What Kindergarten Is – Part 1

As we wait for more information from the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) on how it intends to implement the recent changes in kindergarten law and regulation for 2013-14, and as we continue to gather information on Rochester (see the “Kindergarten Changes in NYS” blog post from 02/24/2013), we’d like to ask (from a wide-angle, homeschooling perspective): “What is kindergarten, anyway?”

Leaving aside for a moment the even more basic question of how old kindergarteners are in various places (and times), what constitutes “kindergarten” is neither obvious nor universal.

Let’s take just one solid example (something that’s not too radically eyebrow-raising), and compare it to the typical NYC public school.

There’s a private school in Manhattan that was founded in 1928, and whose 2013-14 tuition for full-day kindergarten is $35,350. (A price that indicates that most of these parents are accustomed to being able to choose.)

On the page describing this school’s kindergarten curriculum, you’ll find this passage:

[…] A sample morning would include free play upon arrival in the classroom, cleanup, greeting and circle, artistic activity (beeswax, bread making, watercolor painting, eurythmy, and drawing), rest, snack and outdoor play. Each morning is designed to provide a harmonious balance between active pursuits and quieter, more receptive activities, such as storytelling. A sense of wonder and whole-hearted participation in the surrounding world are both the special virtues of young children and the aims of the Early Childhood Program. […]

You can see the whole kindergarten page here (including the clarification that the kindergarten classes are mixed-age groups for children ages 4-6):

http://www.steiner.edu/page.aspx?pid=516

The school is the Rudolf Steiner School, which describes itself as the first Waldorf school in North America.

If you didn’t see anything about the three R’s on that page, it’s because it isn’t there.

On another page (about the school’s programs up through kindergarten), it says, “While our Early Childhood programs are non-academic in nature, we believe that through our daily activities a strong foundation is laid for future academic success.” This is the link:

http://www.steiner.edu/page.aspx?pid=514

We can also look at the first grade curriculum at this school to confirm what its version of kindergarten doesn’t include. Here’s an excerpt from the “Curriculum” page on Language Arts for grades 1-3:   

[…] The first grade begins with a main lesson block in form drawing, during which the children experience straight and curved lines. They first walk the lines on the floor; later they draw straight and curved lines in various combinations on paper. Precision and clarity of line, essential to good writing skills, are emphasized. Form drawing helps develop eye-to-hand coordination, the sense of uprightness in space, right/left and up/down orientation, and the ability to mirror, all skills that are needed in reading.

After this introduction, the children learn the upper-case consonants in imagery from stories, through the progression from story to picture to letter. After, the vowels, both short and long, are introduced. Next, words and phrases are constructed as a class activity and written on the board by the teacher. Students copy these words into main lesson books. Thus, writing precedes reading, and the main lesson books that the children create become their first readers. Lower case letters are learned by year’s end. Through song, verse, speech exercises, games, and drills, phonics and a basic sight word vocabulary are learned. In addition, through the telling of fairy tales and the recitation of poetry, children are exposed to other cultures and skills in listening, re-telling, sequencing, and articulate speaking are practiced. […]

You can see the rest of the page here:

http://www.steiner.edu/page.aspx?pid=519

This lack of heavy-duty academics in kindergarten (and, to some degree, beyond) isn’t unusual for a Waldorf school, of which there are quite a few in New York (both City and State).

They’re fully legal private schools, and their existence depends on the “substantial equivalence” of the instruction. That’s the same term used in the NYS Regulations on Home Instruction. The idea of “substantial equivalence” isn’t that each grade level has to match the current public school norm, but that in the long term the students are likely to come out of it with skills and knowledge that are (at least) roughly comparable to a public school student’s.   

Like the Waldorf schools, some homeschoolers follow a curriculum that avoids or even discourages early academics – and some decide to take the child’s lead, later finding that academics isn’t where the child initially leads them. 

These homeschoolers are among those most likely to sympathize with the author of an incendiary blog post, “How Is Common Core For Kindergartners Not Child Abuse?”, which is by someone named Reality-Based Educator. His (her?) profile, illustrated with a generic silhouette, says, “I have been teaching in the New York City public school system for twelve years.”

S/he quotes from a New York Post article that says, about the latest new set of NYC public school kindergarten standards, “Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write ‘informative/explanatory reports’ and demonstrate ‘algebraic thinking.’ Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.”

Link to Reality-Based Educator’s blog post: 

http://perdidostreetschool.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-is-common-core-for-kindergartners.html?m=1

If you have the next half-hour to invest in something “educational”, and if your homeschooled child isn’t yet doing much reading, writing, or paper-and-pencil math, you might legitimately decide to read aloud to him or her from a picture book, or go outside together to collect fallen leaves – rather than try to teach him/her to write the letter “A” or the number “6”.

You might also decide not to do anything in the next half-hour that looks remotely “educational”, on the theory that if s/he looks happy doing what s/he’s doing, s/he must be learning something from it, and that there’s no point in interrupting it to introduce something that may not be as good a fit and that (added to many other “teachable moments” throughout the day) might produce burnout.

You may think in that moment that what is easiest to measure (knowledge of colors, shapes, letters, numbers, etc.) is both easiest to “prep” for and arguably least important in terms of long-term goals: both the ability and the desire to read and write, true “algebraic thinking” (to borrow a phrase from the NY Post article), curiosity about how things work, etc.

When you homeschool, these moment-to-moment decisions are legally yours (at whatever age), though you do have to meet certain requirements in the long term if you want to be in compliance with the NYS Regulations on Home Instruction – something that will tend to protect you from an accusation of educational neglect. (For more on this, see the document “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work”, especially point #4, by clicking on “About NYS Regulations.”)  

Plenty of people think that kindergarten (at most schools) is too hard – the media covers the issue frequently these days. If you google “kindergarten is too hard”, you’ll see what we mean.  

But what if you google “kindergarten is too easy”? That will be the topic to start off Part 2.