How to parent like a German

Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

Core kindergarten: It’s not that hard

Common Core isn’t too hard for kindergarteners, argues Robert Pondiscio in Education Next.  

The Core’s call for kids to learn fundamental literacy skills will push out play-based learning, argues a report, titled Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose.  That could harm children.

There’s nothing new about expecting kindergartens to learn the alphabet or know that print is read from left to right, says Pondiscio. The report complains about only one Common Core expectation: By the end of kindergarten, children should be able to “[r]ead emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”

That means kids about to enter first grade should be able to read “I am Sam and I am an ant,” writes Pondiscio. We’re not talking Proust.

 Most kids can already read simple texts by the end of kindergarten. And those who struggle early tend to continue to struggle—both in school and in life. The authors are absolutely correct that telling stories, reading from picture books, singing songs, reciting poems, activity centers, and imaginative play all help build literacy skills. That’s why none of those are discouraged by Common Core.

The report suggests the Core forces kindergarten teachers to turn their classrooms into “joyless grinding mills” with all work and no play. That’s silly, writes Pondiscio. “Nothing in Common Core—not one blessed thing—precludes schools and teachers from creating safe, warm, nurturing classrooms that are play-based, engaging, and cognitively enriching.”

If kindergarten teachers don’t know how to use songs, stories, games and activities to introduce children to early reading skills, teacher education programs should show them how, he writes.

Most parents teach these skills at home. Their kids are far beyond “I am Sam” by the end of kindergarten. Other children need to be taught in school.

Kindergarten reading: Is it bad for kids?

Teaching reading in kindergarten could be harmful to kids who aren’t ready, argues a new report by Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood. Furthermore, there’s no advantage in learning early, the writers argue.

Common Core State Standards call for children to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding”  by the end of kindergarten. That pressures kindergarten (and some preschool) teachers to use “inappropriate” teaching methods instead of “the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need.”

In my day, kids were introduced to Dick, Jane and Sally in first grade. Parents were told not to teach their kids to read earlier, lest they “do it wrong.” (My sister taught me when I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade.)

These days, what used to be the first-grade curriculum is taught in kindergarten and first grade has turned into second grade. That’s great for some kids, not so great for others.

5-year-old crayon pointer signs no-kill contract

A five-year-old kindergarten girl drew something that looked vaguely like a gun, then pointed a crayon at a classmate and said “pew, pew.” She wasn’t suspended! She was forced to sign a contract promising not to commit homicide or suicide, reports Reason’s Hit & Run blog.
Suicide contract

The girl was able to print her first name.

Her mother, who’d been called to the school, was not present, she told NBC News.

The little girl was given a psychological evaluation, says the mother. “My child interrupted us and said, ‘what is suicide? Mommy, daddy, what is suicide?'”

I’ve just been visiting the step-grandkids, who are five and three. They may know that a spider is an arachnid and therefore has eight legs (that was from the preschooler), but they are little kids.

Into the big world


On her new blog, Love, Hope & Coffee, my stepdaughter Gina writes about “the start of letting go.” Her older daughter is now a kindergartner.

At “kindergarten curriculum night,” the literary specialist talked about “print concepts and phonemic awareness” and how their children soon will be “reading and writing at a level once reserved for second graders.”

I can’t believe all five-year-olds are prepared for what used to be first- and second-grade work.

At the kindergarten “meet and greet,” J says a shy hello to the teacher.

I feel a rush of pride and want to say, “Look, see, here she is!! My daughter, my superstar! Can’t you just tell from the way she said ‘hello’ that she is really smart and creative??”

In the next moment, J derails any hope of a pristine first impression when she begins to argue with her sister over whose turn it is to sit on the crayon stool a few feet away. . . . J pushes L off the stool in the swift, ruthless motion of an older sibling asserting her will. L’s head hits the floor and she wails, her cries piercing the stuffy air . . .

L is starting preschool. It will be easier than being a little sister.

On her first day of kindergarten, my daughter asked me to open the car door.

“Aren’t you going to say ‘little pig, little pig, let me come in’?” I asked.

“I’m in kindergarten now,” she replied.

And I sent her into the big wide world.

One very big kindergarten

Brenda Scott Academy kindergartners come together in May to work on a Mother’s Day project. The three teachers, Sarah Hay, Michaela McArthur and Sara Ordaz, regroup the children for different lessons. Credit: Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press


Three teachers and a part-time aide are teaching nearly 100 kindergarteners in the “hub” (formerly the library) of a low-performing Detroit school, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Each teacher has a homeroom, math and reading class. For reading and math, kids are put in a high-, middle- or low-level group and move to the corresponding teacher’s section. There, activities can include whole-group lessons, small-group lessons and instructional games on laptops. Writing is taught in homeroom.

The entire group spends time together, too, such as on a day in May when about 70 students (a number were absent) sat on a rug to watch a teacher demonstrate how to cut out a paper watering can from an outline. A paraprofessional helps out two hours a day.

Grouping students by performance lets advanced students “really push each other, and just excel that much more and that much faster,” teacher Sara Ordaz said. “The same thing with our lowest kids.”

Many are skeptical.

“I would never put my child in that kind of experience,” said Joan Firestone, director of early childhood education for Oakland Schools.  “I think it’s too chaotic. There’s too many kids and too few adults.”

MOOKs (Massive Outrageous One-room Kindergarten) are a very bad idea, writes Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land.

Open classrooms were a fad in the ’70s. It didn’t work then.

But it’s possible to group students by performance without putting 90+ five-year-olds in the same large room. Elementary teachers did it in the ’50s. I believe I was a Robin. Or possibly a Bluebird.

Starting out behind

Some children are almost a year behind when they start kindergarten, according to Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry, a Mathematica analysis. Four risk factors — single-parent household, mother with less than a high school education, low-income household and non-English speaking household — correlate with kindergarten readiness.

The more risk factors, the worse kids do. Forty-four percent have one risk factor, 13 percent have two and 6 percent have three or four.


The number of high-risk kindergarteners has not improved since the 1998-99 cohort of students and may be getting worse, notes EdCentral.

Are you smart enough for kindergarten?

Are You Smart Enough to Get Into Private Kindergarten? asks Some of New York City’s most elite private schools will require four-year-olds to take a new, harder admissions test.

ERB‘s Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners  (AABL) costs $65, rather than $568 for the old test, because the new test doesn’t require a trained examiner. Kids take it on an iPad. But “experts believe many parents will shell out even more on classes and books to prepare their toddlers.”

“The AABL is supposed to identify a child’s ability and achievement,” said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting. Achievement for preschoolers? That’s “totally new,” she says.

Here are five sample questions from the test. All seem to be measuring intelligence rather than knowledge. I got 100 percent — but one answer (see below) was a 50-50 guess. I still don’t know why my answer was correct. If I’d seen this when I was four . . .

Which completes the pattern?


Kindergarten show canceled for college prep

Kindergarteners won’t sing or dance for their parents this year at Harley Avenue Primary School in Long Island. The annual kindergarten show was canceled to because it takes time from college and career prep reports the New York Post.

“We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers,” Principal Ellen Best-Laimit told parents in a letter. “What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.”

In the 21st century, the performing arts have no educational value.

The school was closed for a number of snow days over the winter. Apparently, the five- and six-year-olds have fallen behind.

Study: Kindergarten is too easy

Kindergarten may be the new first grade, but kids learn more when teachers expose them to advanced reading and math content, instead of sticking to letters and numbers, concludes a new study. Students don’t benefit from “basic content coverage,” researchers write. “Interestingly, this is true regardless of whether they attended preschool, began kindergarten with more advanced skills, or are from families with low income.”

Mrs. Lipstick, a first-grade teacher, has mixed thoughts on Organized Chaos.

When we “teach up” kids do tend to learn more, often because we are giving more meaning behind the basic, rote concepts we want them to learn. This is why I saw so much progress in my intellectual disabilities class last year. Not knowing another way to teach I simply taught the class the way I would run a general education classroom- and the kids responded by soaking it all in.

I still had to provide small group work and individual, direct instruction that worked on basics like what is a word vs a letter, or even what is a picture vs a letter.

Cramming academics only isn’t the answer, writes Mrs. Lipstick. Children can learn through play.