Pre-K vs Free Play: Thoughts on Universal Pre-School

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This is a troubling, fascinating look at the big childhood issue politicians are parsing now: The importance of early childhood education and what it should consist of. The Washington Post’s deep-thinking Valerie Strauss presents the work of Alfie Kohn who worries (as do I, and probably you) that “education” will be interpreted as something you can test and measure, rather than making sure kids get deeply engaged in something (e.g., “How can I make a skyscraper from rocks?”).  It’s engaged kids who are actually learning, even though it is the drilled kids who LOOK like they’re getting  a “rigorous” education:

The Trouble with Calls for Universal Pre-K, By Alfie Kohn

Universal pre-kindergarten education finally seems to be gathering momentum. President Obama highlighted the issue in his 2013 State of the Union address and then mentioned it again in this year’s. Numerous states and cities are launching or expanding early-education initiatives….

But here’s the catch: Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be “high quality.” And that phrase is often interpreted to mean “high intensity”: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as usual, tend to get the worst of this.

It doesn’t bode well that many supporters of universal pre-K seem to be more concerned about economic imperatives than about what’s good for kids. In his speech last year, for example, the president introduced the topic by emphasizing the need to “start at the earliest possible age” to “equip our citizens with the skills and training” they’ll need in the workplace.[1] The New York Times, meanwhile, editorialized recently about how we must “tightly integrate the [pre-K] program with kindergarten through third grade so that 4-year-olds do not lose their momentum. It will have to prepare children well for the rigorous Common Core learning standards that promise to bring their math, science and literacy skills up to international norms.”[2]

… That doesn’t leave much time for play…. Children are treated as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few opportunities to investigate topics and pose questions that they find intriguing. In place of discovery and exploration, tots are trained to sit still and listen, to memorize lists of letters, numbers, and colors. 

This dreary version of early-childhood education isn’t just disrespectful of children; decades of research show it simply doesn’t work well — and may even be damaging.[5] 

Lenore here: Free-Range Kids does not presume to know exactly which educational methods work best, or how the heck you’d measure that anyway. But we DO believe STRONGLY in giving kids the time, space and freedom to come up with their own games, interests and explorations, when they’re very young and then onward throughout childhood. Heck, throughout adulthood!

I personally think some drilling makes sense and am really sorry my kids’ elementary school never made them memorize the multiplication tables, or basic grammar rules. (Put the grammar back in grammar school!) But the idea that more class time always trumps more free time belies my own childhood, which was “wasted” till kindergarten just hanging out with my blocks, crayons and Free-Range mom.

A privilege for which I’m grateful. – L 

Does it matter if this pre-k grad can read his diploma? (What if it's in Latin?)

Does it matter if this pre-k grad can read his diploma? (What if it’s in Latin?)

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89 Responses to Pre-K vs Free Play: Thoughts on Universal Pre-School

  1. JaneW February 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Now, I most emphatically do not believe that 4 year olds should be spending significant amounts of time on drills or standard classroom instruction, desks in rows sort of thing. It’s not appropriate developmentally, and it’s not productive. However, pre-K can still be used to fight the skills gap.

    -Children with no siblings and few neighbors or cousins get the opportunity to play and interact with a group of other children and develop social skills.

    -Children from households where English is not the primary language can strengthen their skills, mostly by talking to classmates.

    -Earlier opportunity to diagnose hearing and vision problems that may interfere with learning.

    -Children from deprived households with few books get earlier exposure to books, even if it’s just being read to by a teacher.

    So, if the pre-K curriculum is designed by people who actually understand children, with bite-sized doses of learning mixed in among opportunities for social interaction and active play, I think it might help close the achievement gap.

  2. Anon February 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    That’s a big “if,” as this essay by Kohn highlights. Perhaps it’s so counterintuitive to think that early childhood play *Boosts* brainpower and productivity… And our leaders will continue to be misled by the blind followers of an old and failed “rigor” paradigm. In China, there is a backlash happening, and wealthy parents are sending their kids to Waldorf schools. Are we waking up yet?

  3. Michael C February 9, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    As long as we adhere to a Montessori style or a Summerhill/Sudbury system…I don’t see the problem. Of course the chances of that happening are nil…unless we get a group of progressive parents to take over school boards the way the far right has in the south. Otherwise, the pre-k will just be more of the same in that kids will be put under the thumb of the state in a quicker and more efficient manner.

  4. Richard February 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    The skills that kids need the most include self-direction and problem solving. There are preschools that can help with those skills – but all too many try to minimize them to emphasize teaching hard skills that are easier to measure (and to clean up after).

  5. Emily February 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    My two thoughts are both pro and con, and personally you can have my preschooler when you pry them out of my cold dead arms.

    Pro: I know some people who are extremely poor and cannot feed their children who’s children are not given time to play and life is not very good for them. These children would benefit from a care system that taught them, but also made sure they were physically okay, and that would be the benefit. There are kids who literally are playing angry birds every day.

    Con: At the same time, I’m not sure how removing children from their home environment will benefit them. Things like hanging from monkey bars, balancing on the wall, building with sand and rocks, inventing games, jumping, skipping, digging, etc. help them to learn how to read, write, do math, physics, etc. Making them ‘test well’ doesn’t do that. I already hate that they force kindergartners to read. Some are ready, some are not, and there’s nothing wrong with a child not ready to read until 7-8 (and that’s quoting a reading professor who I approached for help when a child I was tutoring wasn’t reading in first grade.) Until then, reading is great but shouldn’t be stressed. And I hate drilling until a child is closer to 8, so to me drilling anything with a child under that just annoys me.

    Thankfully, some religions have specifically said no preschool, and so there is actually a religious exemption they’re going to have to deal with. And there will be some states where I think they’ll make an optional one available but mandated would have way too many parents angry.

  6. Donna February 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    My area does have near universal pre-k – there are lottery-funded pre-k programs at public and private schools for 99% of the population, although not everyone takes advantage. The program was wonderful and did not resemble traditional school in the least (in fact, we are in 2nd grade now and there has been no memorization or drilling to date). There was plenty of investigating topics and posing questions that they find intriguing, as well as discovery and exploration. There was almost no sitting still and listening. There was also no memorization of numbers, letters and colors. There was also no need since all but one or two kids already knew those things before starting pre-k. Those who didn’t learned by the end of the year, but it wasn’t by “memorization” anymore than my teaching my child colors by pointing them out to her is somehow memorization.

    I am not a believer in there being any long term advantage to pushing kids to learn to read and do math at younger and younger ages, but I know that I started school already knowing my colors, alphabet, counting, how to write my name, etc. way back in the 70s. Not knowing those things by kindergarten sets you behind from day one.

    You have to remember that not all kids grow up in middle and upper class homes with educated parents who actually care about their children’s futures. “Free time” for a large percentage of the population of the US translates to being parked in front of the TV and not coming up with their own games, interests and explorations.

  7. Gina February 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    As a very strong proponent of the Summerhill/Humanistic approach to education on ALL levels, this article, this idea, makes me so angry and frustrated that I can’t even find the words to comment.

  8. Jenny Islander February 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Doesn’t anybody remember back in the ’80s/’90s when people were writing articles critical of the endless pressures and ultimately demotivating atmosphere of Japanese public school? And now we’re copying the worst of that system?

    I’m so glad that we can still afford to homeschool, even with the depression.

  9. Donna February 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    FYI – My child went to pre-k at a private school in the wealthy county next door (there are no jurisdictional limits on pre-k here like there are for other grades despite it all being state-funded) for work-related reasons. If she had gone to pre-k in the county that we live in, far more of the class wouldn’t have known the alphabet, numbers and colors.

    I am definitely opposed to mandatory pre-k education, but making it universally available for people who want it is great.

  10. Emily February 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    I think it’s good that we’re talking about this in the first place. I don’t have kids, but we’re getting the conversation started for those who do. I mean, for a little kid, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or 9 to 3:30, or 8 to 2:30, or whatever the schedule is in your area) is a really long day, and yet, working parents see “full day kindergarten” (which still doesn’t cover the gap in the afternoon between school dismissal and when most people’s jobs finish for the day) as a good thing, because it solves the problem of where to put their child for (most of) the day……even though some five-year-olds (and four-year-olds in Ontario, since junior kindergarten here is now full day, five days a week) aren’t ready for that kind of schedule. Waldorf, Montessori, and other private programs understand that, but they cost a lot of money, and then the parent has to figure out childcare for a bigger chunk of the day–either staying home with their child, or paying someone else to watch them for longer hours…..and, if the “someone else” is a licensed childcare facility, then that child is still in a very stimulating environment, with lots of other kids, for as long as their parents are at work. That’s really not healthy, especially for shy/quiet/introverted kids. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, the most appealing options for the parents, are often not the best options for kids….but then the parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because most people have to have both parents working 40 hours a week to make ends meet, most married couples don’t want to work opposite schedules for childcare purposes, because then they’d never see each other or have family time. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I bet a lot of people enroll their young children in free, full-day, academically rigorous kindergarten programs, knowing full well that it’s not ideal for their particular child, but not really having any other option, because it makes the most sense logistically and financially for them.

  11. rhodykat February 9, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    The government is taking over the children in this country while many parents sit back passively. The federal government bribed 45 states into implementing the Common Core State Standards via Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers. Most of these states had to sign on that they would use the CCSS before they were even written, and the strength of their application was dependent on exactly how much control of education the state was willing to give to the federal government. A big part of this included removing any caps on charter schools in their states, because one of the goals of Common Core is to destroy local control of education through the takeover of public education by private charter schools funded with public money. All of the states adopted the standards using a “behind the scenes, top-down” methodology – there was no input from educators, local school boards, or parents. The CCSS were authored by corporate interests, for corporate interests, and were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now that the CCSS have been released and are being implemented, the true nature of the standards is coming through. They are designed for “college and career readiness;” however, David Coleman himself has admitted that “college readiness” is for community college or 2-year institutions, and not for the colleges that most parents aspire for their children to attend. Every school district in every state has to have a state longitudinal database system (SLDS) that collects over 400 points of data including data on parents of the students (religious and political preferences, etc.). This data can be sold without the permission of the parents to any interested corporate party. There is significant issues of indoctrination of our youngest learners on topics involving social justice and wealth redistribution. Students are forced to take the standardized tests associated with the CCSS; parents who have refused have been threatened with CPS interaction. Like CCSS, the push for universal Pre-K has very little to do with education, and everything to do with control. The earlier the federal government can get control of your child, the better they can teach that child what they want it to learn. I’m not a crazy conspiracy theorist – I am a concerned parent trying to raise the red flags for those that don’t know. I have a compilation of articles on Facebook (Rema’s Common Core Collection) that, if you sort through, will outline everything going on in public education that the government hopes you are too busy to investigate. So, as far as universal Pre-K….Just say NO!

  12. Papilio February 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    Serious question: what is Canada doing in this respect? We’re always looking at Finland, but Canada is second in the Western world (ignoring the drilling Asian countries) and they’re closer in distance, language and culture than the Fins.
    I could tell you about how in my country (3rd in Western world) reading only starts at 6-going-on-7 in 1st grade and 4&5-year-olds are rather exploring the world and developing more general skills through playing (both inside and outside) a lot – there’s no reason young kids couldn’t do that at school – rather than sitting and listening (they do have a few letters of the month though), but it’s probably easier to (swallow your pride and) just see what the neighbors are doing. Unless they’re doing the same and are just doing the rest much better…

    “I personally think some drilling makes sense and am really sorry my kids’ elementary school never made them memorize the multiplication tables, or basic grammar rules.”
    I agree such basic knowledge IS absolutely necessary! Even if you leave out everything you need to know to function in a society without getting laughed at, you need some basic math and good language skills in at least your native language.

  13. SKL February 9, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    I think people need to accept that preschool *is* the reality for most kids in the US. That is not going to change. The real question (in my opinion) is, what makes a preschool great? (Or pre-K or whatever.)

    There are so many different ways that early learning can be structured. Some of those ways can encourage both creative play and academic learning; both large-muscle and small-muscle development.

    I am a fan of preschools who offer a balance of the hands-on experiential stuff and what we call “academics.” Usually that amounts to a total of probably an hour (or less) of actual “academic” exposure, broken out throughout the day. This isn’t going to hurt anyone. But denying it isn’t fair to kids who are very much ready to read, listen, and compute.

    Also, giving kids a chance, however brief, to try to recognize / copy / interpret specific sounds and symbols can provide early indicators of learning barriers. Then these kids can get therapy etc. while it can make the most difference.

    I think the people in charge of designing the Common Core (which starts in KG if not earlier) are a bunch of idiots who have no concept of how normal children think. If they try pushing this down to preschool, Lord help us all. But there are other, better ways to develop early learning skills. Can some of them be developed while hiking in a big back yard or baking cookies at home? Sure, for those whose parents have the time, resources, patience, and knowledge to make this happen. But for everyone else, a well-designed preschool can be the next best thing.

  14. Amanda Matthews February 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    “equip our citizens with the skills and training they’ll need in the workplace”

    But the workplace is going to be completely different 14 – 18 years from now. How can we predict what skills and training they’ll need? And why won’t there be plenty of time for that later?

  15. lollipoplover February 9, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Made me think of this:

    The problem with univeral anything is that each child is an individual. We cannot think that there’s one way (no matter how high the *quality*) for kids to learn.

  16. FreedomForKids February 9, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    Everyone interested in the this topic may want to learn about Unschooling and it’s benefits. Sandra Dodd’s blog and writings are a terrific place to start.

  17. SKL February 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    Both of my girls are very different from each other in terms of academic ability, interests, energy level, and most everything else. They have been together in all the same classes since they were 2.5 (except for a 4-month stretch). They were exposed to academics along with all the usual age-appropriate preschool stuff. Even though my eldest has a list of learning challenges and took years to learn her letters and numbers, academic preschool certainly did not hurt her. What hurts differently abled kids is when they are punished or shamed for not answering correctly. This never happened in my kids’ preschool thru KG. They were given stuff to do and whatever they did was accepted. If they didn’t do it, that was accepted too. How is that going to make kids hate reading etc.?

    My slower learner likes reading just fine. Probably a lot more than she would if I’d waited until she was in 1st grade before I realized she needed vision therapy etc.

  18. SOA February 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    I am not a fan of universal pre-k. My son has special needs and was offered a full time spot at Head Start. They wanted him at 3 and 4 years of age to be there M-F 9-4. So full time. I said that was way too much time away from his mother and brother. When would we have time to go to the zoo or the playground or have playdates or go on vacations if he was stuck all day every day at Head Start.

    They acted shocked that I would decline it. No, he had the rest of his life to be in school all day once he started kindergarten. I wanted him with me when he was three and four. I paid for private preschool that was only Tues and Thurs 9-12 for 3 and MWF 9-12 when he was 4. That way they got some pre-k but it was just part time. The rest of the time he can do fun stuff with me at home. We had the freedom to go do enriching things like zoo trips and nature center and children’s museum.

    I think those things were more educational and enriching than spending all day every day in the same classroom day in and day out.

    I think we try to institutionalize our kids way too early. Get them in there and start controlling the way they think and the way they are raised. There are many stay at home parents like myself who want to be with our kids. We don’t want or need full day childcare provided by the government.

    Head Start is already offered to low income or at risk kids. Why do we need something else. Well off families will pay for private school or daycare if they want it. We don’t need the government to handle that for us. Where are they going to find enough money to build enough preschools for all the kids? To pay for all the teachers? To pay for all the supplies and busing?

  19. Powers February 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    It’s very easy for middle-class suburbanites to say that pre-K is unnecessary. That’s because their kids are learning everything they need to be ready for Kindergarten at home.

    But too many of our poorest children don’t get that support. /These/ are the kids which universal pre-K is trying to reach. They need to be taught what books are and what reading is; what numbers and colors are; how to sit quietly and listen to a teacher; how to interact with strangers and make friends; how to exist as their own beings and express their own feelings without family members around making all of the decisions for them.

    Yes, the kids you know are all fine and don’t need to sit in a classroom when they’re 4. /Lots of kids do/, and they can’t unless someone pays for it for them.

  20. Donna February 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    The majority of children in the US are raised in households where all the parents work. The kids are not home with a parent all day anyway so universal pre-k is irrelevant. Another large portion live in homes that are educational wastelands. It really is an extremely small number of kids who are home with parents who provide an enriching environment.

  21. mystic_eye February 9, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    There are undoubtably families where children aren’t nourished physically and/or educationally, and that’s not ok, but pulling all children out of their homes doesn’t solve the problem at all. You’re putting a few children in a somewhat better environment while pulling a few out of a far superior environment. That leaves the majority who wouldn’t be home but would instead be in some sort of care situation because parents work. AFAIK families where both parents work outside the home and require at least some amount of childcare are the majority by far (something like 80%).

    The majority, those who use childcare, would undoubtably like that childcare to be cheaper, more available, more reliable, and would probably like to see childcare under the public school umbrella. There’s a comfort in “universal” school/childcare because you know the government is obligated to make sure there is a place for your child – which means you’re not left scrambling.

    The problem is that once you call it school it becomes mandatory. In daycare or non-graded preschool you’re not expected to be exactly on time every day (usually not more than 15 minutes before class), there every day, and stay until the end every day. When you lump preschool under the school umbrella you are expected to be there every day and on time. In daycare you can pull your kids out for a day or a week and it’s not a big deal (though you’re likely going to pay), under the public school umbrella you “fail” if you miss to much instructional time and more importantly schools are usually punished financially for absenteeism – even though their costs remain the same.

    The other issue is for those most in-need kids it doesn’t really help. If you are a child who isn’t getting enough food at home then you’re still not going to get enough food on weekends, holidays, and during the summer. You’re still in a family dealing with food scarcity and it’s not really much less harmful to have some food for yourself and watch your younger siblings and parents go without. You’re still being raised with food insecurity which is very harmful.

    If you live in a family where your parents aren’t educated then they can’t help you, and you’ll struggle more than those students who get extra help all the time. Worse if you’re in a family that doesn’t value education then more than likely you’re not going to value it and the forced, high-stress, test-oriented education at school may do more harm than good.

    Of course then there’s all the issues with teaching to the test. Which is a whole other issue.

  22. SKL February 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    There are some school districts that offer pre-K but don’t make it mandatory. I think you can have one without the other. Or is there a proposal to make it mandatory for all kids? That would be wrong.

    I can see pros and cons with having it part of the school system. On the pro side, there is continuity for the kids, in terms of location, possibly curriculum, classmates etc. On the con side, some people might view this as an opportunity to push down some of the public KG expectations, which is already inappropriate for many kids in KG. Also, the powers that be in the pre-K could try to influence parents to pressure or redshirt their kids so the KG, 1st, etc. has an older / smarter population. This may make things easier for teachers, but it isn’t right for young children.

  23. SOA February 9, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    Mandatory Public pre-k I would fight against with all I had. No way my kids would be better off doing that. No way many kids would be better off doing that. I know lots of moms who stay home with their kids and do very enriching activities with their kids. So why should those kids have to miss out on that?

    It also goes to say that young children NEED their parents. Sure many kids are in daycare all day and they do okay. But many kids are not mentally mature enough to be away from their parents at 3 and 4. Many are not emotionally ready for that. Working in a daycare I saw several kids that were not thriving in daycare. It does not work for every kid. Some kids need their parents. So why would it be mandated to force that parent to send their kid to preschool all day when their kid would be happier at home and the parent wants them at home?

    For one thing kids with special needs do not do well in large classrooms with lots of noise and activity and kids. We made sure to send our son to a small church preschool that only had 8 kids in the 3 year old class and 10 kids in the 4 year old class. I doubt our government can provide that small of an adult/child ratio. Not if they have to do it for every kid.

    I am not willing to pay more taxes for this. I already pay for Head Start which is available for low income at risk kids. I think that is sufficient. We would be better off giving parents resources to enrich their children in the home like Tennessee’s Parents are First Teachers program. They come into the home and teach the parents fun games and activities to do with their kids. Or offering free programs at parks or festivals or something like that.

    No way my sons would have been better off in a state mandated preschool all day every day. No way. Things went all to hell when they hit kindergarten. They had zero issues in preschool. Because preschool had small class size and limited hours they are there and lots of free play. I doubt a government preschool would be able to provide that.

  24. SKL February 9, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Just noticed the comment about the length of the school day. My kids went to a preschool/daycare that went up to KG. They started when they were 2.5 and entered KG at the age most kids go to pre-K. They were usually there from 9am to 6:30pm (5 days per week). The length of the day was never an issue for them. The day was broken up by a nap, meals, snacks, outdoor and indoor recess, coached activities, and various other transitions.

    As long as they have a nap / extended rest time in pre-K, I don’t see the problem with the full-day schedule for those who choose to use it.

    They could offer full- and half-day options if people think it necessary. My kids’ current school has offered that for KG in the past and plans to re-instate it next year. I guess the full-day KG spends more time on artsy stuff compared to the half-day.

    Kids in group care do go on field trips etc., and their parents can still take them to zoos and museums. I even took my kids out of KG for a volunteer project and for a Caribbean cruise. 😉 As they say on another forum I frequent, it’s not going to keep them out of Harvard. 😉

    I’m not saying every kid needs to do this. I’m saying that for most kids, if it’s designed right, it won’t hurt.

  25. K February 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    My children attended a program that started at age 2. Before you freak out, the two year old program consisted of 90 minutes, one day a week, in a play setting, and while the kids were in the classroom, the parents or another caregiver were in another room with the director of the program, taking part in an interactive conversation on development and age appropriate behavior of two year olds.

    The three year olds attended twice a week for two hours, one of which was a drop off day, and the four year olds go three times a week for two hours, two of those being drop off days.

    Six hours a week doesn’t sound like much schooling, but because the quality of the program was so wonderful, both mine went into kindergarten more than prepared. And the parents group was incredibly helpful, and I made lifelong friends out of it.

    So while I do think most kids can benefit from preschool, I hate to hear politicians pushing programs that are 8 and 9 hour days because it’s just not necessary.

  26. Donna February 9, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    So many here seem to be comparing universal pre-k to staying home. That is absolutely not the reality for the vast majority of children in the US. For the vast majority, it is the difference between being in daycare 8-6 vs. state-funded pre-k for a portion of that day.

    Since my daughter did her pre-k in the same place that she went to daycare, the absolute only difference was that my child care bill was cut considerably during the school year. And not a single parent cared about now needing to follow a schedule. We all danced out of the daycare on the 1st day of pre-k singing “we just got a raise.”

    I’ve seen nothing that is remotely pushing MANDATORY public school pre-k. What I’ve seen is much like the GA system. State funded pre-k offered in schools and daycares that is has set state standards but is optional. You can choose for your kids to go. You can choose to keep them home. You can choose to send them to a private preschool. Since kids in K-12 have the exact same options – home school, private school or public school – I see absolutely no difference except that this is providing a state-funded option a year earlier.

    Now whether there are government funds available to do this on a 50 state basis, I highly doubt. Georgia’s program is funded 100% through lottery funds and not tax dollars (with the exception that the kids who attend in public schools qualify for the federal school lunch program).

  27. SKL February 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    They could also have charter pre-Ks in the daycares. My kids’ daycare included a charter KG, so why not a charter pre-K? Then there would be continuity for the kids who were already in that daycare, and you’d be dealing with very experienced teachers and a built-in before-care and after-care arrangement. Despite being part of the public school system, the school had freedom to develop its own unique curriculum.

    And yes, I got a fee cut when my kids went to KG, as it was partially government-funded. 🙂

  28. SOA February 9, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Considering how the public school system barely has enough to pay teacher’s decent salaries or fund most of the stuff they need, I really don’t see them coming up with the money to pay for this preschool thing 100% either.

    That is to a point part of communism…that the government takes away children from parents and raises them as they see fit. Read about it in the “Communist Manifesto”. Nanny state too. You are incapable of taking care of your kids properly and teaching them properly and preparing them for kindergarten on your own so we the mighty state is going to do it for you.

    Seems to be this type of attitude is pushed more and more. Some daycares do pre k programs. The one I worked in did. It was worked into the day. I don’t need the preschool to handle naps and lunch and playing. They can do that at home for free with me. All I wanted them to get at preschool was the actual curriculum part which they only did from 9 to 12. After 12 they did no more curriculum. It was just naps, snack, and waiting around for their parents to come pick them up. I don’t see that part as really being necessary for kids to be there.

    Our country is already in tons of debt and having trouble with the recession and the economy. You don’t add MORE things to fund when that happens. You tighten your belt and figure out how to pay for the things you have already, then and only then do you worry about figuring how to add new things.

  29. Puzzled February 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Prepare students for the workplace? Laughable. Is the workplace age-segregated? Is it a bunch of people sitting while being lectured by an authority figure? Is most of your time spent copying down what someone else says, then copying them mindlessly through hundreds of repetitions? If it is, you work at a lousy place.

    In a few years, employers are going to be seeking innovators and creators – and met with a generation of Common Core educated morons. Our C and below students will then take over.

    I worry most about the students who like school and get good grades. They’re being set up for failure – they’ve learned to do as they are told, never question, and to follow directions without deviation. They’re in serious trouble in life.

    Universal pre-school? How about universal unschooling?

    I’m not a fan of Summerhill, by the way, but I do love Sudbury – although the name is not copyrighted, so there are plenty of Sudbury schools not really practicing the philosophy. I’ve seen schools calling themselves Sudbury while also bragging about the rigor of their classes. However, I can say that Hudson Valley Subdury, in Kingston, NY, truly lives the Sudbury ideal, as truly as the original.

  30. lollipoplover February 9, 2014 at 9:11 pm #

    Donna, we don’t even have mandatory kindergarten in our state. Our public school offered half-day which leaves most working parents looking for other programs or patching it with daycare.

    I never went to preschool. I had 9 siblings and my parents thought I was quite smart and an early reader (even though I only memorized the few books I had)so they didn’t see a need. My Kindergarten program in the 70’s had woodworking (yes, hammer and nails), nap time, and crazy playground structures that included a submarine and pirate ship. I don’t remember anything academic though it was a nurturing learning environment.
    I think we are all overthinking this.

  31. SOA February 9, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    True. My husband did not even attend kindergarten. I think he started in first grade which at least at the time was legal. No preschool either. He graduated with honors in high school and college.

    I agree we are over thinking it.

  32. Donna February 9, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    Legally our state doesn’t have mandatory kindergarten either. School becomes mandatory at age 6, not 5, so you could essentially skip kindergarten, however I don’t know what they would do if you skipped it and then tried to enroll in 1st grade.

    Once you hit public school, many working parents still need to deal with child care for part of the day, not to mention all those school holidays. School is less hours than a typical work day. My daughter’s pre-k had aftercare for a fee. My daughter’s public school has an after school program for a minimal fee that includes the pre-k kids.

  33. Reziac February 9, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    If you didn’t read the linked article — do so:

    There are numerous negatives, such as the intensively-instructed children are about twice as likely to fail in life later on (including a higher level of felony convictions and stress-related problems).

    I recently heard of another study that specifically followed preschool and Head Start kids, and found that overall, it had no benefit.

    I’m not really surprised. Kids that age are still trying to fit the world together as they observe it; a pile of facts doesn’t exactly assist that, but may short-circuit the process. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t be presented with opportunity (hell, I read at a 4th grade level before I was 5YO) but it shouldn’t be at the expense of learning to learn, which is really what little kids are doing with that playtime.

  34. Laurambp February 9, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    There’s a study by the University of Cambridge (on this site: that argues that starting formal education early does not help kids in the long run.

    A great quote from it: Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. In a separate study of reading achievement in 15 year olds across 55 countries, researchers showed that there was no significant association between reading achievement and school entry age.

    I’m greatly concerned about pre-K and K becoming formal. The more I read about common core, the more I want to homeschool my future kids.

  35. Becca O February 9, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    I imagine this would be universal not mandatory since only 8 states even require 5 year olds to attend Kinder, many states don’t actually require school until 7 or 8 most.

  36. JM February 9, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    As a Pre K teacher in a state that does free universal Pre K for all 4 year olds. The kids have to know All the letters sounds numbers up to 30. they also have to know how to add subtract and how to break words into syllables and how to take apart compound words. they also have to know why we have bridges why we have doctors and why we have clocks they also have to know that A group of men with hockey sticks is a team ( we live in florida) and all of this before kindergarten. When they start kindergarten they are tested and the scores are averaged out and the score is used to rate the daycare centers. Every year it is getting more ridiculous as to what they want these kids to know. It was one of the reasons I refuse to teach the VPK class I have the 4 year olds who missed the cut off date. we do much more free play but I still have to have the kids know the numbers through at least 15 to 20 and all the letter names and some of the sounds.

  37. SKL February 9, 2014 at 11:24 pm #

    One thing to think about, though, is that a lot of kids who would have entered KG at 4 or young 5 are now waiting until old 5 or 6 to start. So for the kids who, in our day, would have been in KG, where do they fit? Is it really better for them to wander around aimlessly?

    I dunno. I see all these studies suggesting that later is better, but what I see in the real world is that kids who are not engaged in some challenging activity are not developing sharp minds. Challenge is hard to find outside of a school environment, for young kids who are not allowed to do anything “dangerous” such as play with actual tools, go around the neighborhood unsupervised, cook lunch, climb trees, etc. And social skills aren’t being well developed where kids aren’t allowed to go hang with friends for hours on end.

    Also, there is research that shows an earlier academic start is better in some ways, at least for those whose parents consider them ready for it. Learning has a window of opportunity that starts to close around age 17; after that people don’t acquire or retain information as well. Holding a bright kid back from academics until he is 6/7 vs. 4/5 means less learning in the long run, according to some researchers.

    Not sure if I trust the government to get it right, though. If Common Core is any indication, then hell no.

  38. hineata February 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    @Puzzled – amen! It is frightening how many parents, politicians etc. still seem to believe that the education system is setting children up for the workplace. The only workplace it might conceivably set you up for is the education sector itself.

    If only we could simply teach kids the very basics in a short period of time each day and then turf them out to learn in more real settings. Am not sure some days why I still teach, though I love the relatively free rein I get with the G&T kids. Universal homeschooling, were the world ever to become ideal :-), would be a better way than what we have now….

    I was that kid that loved school and did very well in it, and most of my ‘not-so-able’ classmates have done better financially etc. than me. Where I (and all my fellow ‘school lovers’) did have an advantage over some other school achievers is that we were surrounded in our rural area by smart and successful people with very little ‘education’, and it was obvious to us that except for a very few jobs (the kind we were aiming for) formal education was neither here nor there, and had little to do with success in life. Kids where I live now have fewer of those role models, and it worries me that whatever I tell them, they are acquainting academic success with their ‘life success potential’. Which is so much rubbish.

  39. Jenny Islander February 10, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    I wish that Charlotte Mason’s ideas had become mainstream instead of the then-new educational system she disagreed with. She was strongly for getting pre-school-aged children outside as much as possible, just wandering around and getting dirty with an adult along to occasionally point out something interesting. Indoors, she believed in letting children handle real objects (not flimsy toys meant to represent real objects) and teaching them how to make really useful things, not cut-and-paste paper throwaways. Sensory stimulation, fine- and gross-motor practice, sense of accomplishment, and practice paying attention form the foundation of Mason’s method, and I think this falls into line with what we know about brain development today. Just about any small child can be taught to parrot abstractions, but how many of them really understand what they are saying?

    I had the chance to send my son to Head Start. After a look at the curriculum, I declined. No, he isn’t learning how to cope with large groups of people who are all his approximate age and being herded around a room in order to be trained to produce responses that simulate comprehension. He’s outside, getting muddy and learning the names of the birds, where he should be.

  40. Jennifer February 10, 2014 at 7:40 am #

    My daughter went to public pre-k when she was almost 4. Yes, she did do some “lessons” in school but most of the day was play. I think most of any preschool day is play, if only due to the attention span of 4 year olds. Just because they spent a few hours of the day reading, writing and learning to count does not mean they were being tortured. Also, she got out of school at 3pm and went right to the playground with her friends for hours of unstructured play time.

    My daughter is an only child in a small NYC apartment. In pre-k she got to play with friends in a wonderful classroom setting full of art supplies, blocks, trains, etc. Yes, I could do all this on my own (and I did before she was old enough for school) but I felt there was much more to be gained from being in a classroom.

    She learned to read by the end of that year too. Not because anyone was testing her with flash cards, but because she loved books. It is not a one sided argument.

  41. Donna February 10, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    “The kids have to know All the letters sounds numbers up to 30.”

    This doesn’t sound extreme to me. This just sounds like basic kindergarten readiness that kids should be getting at home. I knew this prior to entering kindergarten back in 1975 just from home.

    “they also have to know how to add subtract and how to break words into syllables and how to take apart compound words.”

    This is pushing it and certainly not anything they covered as regular curriculum in our pre-k. My daughter did learn some of this stuff but it was enrichment because she could already do the counting and letter sounds before pre-k. It was not expected that the general class know it.

    “they also have to know why we have bridges why we have doctors and why we have clocks they also have to know that A group of men with hockey sticks is a team ( we live in florida).”

    Again, I don’t see a problem with this. My daughter also knew most of that stuff by pre-k because she asked tons of questions and I answered them.

  42. H Reagan February 10, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Economy aside – in general I don’t agree with earlier/more school at all.
    However, I know several families where the kids would clearly be better off in any sort of school setting because they are “near neglected” (just my own opinion, from a legal aspect they are just fine). Young parents that let their babies/toddlers sit in front of the TV all day. That forget to feed or change them, never hug and cuddle them, never play with them, barely interact with them except to yell at them.
    For those kids all I can say is “school can’t start soon enough”.

  43. Pam February 10, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    This is complicated. As many other posters here note, all children learn in their own way. Many children do well in a traditional school (or preschool) setting. There are also children who do not thrive in a structured school setting. And when the government “gives” you money for something you’d better watch out. The preschools I’ve worked with become obsessed with following the silly rules pushed down from the state (you want that grant? well you must leave bleach solution on table for no less than two minutes for maximum absorption). And these agencies that “give” money to schools seem to care absolutley nothing about the kind of quality programs they may or may not be supporting. Preschool teachers go through a myriad of pre-employment tests (FBI fingerprinting, criminal clearances, child abuse clearances, and often each year) which is good I suppose but I believe it should be more up to the hiring institution to run those background checks on their own time, and with their own dime, before hiring. Why is it up to the individual to do this? And until we find some kind of union-esque organization to fight to increase the pay and benefits of pre-K teachers we’ll continue to see the extreme amount of teacher and assistant turnover. This issue is so complex and there are so many factors involved. Learning for early learners comes from their experiences, from play, from exploring, from (EEK!) getting dirty. As other posters here have also mentioned, good preschools can and do fight the skills gap. This is great. But then we also need more consistency in programs, and not just that all preschool aides leave bleach on a table for more than two minutes before wiping it off.

  44. SOA February 10, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    The bleach thing is a good point. I worked in a daycare and in order to get the highest rating which parents expected we had to follow all kinds of stupid rules which meant we spent most of our day cleaning off tables and washing hands and less and less time actually playing with and interacting with the children which is what they really needed.

    I loved playing with the kids and loving on them but I barely had time for that. Most of my day was doing all these mandated cleaning things and following a bunch of super strict rules constantly so I was mentally and physically unable to give the kids attention they craved as much as they and I would have wanted.

    So no way I believe my kids would be better off in that setting.At home I actually had time to interact with them.

    Someone mentioned you can still go to the zoo, museum etc with kids if they are in full time preschool. No not really. That only leaves the weekends and we don’t do those things on weekends if we can avoid it. The crowds are too much for my son with autism and I hate the crowds and it makes the experience unpleasant. We only go to those things mostly on weekdays.

    Now that they are in school full time we are kinda limited to weekends and school breaks but I am glad I had those 4 years to do it every week during the week. No way could I have gone on a busy weekend and handled twins at those places by myself with huge crowds.

  45. lollipoplover February 10, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    “The preschools I’ve worked with become obsessed with following the silly rules pushed down from the state (you want that grant? well you must leave bleach solution on table for no less than two minutes for maximum absorption).”

    This is the problem I have with any “universal” program- the crazy rules that defy logic. We left our preschool shortly after they started the bleach out of the tables. Did anyone consider the bleach fumes around these kids?! My daughter’s friends who stayed there full day had welts and sores on their hands (because of anti-bacterial hand soap washed after every activity) and the chemical peel tables. It didn’t stop the spread of illness. These kids have asthma and eczema now.

    I think options and accessability. There is no one size fits all when it comes to children. Our first preschool (the one we left when they went [email protected] crazy with getting accreditation to take federal grant money) was one we walked to in our neighborhood. We found it through asking neighbors where they took their kids. It had acres of land to explore and play on…until the accreditation and “rules” limited where was safe to play.

  46. Warren February 10, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    How long before “Universal Pre-School” becomes “Mandatory Pre-School”?

    We have to remember that the gov’t knows best how to raise our kids.

  47. BL February 10, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    “I personally think some drilling makes sense and am really sorry my kids’ elementary school never made them memorize the multiplication tables, or basic grammar rules.”

    You do realize so-called modern educational theory considers such things useless at best and completely pernicious at worst?

    (Read David Mulroy’s book “War on Grammar” or anything about “Discovery Math”.)

  48. Leelou February 10, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    I’m in the province of Ontario. We have free full day universal jr & sr kindergarten with a “play based” curriculum. At first, I was VERY sceptical… The full day was tough but arranged for a half day with the teacher/principal. Now all is well. Really great program.
    Also great that there’s a teacher and an ECE (Early Childhood Educator)in the classroom.
    Here’s a link to the ministry of Ed website-

  49. Donna February 10, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    “Someone mentioned you can still go to the zoo, museum etc with kids if they are in full time preschool. No not really. That only leaves the weekends”

    Or you can just take a day off school, pre or not. It is certainly not something that I think you should do every week, but I’ve never really had an interest in going to the zoo or museum once a week either.

    My mother took me out of school for days here and there to do fun things every year. We traveled, went on day trips, went to museums and the zoo. The best was ditching school to play with baby tigers – literally rolling around on the ground with them, giving them a bottle and snuggling them.

  50. SKL February 10, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    “Someone mentioned you can still go to the zoo, museum etc with kids if they are in full time preschool. No not really. That only leaves the weekends and we don’t do those things on weekends if we can avoid it. The crowds are too much for my son with autism and I hate the crowds and it makes the experience unpleasant. We only go to those things mostly on weekdays.”

    Yeah, that was me. You might remember me as the single mom with two kids almost the same age. For quite a stretch when my kids were preschool age, I took them to the zoo weekly. We went to the natural history museum every Wednesday night, as they were open until 9 that night. Sometimes we’d walk over to the art museum from there. During the summers they had outdoor music festivals on Wednesday evenings. Other evenings we’d go to the pool/gym, park, library, etc. I would research local musical theatre and stuff like that. We’d go shopping at places that had live music. On weekends we sometimes went to a “farm park” with all kinds of opportunities. I put a lot of thought into making sure my kids had lots of good experiences although I worked full time, seven days per week. It can be done.

    You mention your child is autistic and therefore some of these things are more difficult for you. I understand that, but most kids are not autistic. Most kids can certainly benefit from doing enrichment activities outside of school hours.

  51. Melissa February 10, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    I have a 4-year-old in junior kindergarten in Ontario, all day every day. School is 8:45-3pm, and he attends the YMCA afterschool program until his father or I pick him up at 5:30. So he’s at school 8:30-5:30 every day.

    Before I was in this situation, I decried such a day for such a small boy. Even last year, when it came to registering (it’s optional in Ontario), I was very torn. He’s been in a home daycare with 2-3 other children his age since he was 6 months old, but school seemed so much more structured and demanding.

    However, at least for my child, JK has been fantastic, both in behaviour improvement and personal growth. He loves each and every day at school, and I’m very glad we decided to do it. The Ontario JK is very play-based, with lots of downtime, no “desks in rows”, and self-directed learning.

  52. SKL February 10, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    “As a Pre K teacher in a state that does free universal Pre K for all 4 year olds. The kids have to know All the letters sounds numbers up to 30. they also have to know how to add subtract and how to break words into syllables and how to take apart compound words. …. When they start kindergarten they are tested and the scores are averaged out and the score is used to rate the daycare centers….”

    This is what concerns me. The fact is that not all kids can master these skills at the same age. And if it clicks later, that does not mean the child will be delayed in the long run.

    I am 100% in favor of exposing kids to these skills and encouraging them to engage. What concerns me is that bright kids may be held back because they didn’t happen to be sufficiently interested in memorizing the alphabet or it just wasn’t time for that to click in that child’s brain yet. The stuff about subtraction and word decomposition etc., I don’t know exactly how that looks, but it sounds like it’s setting some normal kids up to be pressured or enter late. Later entry certainly doesn’t make kids smarter. It just makes it *look* like our KG is accomplishing more. It’s actually denying some kids the opportunity to be exposed to mind-stretching activities that they are ready for. The time when reading “clicks” is less important than the ongoing development of reasoning skills, exposure to great literature, etc.

    I never understand the argument that if you wait until your kid is 6-ish to send him to KG, he will do better in KG. First, I should hope KG work would come easily to a 1st grader! Duh. Second, some kids act out due to boredom in KG because it isn’t challenging. So you’ve traded kids who are frustrated due to difficulty/immaturity for kids who are frustrated due to boredom/being infantilized.

  53. Warren February 10, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    People have mentioned the lack of drills, these days. The education system has changed to a tech first style. Why teach a skill that a computer or calculator can handle.
    We have seen it many times that the generations coming up cannot handle simple math, division and multiplication without a calculator. Then to expect them to do it in their head, without a pad and pen is pointless, they cannot do it.

  54. CrazyCatLady February 10, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    “The kids have to know All the letters sounds numbers up to 30.”

    This would have been fine for my oldest. She was advanced. My middle had vision issues that came across as ADHD. Eye doctor poo-pooed my concerns. He would have been told constantly to sit still, come back with the group…etc. He would have felt he was a “bad” kid because he was yelled at a lot and the teachers would have spent a lot of time just keeping him with the group. My youngest does have some learning issues, but couldn’t be diagnosed until age 7 by qualified professional. He certainly could not do the above. “I” knew things were not right, educators said he fit the learning curve. But my son would have learned that he was “stupid” and couldn’t keep up with the other kids.

    I did keep my kids home, and like others, I would not send all of them away – oldest would have loved it, other two needed lose play based.

    Some study was done at some time, about teaching 4 year olds the calendar. It took months. But… they learned it. Then they compared them to 6 year olds who are more developmentally ready to learn the calendar. And…it took them weeks. Which is a better use of time? I worry that these types of programs will try to teach (as above) information that not all of the kids are developmentally ready for.

    As it is, my kids ended up staying home, other than the oldest who went to kinder and 1st in a school district that did not stimulate her as she had already learned to read, count and do most math required in those grades…in about an hour a day prior to starting kinder. At home, my boys did very well, had high opinions of their abilities (which were different than ones that school kids would value) and learned stuff that was developmentally appropriate for them. My daughter, when in school, learned that she didn’t need to do much to get by, and was mostly bored.

    Offering good early play based curriculum so kids can learn social skills…sure. Many families both parents need to or want to work. Making it mandatory…well, I guess our homeschooling career and reporting would have just start a bit earlier. Right now I live in a state that does not require that kids go to school (or report homeschooling) until age 8. And that seems to work well. Some kids do not enter the system until then, and yet they are not significantly behind and like kids moving from one school system to another, tend to be able to adapt and catch up fairly quickly, as most kids tend to learn a lot of stuff on their own if they are kids with no learning disabilities.

  55. SOA February 10, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Around here museum, zoo, nature center all close at 5 pm. So there is no going after school as schools don’t get out till around 3 and by the time you get there you have maybe an hour before it closes.

    I did take my kids to at least one of the above every week before school started. Now we only get to go a couple times a year. Not all SAHP park their kids in front of the tv. I actually am going to start trying to hike with them. They are getting a bit too big on wanting to play video games all day and I need to nip that in the bud.

    Yes, to the hands and skin being damaged by all the bleaching and antibacterial soap and hand washing. I had to wash my hands about 200 times a day and my skin was literally falling off and looked like I had leporosy to the point the parents were asking what was wrong with my hands. Kids had to wash their hands every time a diaper was changed or go to the bathroom, before and after anytime they ate including like bottles, after coming in from outside, every time they had to blow their nose or we wiped their nose for kids too little to blow, everytime they rubbed their eyes. About 75% of my day was either washing my hands or washing a child’s hands because these were kids too little to even know how to wash their hands. It was nuts.

  56. SOA February 10, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Also wanted to add if they make preschool mandatory that means attendance laws and rules. So there is no taking them out of school to go to the zoo unless you want to run the risk of getting more than the 5 missed school days that end you up in truancy court. If you miss more than 5 days a 9 weeks you get turned in and must provide documentation of why you were absent and taking them to the zoo does not count.

  57. SKL February 10, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    My youngest did not learn to read in school. She was always years ahead of her classmates. She was reading well before pre-K due to a combination of native ability, exposure at home, and keen interest. Preschool did encourage it as it provided a lot of literature studies. They did study the alphabet, but she knew all of her letters before she was 3.

    My eldest didn’t really learn at school either, because she had severe vision issues. Thankfully I identified this and she did vision therapy at ages 3-4. She could then recognize the letters, and I gently taught her reading at home in the manner that worked best for her. What they did at school reinforced the efforts, and also, in KG, the fact that certain things were assigned by the teacher was a motivation to her. (Or maybe it was the skittles they got for remembering the words at school….)

    If she had not had vision therapy and a mom who would work with her at home, frankly there is no way she would have been on target with the “standards” that some school systems expect nowadays. Yet she is a bright, hardworking child and currently a high-performing, accelerated student.

    If they are going to impose standards on young kids, are they also going to provide interventions and IEPs at the pre-K level for those who aren’t academically ready for everything? Or are they going to punish kids for being wired differently?

  58. Donna February 10, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    “This is what concerns me. The fact is that not all kids can master these skills at the same age. And if it clicks later, that does not mean the child will be delayed in the long run.”

    Couldn’t this be said about every single subject in every single grade? Kids learn differently and learn at different rates throughout their lives. Whether it is a pre-k kid who has difficulty in learning letters or a 9th grader who can’t quite get his head around geometry right away, some kids are going to be behind the curve and some above, sometimes both for different subjects. This is the difficulty with teaching large groups of children instead of tutoring one-on-one. You have to teach to the average and the extremities get short-changed – one end is lost and the other end it bored.

    Personally, an ideal educational situation for me would be to do away with age-based education entirely and group children according to skill and developmental readiness rather than age, at least for the whole of elementary school. There is no reason that a 4 year old who can already count to 100 should have to sit through “learning” how to count to 30 when she could be learning to add. A child who isn’t ready to learn to read should have to spend hours being tutored after school in kindergarten just to keep up(yes, happened to a friend’s child).

  59. SKL February 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    “Around here museum, zoo, nature center all close at 5 pm.”

    Did you check to see if there are any extended hours on one or two days per week? 5pm is the norm here as well, but if you look a little deeper, if there is a need, chances are you may find an option that works for you – at least at some of those places.

    Right now we are so busy with homework etc. that we don’t get to the museums much. But, they are now old enough for summer camps at the museums, so they do get some exposure still. (They have holiday and spring camps too, but those don’t work with our vacation schedule.)

  60. SKL February 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Yes, it’s true that in other grades there is variation in abilities, but a couple of things are different.

    1) They use performance in pre-K to determine KG readiness. It is easier to talk a parent into delaying KG than repeating a later grade. Yet it is not necessarily the right answer.

    2) There are learning challenges that cannot be diagnosed before school age and therefore can’t be remediated for those bright kids who are on level for everything except a specific type of skill.

    3) Reading can normally click anywhere from age 3 to age 7 in kids of normal intelligence and without learning disabilities. A child who is on the late side of that continuum will often catch up very quickly and sometimes even be an above-average reader within a year. This is something all educators are aware of and they are supposed to make allowances for this. I don’t know that there’s any phenomenon like this in later grades.

    I’m not sure of the best way to decide who is in what class. I lean toward a combination of social maturity and overall ability. Though if an IEP is needed, I’d go with social maturity alone. Putting a more mature kid in with “babies” is demotivating and doesn’t solve anything.

  61. Donna February 10, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    “If they are going to impose standards on young kids, are they also going to provide interventions and IEPs at the pre-K level for those who aren’t academically ready for everything?”

    They do here. The private daycares with a state-funded pre-k programs aren’t mandated to provide IEP services as they don’t have the resources, so your child has to attend the actual public schools, but all the same services that are available in K-5 are available to pre-k.

    You can get an IEP as early as 3 actually, but at that age you have to go to Head Start.

  62. Donna February 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    SKL –

    Maybe kids are held back left and right from pre-k where you live, but here it is a rarity. My daughter’s pre-k teacher – a woman with 25 years preschool experience – rarely recommends kids be held back. When she does it is a combination of all the attributes of the child – social maturity, overall ability, potential, personality, diligence. It is not something she takes lightly at all.

    In fact, I think it is quite the opposite – kids are pushed forward more than they need to be. My parents knew that my bro wasn’t mature enough for 1st grade, but the school insisted that he was and pressured them to move him forward. The same discussion happened in 2nd grade. His ability to function due to his delayed social maturity declined considerably each year. Because of it, he always detested school and pretty much stopped going in middle school.

  63. Donna February 10, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    “If they are going to impose standards on young kids”

    Nor am I sure that universal pre-k can really be considered as “imposing standards,” unless it is made mandatory.

    There is currently no minimum competency to enroll in KG. You merely need to have turned 5 by the date in the state law. You can’t admit some kids who meet the deadline with absolute no standards and refuse admittance to others who meet the deadline because they don’t attain certain standards.

    Pre-k performance can be used in recommending to the parents whether to enroll the children in KG, but can’t actually stop them from enrolling their kids in KG if they are eligible under the law. My daughter’s KG teacher never saw her pre-k reports.

  64. SKL February 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Here, I don’t think they can refuse entry to KG, but they do readiness tests and I do think there is pressure on parents to redshirt.

    In my kids’ class, the cutoff date was Oct 1 but the youngest kid (other than mine) was born May 24. And at least a third of the kids turned 7 before entering 1st. My kids are not in public school, but I hear parents of public school kids speaking as if it’s a given that kids with summer birthdays start KG at 6. Teachers also recommend it.

    I know this is also a trend in some other areas. I agree that it’s not consistent across the country.

    Which makes one wonder about the whole “commong core” thing. When the average age in some states is a half year older/younger than that in other states, does it really make sense for all of them to be operating at the same level?

  65. SKL February 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    In fact, last year, when I took my kids in for their 2nd chickenpox shot, the standard printout at the medical center advised me to carefully consider whether my kids were ready for KG yet. (They were old 5s and in 1st grade.)

  66. Donna February 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    @SKL – There are no KG readiness tests here. You simply go to the BOE with your birth certificate and shot records and sign up. Nobody looks at anything other than birth date.

    The kids that I’ve known who were recommended to hold-off on KG by pre-k teachers do tend to be born in the late summer, but there are tons of summer babies in their appropriate grade. I actually only know one child who was eligible and didn’t enroll in KG and even her father will tell you it was because the mother wasn’t ready and not because the child wasn’t ready (and now the child is a royal pain because she is more socially advanced than the other 2nd graders).

  67. hineata February 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    @Warren – am wondering what they do in Ontario regarding math? We have an odd system (in my opinion) these days called the Numeracy Project. Am just asking because as odd as this system is, all of my kids can perform fairly complex Four to five figure) add/sub/mult and div. operations in their heads – in fact it drives me mad that they won’t use pen and paper. Some of it comes from the Asian system I think.

    So, while other parts are screwball (you need to be able to show at least two ways of doing a problem at each level before you can be moved to the next, something which drove my ‘math-natural’ girly crazy), and our recent PISA results evidently seriously suck, at least the mental math part seems to be going well. For some reason I thought Canada did something similar….

  68. hineata February 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    (four to five)….need new glasses!

  69. J February 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Oh, our rulers are simply sick of people developing individualistic traits, in those first five years.

    The utopians think they can better program kids, to be more obedient little snots, who will obey the government when it insists there’s nothing out of the ordinary in mass surveillance.

    Anyway, you’re right–the politicians will want to test everything, and then the boomer parents will start competing to see who’s kid will learn calculus first at age 2.

    Thank God I grew up, before technology transformed the country into a rabid police state.

  70. SKL February 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Whoa, the boomer parents? Did I miss something? I thought all the boomer parents were past childbearing age by now….

  71. Donna February 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    SKL – Not the male boomers … if they’ve managed to find a nice young wife.

  72. Lesly February 10, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    More school equals more ADHD!

  73. Papilio February 10, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Re: the age children should learn how to read. The way I see it, Laurambp, SKL and Puzzled are all three right. The point is that children all develop in a different tempo, and I read that they become ready to read between the ages of 5 and 9. Let’s assume for the moment that’s about right.
    So whatever age you pick to teach ALL of them to read, it will be the wrong age for a lot of them (so yes Puzzled, children should be able to learn how to read when they’re ready, not when they reach a certain age). Since 5 is very much on the young side of that age range, it will be too soon for many kids (what Laurambp said – and wasn’t there also mention of higher dyslexia rates when kids were forced too early?). But SKL is also right in that bright kids, those that are indeed developmentally ready at age 5 or even earlier, should not be denied to learn it, because crushing the information hunger of a bright child is desastrous, and not only for that child.

    “[the 4-year-olds] have to know All the letters sounds numbers up to 30. they also have to know how to add subtract and how to break words into syllables and how to take apart compound words.”
    Sounds insane to me. Counting to 30 and learning the letters and sounds are among the things Dutch kids need to know before entering First grade (in which schoolyear they’re 6(-going-on-7)). Adding, subtracting and syllable stuff, and actually learning how to read and write, is First grade material here, just like desks in a row and sitting still all day as opposed to learning things in a more play-based manner/setting. Depending on the cutting date, most kids are in primary school for about two years before entering “groep 3” (your first grade)(there is officially a groep 1 and groep 2, but these age groups are often mixed, with two different levels within one class, so young kids can learn from the older ones), some do 2.5, others only 1.5 or even less – there is some room for variation here and this date isn’t rigid: teachers and parents together can decide to let their not-ready-for-desks child stay for another year or to let their ready-to-read quick one go to groep 3 a year earlier.
    Going to primary school at the 4th birthday is normal, though attending school is only mandatory from the first day of the month following the month in which the child turned 5.

    But anyway, if all of this is meant to do better in international (PISA) comparison, I think it would be better to improve the quality of the rest of the educational system (well, before college level anyway), and not the quantity in the early years.

    (Wow, I wrote a book…)

  74. SOA February 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Redshirting is rampart in our area. A lot of people do it. My twins were born in May and school starts in June and I did not red shirt even with my son having special needs. They had two years of preschool and I figured might as well go as it was stupid to repeat the preschool year again.

    Around here we have anywhere from 4 year olds to 7 year olds in Kindergarten due to red shirting depending on when their birthday falls. First grade we have 5 year olds to 8 year olds. It is kinda nuts. The average age is 6-7 for first grade but they outliers. I think it is nuts having that big of an age difference. What is going to happen when these kids are 20 and still in high school going to school with 14 year olds? Bunch of sexual stat rape cases is my bet.

    Our area does K testing but they cannot not accept them. They test them to see where they are at and then place them in a class. I think they try to put some advanced students, some average students and some behind students in each class so that one teacher does not end up accidentally with all the behind kids or all the advanced kids because that is too much for one teacher. So they just use it for placement not accepting or denying entry.

  75. Warren February 10, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    At the time my youngest went thru the lower grades, grade one being 8 yrs ago, they no longer worked with tables, flashcards or memorization. They were taught how to multiply, and given calculators to check their work.

    For example of issues we are seeing.
    1. Last summer my brother in law hire a couple of young men to help with his barn. We were up on the ladders, and calling down measurements for them to cut. They couldn’t do the math to figure out 3 lengths at 36″ could come out of a 12′ board.
    2. When asked to figure out how many nails apox. we would need for a fence to match another one. They couldn’t take the number of boards, multiply by 4 to get the answer. They actually counted the nails individually on the other fence.

    When we told them we would just count the sections, multiply by 5 boards per section, then multiply 4 nails per board, they acted as if it was magic.

  76. J- February 11, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    I know I’m gonna catch flack for saying this, but universal pre-K is a bad idea designed for vote buying among poor and working class families/single mothers.

    Lets be honest. A lot of people treat the pubic school system like daycare. It is where you put your kid when you are at work. Private daycare is expensive. I have friends, who, for the three months in the summer when school is out, take a nearly 50% pay cut, because daycare for 3 kids is equal to the wife’s income for that time period.

    Universal pre-K is political code for free day care. I doubt, with the horrendous quality of the US public school system, that public pre-K will nurture, educate, or develop the children put into it in any way. I am 99.99% sure they will come out worse. I have seen too many unthinking, uncaring, teachers, bound up my too many zero tolerance policies and standards to believe that these government automatons will give the children the attention that they need.

    The only thing this will accomplish (besides ruining a lot of kids) is give parents who can’t or can barely afford private daycare a place to drop off their kids for even more taxpayer funded babysitting. For some, that is a good enough reason to create universal pre-K. For me, it’s not.

  77. SOA February 11, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    No flack from me J. That was very well put and I agree.

  78. SKL February 11, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    It occurs to me that when all is said and done, the summation of all this change will be that the USA re-named the grades and tacked on an extra year at the end of high school.

    K => preK, age ~5
    1st => K, age ~6

    13th => 12th

  79. Papilio February 11, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    First of all, what is ‘redshirting’? Waiting another year before sending a kid to K, but what’s the connection with red shirts??

    SKL: I’d always thought that the beginning of formal/academic learning would be in First grade (you know, sounds kinda logical, beginning, first grade…), and the year before that would be rather play-based (after ‘childrens’ garden’ doesn’t sound very formal!). So your story on parents who wait until their kid is ~6 before they send him/her to Kindergarten sounds like a kind of DIY correction to me…

    About those twelve years: that is something ALL children are supposed to sit out, right? With just two different levels, if I’m correct? What if a kid wants to become a plumber? That is still the full twelve years in a academic/theoretical education style? College is a higher level, so can I assume there is a tertiary education form on a lower level than college where you can become a plumber?
    Sorry for going off-topic, but I’ve wondered about this for a while…

  80. SKL February 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm #


    When most of us US posters were kids, it was expected that kids went to KG around 5 years old. There has always been a lot of variation in what KG is, whether it’s mostly play-based or academic. The original concept that KG is nearly all play / socializing has been nearly dead for a long time. In my lifetime, KG has been mostly to take kids wherever they are (some will know how to read, others won’t know their letters) and teach the basics of how to be in school (social / behavioral), alphabet, numerals, controlling a pencil, counting and a few other things, and expose kids to literature and arts. Some KGs did more – mine taught reading and simple math computations.

    Nowadays it is pretty much the norm that kids are expected to read simple books by the end of KG. Some kids don’t pick this up easily, especially younger kids, so their parents are often encouraged (or decide on their own) to wait until the next year to send them to KG. So they start KG at age 6 so they can be on the older side instead of the younger side. This “redshirting” was unusual when I was young – it is far more common today.

    Redshirting got its name from something to do with sports eligibility – I don’t quite understand it, but somehow if your kid was the oldest, his sports opportunities would be better. That kind of blows my mind that a bright kid would be held back in school over football eligibility, but that’s a topic for a different day. 😉

    To hopefully answer your question about “levels,” there are many possible paths for kids in US public schools. Those with diagnosed learning problems get a special individualized education program (IEP) so the expectations and the instruction make more sense for them. Those who are very advanced may be able to be accelerated or participate in gifted programs or some other differentiated instruction, though it isn’t really individualized, so often they spend most of their time doing whatever the average kids are doing. As they get older, all kids begin to qualify for more differentiated courses. They may take algebra or biology a year early in middle school, etc. They may have the option to study foreign languages that are not required for all. By high school (beginning at age 13-15) the majority of the course work is chosen by the individual. Easy or challenging math and language courses, college prep or basic science and so on. At age 15-17 the kids have the option to go to a vocational school if they prefer, where they learn practical job skills and just a few basic academic courses. At 16 they also have the option to quit school all together if they want to. (They may choose to take a high school equivalency exam as adults if they want to.) Meanwhile, high achievers often have the option to begin college early.

  81. SOA February 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Red shirting has to do with sports and yes people ABSOLUTELY hold kids back just for sports. I live in the South and heck yes football and other sports are all that matters around here. Save me! There is kids born exact same day as my kids a set of twins. Like at age 2 they already said they would red shirt theirs and it was because of sports. The bigger the kid the better at sports so they think.

    And yes, some of these kids in kindergarten look like second graders and tower over the other kids. Because really that kid is several years older than them. My son is very big for his size and we sent him when we were supposed to. If we waited he would really be big for his grade.

    I think it is BEYOND ignorant to hold kids back just for sports, but people do it around here a lot.

  82. Donna February 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm #


    Traditionally, the US didn’t have “levels” in the European sense where there were actually separate requirements, exams and diplomas for vocational track and college track. If you wanted a high school diploma, you largely had to attend 12 years of school and fulfill the general requirements of graduation. There is the option to choose the difficulty of the courses that you need to take, but everyone who graduates from a traditional high school has to take 4 English classes, 3 math classes, 3 science classes and so on for example just to graduate. And there is not really much by way of vocational classes so you would leave with few skills for a career. (College-bound students do usually take additional academic classes, like a foreign language, but those are required by universities to enroll and not by the high school to graduate).

    In very recent years, we have seen the development of vocational high schools that your plumber could attend and actually take trade classes while still in high school. He would still have to go to school for about 12 years to get a high school diploma, but it is a less academic and more trade-oriented education. Our local vocation school has only existed for 3-4 years, so this is not well-ingrained in the US education system yet and probably not universal.

    To answer your tertiary question, we do have two levels of tertiary schooling – technical/community colleges and universities. Technical/community colleges are where you plumber would go to learn a trade (you can also sometimes take basic college classes there and then transfer to a university).

  83. SKL February 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    Vocational ed is not new in my state. They had it when my parents were in school (~60 years ago). It might have been more for “bad kids” back then. But, my brother (not a bad kid :P) graduated from vo-ed in 1981. Our vo-ed school had a long list of offerings and it wasn’t just stupid stuff. For example, every year the vo-ed students built an entire house and sold it. 🙂 I guess that is one of those things that varies by state.

  84. Donna February 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Red shirting – College athletes are eligible to play for 4 years. However, college athletes can be “red shirted” for their freshman year. This means that they can practice with the team and dress in uniform, but not play in games. They are then still eligible to play for the full 4 years so it stretches out their college years from 4 to 5. The term comes from the red jersey that such players wear during scrimmages.

  85. Donna February 11, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Vo-ed did exist in NJ when my parents were kids but was definitely for bad kids. It was just the 1960s version of alternative school.

    Our area never had a vo-ed school before a couple years ago, at least not as recently as 1988 when I graduated. The new school seems great. It is run in conjunction with the local technical college and university so you can be most of the way to an associates degree when you graduate from high school and even decide to transfer to a state university. The catch is that you have to be accepted by the technical school into the program so it requires a decent level of previous academic achievement.

  86. hineata February 11, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    @Warren – while we are into metrics these days, I get the idea (actually I personally was lucky in that I was across the ‘transition time’ so learnt to do both) . That would drive me spare! For that reason we usually try to do as much ‘real life’ stuff as possible for math….for example multiplying out the ceiling tiles in the classroom, or measuring the classroom and then working out the rough square ‘meterage’ for all the classrooms in the school. Math is a waste of time if it can’t be applied.

    Still, ‘real life’ at school is pretty limited, and some kids just don’t seem to get that the knowledge we stuff in their heads actually can be applied outside the school gates…

  87. Papilio February 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Thank you all for those elaborate answers! It sure sounds wonderful to have all these different paths and routes, and it’s more comparable to what we have here than I thought – though Donna, you are right that we have completely separate levels with separate exams etc. Depending on that secondary school takes 4, 5 or 6 years, meaning only the kids who are heading for university (the rather theoretical, academical research university kind) do twelve years, the others leave for tertiary education on their (or a lower) level one or two years earlier – or, if they wish, they can do the last two years of the next higher level. Quitting school altogether is allowed at 18, or earlier once you get a diploma on the middle or high level.
    Anyway, so uniformity isn’t really the problem in the US…

  88. Emily February 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    @SKL–Grade 13 used to be a thing in Ontario, until they renamed it “OAC” (Ontario Academic Credit). My year was the last year to have OAC (I graduated from high school in 2003), and there was actually a good reason behind OAC–it wasn’t exactly like grades 9-12, because, unlike in those grades, when classes were offered at the Basic, General, and Advanced levels(and sometimes “Enriched” or “Extended” which was higher than Advanced–for example, I took Enriched English in grade ten, and many of my friends were in Extended French), OAC didn’t work that way. In OAC, classes were only offered at the Advanced level (in addition to OAC Extended French), and this year was treated as a “university preparation” year. Not everyone made it to OAC–some opted to graduate after grade 12, and others didn’t graduate at all. So, the people who made it to OAC were pretty much all friends with each other, because there weren’t that many of us around to exclude, even if we wanted to. That said, I’m not sure that OAC was a great idea in practice, even if the theory was good. I don’t think I was mature enough for university right after grade twelve, but about halfway through OAC, I was Ready with a capital R–and getting thoroughly bored with high school, and all of its rules and restrictions that seemed childish……but I still had to finish, because I was enrolled for that semester. So, I still attended classes, and fulfilled all of my academic and extra-curricular requirements, but I kind of “phoned it in” otherwise–I spent much less time with most of my music friends, because their drama and infighting had become intolerable to me, and I decided at the last minute to skip the prom, because I realized that I only really “wanted” to go, because I felt that people expected me to be there. I know that there were others who felt the same way that I did, which they expressed (or not) in different ways. So, maybe if I’d just gone to university after grade twelve, then I wouldn’t have had that semester of ennui (and accompanying guilt, because all things considered, I really loved my high school, despite having outgrown it). Also, on the flip side, there were people who actually did ANOTHER year after OAC, because they hadn’t finished all their required credits in time–they called it “Grade 14,” or “OAC 2,” or “Victory Lap,” but all I could think was, “Really? You need six years to finish high school?” In the absence of a good reason (disabilities, extended illnesses in prior years, etc.), six years of high school seemed excessive.

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