age of seven – yet their students rank among the top in the world. And studies seems to show that it is not an earlier start to academics that determines student success but, unfair as it may be, a family’s household income.¹ And here’s a shocker for you: did you know kindergarten is not even mandatory in the state of Texas?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great if a child can write paragraphs and read chapter books in kindergarten. But most developmental specialists will tell you that is not age appropriate to expect all kindergartners to do so.² It’s like walking: the child who walked at nine months is not necessarily a better athlete later in life than the child who walked at 17 months.
Let me give you a non-scientific anecdote: a few years ago I had four different friends who were advised to get their kindergarteners tested for dyslexia because they were having trouble reading. (None of them did and they are all reading fine now.)
My Facebook feed is filled with editorials about our overworked and overscheduled children. How they are deprived of the glory and free time of childhoods past because they go from eight hours of school to an extracurricular activity then straight into several hours of homework, while often not getting enough sleep. And we read how all of this is related to the rise in depression and anxiety among children.³ Yet we start them on this path starting when they are in kindergarten.
My husband and I chose to send out daughter to one of the few schools in Dallas with a part-time kindergarten and (gasp!) first and second grades. I remember that year we’d often eat lunch at the park and other moms would be in shock that she was spinning on the merry-go-round instead of sitting in a classroom. I was constantly asked if I was home-schooling her on the side so she wouldn’t get behind, all while learning that many moms in my area were having their children tutored before they even started kindergarten…
Three years later my middle child is about to start kindergarten. My husband and I really considered more school for her because she was a preemie so I feel more pressure for her to “keep up.”
But as we see our third grade daughter, who’s now reading books like The Secrect Garden and doing four-digit multiplication, we realize these things will come in due time. We’d like to think the extra time enjoying the pleasures of childhood- and the additional time I have to nurture her and encourage listening and respect – will serve her far better in the long run.
In a few years we will consider what’s best for our third child. If for some reason I am no longer able to stay at home, I will surely look for a kindergarten that offers more time to play and rest. If one even exists.