Occupy Kindergarten

Experienced and innovative kindergarten teacher, Kurt Schwengel, poses a question during his Santa Monica TEDx talk.  “Why has kindergarten changed so much over the last 30 years when the kids have remained the same?”

His passion for teaching kindergarten is tremendous, and he intends to remain in that positon until his career ends or “they pry the crayon from his cold, dead hands!”  Despite this he says he no longer teaches kindergarten; He teaches 1st grade.  State Standards have forced him and all kindergarten teachers to teach reading at a level that was previously 1st grade.

“Think back to your kindergarten experience….It probably didn’t involve any reading.  It probably involved a lot of running around, blocks, crayons, getting into trouble, and social growth… But now it’s all reading,” Schwengel explains.  The state standards are filled with mandates about what these young kids should learn, but the one things it’s missing according to Schwengel is FUN!

Kurt Schwengel makes a vivid comparison between a typical kindergarten ‘curriculum’ in the 1970s to that of nowadays.  The state standards he must now teach are many, and the assessment he must give his kindergartners the first week is enough to crush the spirit of any 5 year old.  “How successful do you think they feel the first week of kindergarten being given this test”, he asks?  He adds, “What kindergarten was meant to be was a year of personal and social growth, we’ve turned it into a full academic year.”

Burdened with the mandates of state standards, it’s easy for a teacher to just give in and open the ‘box of curriculum’ and teach with worksheet upon worksheet.  “They would have us become a worksheet factory in kindergarten instead of that wonderful social year,” says Schwengel.  “It would just be worksheet after worksheet to meet these incredibly rigorous state standards.”

And the result, Schwengel warns, is that “we are creating a generation of kids who are not going to enjoy reading.”  He recalls his own youth when he learned to read in a fun and developmentally appropriate way.  He wasn’t tested in kindergarten and made to feel a failure.

His TEDx talk becomes more hopeful as he says that the state standards dictate what he must teach, they do not dictate how he does it.  His methods are brilliant, engaging and fun as his goal is “to hide the learning from the kids.”  He believes that kindergartners should be playing games– lots of games, including Go Fish with sight words instead of numbers, or learning to count by 2’s through classroom basketball!

Yes, kindergarten with Kurt Schwengel seems like a lot of fun–the way I feel kindergarten should be.

My own son just turned 5 and he attends a full-time PreK program at our local school.  PreK is the new kindergarten we’re told and even at this level, New York State has issued mandates.  The kids are already focused on writing and reading and math.  We’re lucky that our kids still have nap time, snack time, recess, art, music, library, and gym.  They are still allowed to engage in free-play.  And although the learning is kept to a minimum, I do worry at times that he’s still just not ready to sit there and be silent.  A good portion of this “learning” is done with worksheets and that concerns me as well.  My son hates them.

My son has a friend who is just two months older than he.  She made the age cut-off to start school a year earlier so she is now in kindergarten in another district.  She does not have nap time.  Her mother has shown me the many Pearson worksheets she does on a DAILY basis– usually around 8 a day.  Her recess period is only 20 minutes at the end of the day.  Her classroom teacher uses a system of discipline that punishes the children by taking away a portion or all of recess.  There have been days when my son’s friend has be punished for falling asleep at her table.  She has lost precious recess minutes on several occasions.

When I watched Kurt Schwengel’s TEDx talk, I had to smile and think, “this is what kindergarten should be like!”  This is what it could be like.  Our school principal has said on several occasions something similar to what Schwengel said.  The state might dictate curriculum, but teachers are free to teach that curriculum in any innovative and creative way they choose.  But will they?

I’m hopeful that there are more teachers like Schwengel out there, but I’m not yet convinced.  Will my son’s kindergarten experience be filled with fun and play?  Or will he receive a worksheet curriculum, a crushed spirit, and an atrophied sense of curiosity and wonder?  I’m scared to death.  I can’t let that happen.  I won’t let that happen.


3 thoughts on “Occupy Kindergarten

  1. Pingback: Occupy Kindergarten | Tadika2U.com - Early Childhood Education

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