Parents pay $1,000 for a week of kinder prep

For $1,000 a week, a private kindergarten prep “boot camp” will ready the children of the affluent and anxious for the “rigors of kindergarten,” reports Sonali Kohli for the Los Angeles Times.

Teacher Elizabeth Fraley teaches the days of the month to future kindergartners. Photo: Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep director Elizabeth Fraley reviews the days of the month. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep, a summer program in Santa Monica, primarily enrolls kids headed for private school.

Nearly all kids in this demographic have attended one or two years of preschool. But director Elizabeth Fraley insists they need to prepare for today’s academic kindergartens, where there will be “no play.”

In addition to the group session, some of the children “had been signed up for separate one-on-one sessions that cost $120 to $200 an hour,” reports Kohli.

 In addition to writing (with help) and listening to the teacher read a book, KinderPrep students practice walking in single file and packing their materials into folders.
Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of the animals to a board. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of lions and polar bears to a board. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

“At snack time, the children could partake in organic fruit, gummies and aloe water provided by the program, though many brought their own food because of dietary restrictions,” writes Kohli. “Fraley said she’s seen paté.”

Kindergarten isn’t just the new first grade, according to promoters of school “readiness.” It seems to be the new college — only with less play.

In my view, some parents are suckers. They read a carefully chosen book every night, feed the kids organic kale, quinoa and edamame salads and pay for the best preschool. Then they think little Aidan needs a kinder boot camp — and perhaps a $200-an-hour tutorial — so he can be the best, darn line walker and month identifier in kindergarten.

My younger (step)granddaughter will start kindergarten in a few weeks. She has a sophisticated vocabulary, a flair for math — and a lot to learn about self-control. She has time.

It takes ’30+ letters’ to be kinder ready

Kindergarten readiness includes knowing “30+ letters,” complains a Hamilton County, Ohio mother on Reddit.

Kinders also are supposed to start the year being able to “cut with scissors correctly” and follow two- to three-step instructions.

My father almost flunked kindergarten because he couldn’t cut with scissors. He didn’t have the coordination for it, even by the end of kindergarten. However, he could read, so they passed him along. My brothers had similar coordination issues that made art projects an ordeal.

I learned to read in kindergarten — my sister, who was in first grade taught me — but it was easier back in the 1950s . We only had 26 letters.

‘Redshirting’ has little benefit

Delaying kindergarten entry for a year — aka “redshirting” — doesn’t help kids much in the long run, writes Michael Hansen, a Brookings researcher and father of a boy who’s turning five this summer.

An estimated 3.5 to 5.5 percent of kids eligible for kindergarten — usually boys born in the summer months — are held back each year. Affluent whites, who can afford another year of preschool, are the most likely to redshirt.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers popularized the idea that older students have an advantage, but follow-up research studies have found “negligible” benefits, writes Hansen. “The testing advantage for being the oldest tends to diminish with time.”

Being the oldest, highest achiever in the class could even be a negative, he warns. Older male students are more likely to drop out.

Kinders read more, play less

Kindergarteners are reading more and playing less, concludes a University of Virginia study.

In 1998, before No Child Left Behind put the focus on achievement gaps, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers expected their students to learn to read that year. By 2010, 80 percent believed kindergarteners should be learning to read.

Seventy-three percent of kindergarteners took a standardized test in 2010. That’s more than first graders took in 1998. Kindergarten teachers weren’t asked about testing. writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Fewer teachers offer music and art every day and there were “notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Daphna Bassok, the study’s lead author.

There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentages of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.

However, children are more likely to have recess and just as likely to have a P.E. class.

With the sharp rise in preschool enrollment, teachers may expect more from students, writes Kamenetz. That leads to a sort of academic arms race: 1 in 5 kindergarteners is already six years old as more parents may wait a year to enroll a child who’s not ready for reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and testing.

Preschool kids work more, learn less

Preschool won’t close the achievement gap as long as teachers focus on kindergarten prep and neglect conversation, writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic. “Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less,” she argues.

“A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool,” she writes.

Four-year-olds are asked to sit still and complete pencil-and-paper tasks that are beyond their motor skills and attention spans, writes Christakis. But it doesn’t work.

One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes,” Christakis points out.

A Vanderbilt study found low-income children who attended Tennessee’s publicly funded preschools started kindergarten with more “school readiness” skills than a control group. By first grade, teachers rated the preschool grads as “less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” the researchers write. They blame burn out.

The average preschool program “narrows the achievement gap by perhaps only 5 percent,” estimates Robert Pianta, a leading child policy expert. Research suggests higher-quality preschools could cut the gap by 30 to 50 percent, he writes.

Quality preschools “provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language,” writes Christakis.

. . . their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.

. . . In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.

Conversation is the golden key, she writes.

More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

The article comes from her book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

If the name sounds familiar, it is. As associate master of a Yale college, Christakis wrote an email saying that college students could pick their own Halloween costumes. Under heavy fire for racial insensitivity, she resigned her teaching job at Yale citing a “climate” on campus that is not “conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.”

Study: Kindergarten ‘red shirting’ works

Delaying kindergarten for one year dramatically reduced inattention and hyperactivity at age 11, according to The Gift of Time, a Stanford study.

The study was conducted in Denmark, where children enroll in kindergarten in the calendar year they turn six.  Those born in December are 5 3/4 when they start kindergarten; those born in January are 6 3/4.

Children glue leaves on paper for an art project in a Danish kindergarten class.

Danish kindergartners work on an art project using leaves.

Danish children can go to “reasonably good” preschool programs, said Thomas Dee, a Stanford education professor and co-author of the study. Delaying kindergarten may not benefit children who don’t have access to good pre-K.

About 20 percent of U.S. children now start kindergarten at age six instead of age five, researchers found. Most of the increase is due to “redshirting.” Parents want their child — especially a boy — to be more mature.

“It’s not just a question of when do you start kindergarten, but what do you do in those kindergarten classes?” Dee said. “If you make kindergarten the new first grade, then parents may sensibly decide to delay entry.”

Illiteracy isn’t as joyful in the U.S.

Teaching reading in kindergarten is a mistake, argues an expatriate teacher in an Atlantic paean to the “joyful, illiterate kindergartners of Finland.

We’re not Finns, responds reading expert Timothy Shanahan. The “whistle a happy tune” approach won’t work here.

Most Finnish parents are well-educated and literate, he writes. More than one-third of children enter school already reading, according to a government study.

Most U.S. kindergartens teach reading.

Most U.S. kindergartens teach reading.

In addition, the Finnish language may be the easiest language to learn to read, writes Shanahan. “The relationship between spelling and pronunciation is highly consistent, making it especially easy and quick to learn to decode.”

The Atlantic story quotes Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emeritus of early childhood education, who claims, “There isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long-term benefit from it.” The quote comes from a Defending the Early Years video.

As chair of the National Early Literacy Panel, Shanahan looked at the research, he writes. “We found long-term benefits from early learning.”

Where kindergarten is the new preschool

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In Finland, kindergarten is known as “preschool,” writes Tim Walker, an American who’s taught there. Children start school at six and learn by playing.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal  time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop.

“I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

. . . After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€.

Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Many of her 15 students will learn to read by the end of the year, Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah told Walker. “We don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it.”

Kindergarten is “the new first grade” in the U.S., according to a University of Virginia study. As more time is spent on literacy, children spend less time on arts, music and child-selected activities, such as rotating between “stations.”

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas told Walker in an e-mail.

(She described) three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math — on the fourth week of school.

. . . (She) has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.”

Last year, the district tried to remove the “house station with dolls and toy food” from the classroom.

Test prep for 5-year-olds

Test-prep-for-5-year-olds-is-a-real-thing, writes Phyllis Doerr, a New Jersey kindergarten teacher, in the Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet.

For the vocabulary test, the teachers says a word from the “nursery rhyme” unit, then reads a sentence with the word.  If word is used correctly and the sentence makes sense, students are supposed to circle a smiley face. If the word is used incorrectly, they should circle a frown.

“This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed,” writes Doerr.

The practice started with “market” from from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” “Who can tell me what a market is?” she asked.

One boy answered, “I like oranges.”

“Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?”

. . . Another student chimed in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nodded.

. . . Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

Students — those paying attention –nodded their heads.

“Girls and boys, look at me and listen,” I said. ” I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

Teaching vocabulary is valuable, but testing is meaningless and wastes time, concludes Doerr.

Is it so difficult for five-year-olds to understand whether a sentence makes sense? Does a no-stakes vocabulary test have to be stressful?

Too much homework for kids, too little for teens

Kindergarten, first- and second-graders are doing too much homework, while high schools students are doing too little, concludes a study of Rhode Island students published  by the American Journal of Family Therapy.

Duke Professor Harris Cooper’s “10-minute rule” calls for a maximum of 10 minutes a night in first grade, plus an additional 10 for every subsequent grade, writes Laura Moser on Slate. “That means that a third-grader should be doing roughly 30 minutes a night and a twelfth-grader should be doing 120. And kindergartners shouldn’t be doing any.”

“Primary school children received about three times the recommended load of homework,” based on the 10-minute rule, writes Moser. Kindergartners were averaging almost 25 minutes a night, while first- and second-graders were up to 30 minutes a night.

However, high-schoolers were averaging less than an hour a night instead of the 90 to 120 minutes recommended.

In affluent, educated communities, students are assigned lots of homework. Some of them actually do it. I don’t think homework loads are high for disadvantaged students.

The study was featured on CNN, writes Alexander Russo, but got bad reviews from education analysts on Twitter.