Pressure-cooker kindergarten

Our decision to homeschool began when we moved from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania with a five-year-old, and found there was no option for half-day kindergarten. We decided the move was stressful enough, and since school attendance wasn’t mandatory until age 7, we decided to handle the afternoon naps, storytimes, and playing-with-blocks ourselves. As long as our kids continue to thrive, we’ll continue to homeschool.

It’s been more than two decades since Robert Fulghum published the oft-quoted (and oft-mocked) essay “All I Really
Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The piece describes a bucolic
world of wonder, a place for cookies and afternoon naps.

That world is long gone.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit advocacy group Alliance for
Childhood, based just outside Washington, D.C., issued a report titled
“Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in Schools,”
drawing from nine new studies of public school classrooms around the
country. Kindergartners in the studies spent four to six times as much
of the school day being drilled in literacy and math as they did

Recess has been truncated or has disappeared entirely in some
schools, a double whammy, since children are stressed out by the
demands and also deprived of their major stress reliever. The report
cites study after study showing increasing stress, aggression, and
other behavior problems, and even breakdowns.

Roz Brezenoff taught kindergarten in the Boston Public Schools for
36 years, retiring five years ago. “I have heard stories of kids having
what they call psychotic breakdowns in kindergarten, kids who are
distressed because they are ‘kindergarten failures’ because they can’t
read and they can’t write,” she says.

To be sure, many children thrive in an academic environment, and
some parents seek out institutions like the Edward Brooke Charter
School in Roslindale, which bills itself as “unapologetically college
preparatory.” Teachers there assign nightly homework in kindergarten.
But many children that age are not ready for that kind of work, and all
are being held to new standards. —Patti Hartigan,

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