That’s the question posed by a working paper out of the University of Virginia in January. It’s something that has bothered me since my own kids were in kindergarten ten years ago. I remember kindergarten as a place of play and learning to get along with others. I didn’t start learning to write the alphabet until first grade, though I do remember my mom going through flash cards with me during kindergarten. I always thought that kindergarten was more of a socializing stage, where you learned to share and learned the first rudiments of conflict resolution. A formalized curriculum was not the order of the day. My kids, on the other hand, learned their ABCs in kindergarten, and regularly brought home projects to be completed. They had spelling tests every Friday, and at the end of the year there was a little graduation ceremony with caps and gowns and diplomas. Pretty scary.
“In some ways, kindergarten classrooms in 2006 do, in fact, look more like first grade classrooms in the late nineties than they do kindergarten classrooms. Specifically, the increase in time spent on ELA as well as the drop in time spent on art and music, are more aligned with the time-use patterns reported by first grade teachers…we find strong evidence that, relative to their counterparts in 1998, kindergarten teachers in 2006 are far more likely to believe that academic instruction in literacy and mathematics should begin in the preschool and kindergarten years.” (p. 21) The study also stated that there was a trend toward less time spent in PE activities, which could negatively impact the benefit children receive from physical activities.
Bottom line, the effect of the changes of kindergarten from 1998 to 2006 remains “an open-ended question.” Teaching academic content “need not be at odds with ‘play’ and other types of pedagogical approaches considered developmentally appropriate in early childhood.” (p. 22) Somehow, some way, the pendulum has to swing to find a happy medium in teaching academic content in a pedagogically appropriate manner, ensuring we don’t mess up our kids any more than is absolutely necessary.