Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Keep those kindergarten options open


In kindergarten, as in many other aspects of life, it is good to have choices.

In the last decade, a growing number of states and school districts have expanded their kindergarten choices by offering a full-day option.

And full-day kindergarten is a wonderful thing - as an option. Overall, kindergartners who spend the day in school appear to do better academically than their half-day counterparts. And many families vie for limited spaces in full-day programs, although their reasons may have as much to do with childcare as with academics.

But two states - Louisiana and West Virginia - have already mandated full-day kindergarten for all students. And as more states and some local school districts consider that action, caution is warranted.

Young children are notorious for their differences in development. A 5-year-old is not a 5-year-old is not a 5-year-old. While some children are ready for the physical challenge and independence that the full-day option requires, others still need naps and alone time.

Likewise, all families don't need or want a full-day program. Some parents choose to stay at home with their young children and are able to provide a level of enrichment and personal attention that no kindergarten could match. To legislate all-day kindergarten for every child is to deprive these children of valuable experiences and rich family time.

Perhaps the most dangerous push behind mandatory full-day kindergarten is the ratcheting up of kindergarten curriculum to prepare students for standardized testing - a trend reported in Tuesday's Enquirer. Enrichment is wonderful, especially for students who need extra help with readiness skills or socialization. But pushing elementary skills and concepts down into the kindergarten curriculum can be a developmental disaster.

Early childhood is one of the last bastions of individuality and nonconformity. It is a time for exploration and experimentation, when fitting the material to the child is more important than fitting the child to the material.

As long as kindergartners come in all shapes and sizes, we believe kindergarten programs should as well.

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