Kindergarten is more than snacks and blocks these days. Some states think kids shouldn’t have to go.
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On Sunday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a law making kindergarten obligatory. He said it would have cost the state about $268 million annually, and there wasn’t room in the budget. Proponents of the mandate say kindergarten helps close an opportunity gap for kids, many of whom haven’t been enrolling in the wake of the pandemic.
Kindergarten has changed since Fanny Roman was a student several decades ago. “I remember nap time, snack time and play,” she said, laughing.
Now, Roman is a kindergarten teacher at a public school in New York City. Nap time is gone, the kids eat apples instead of Oreos and even snack time has an academic component.
“It’s a working snack,” she said. “Almost like, you know, we’re either listening to a story or they’re writing and eating a snack.”
Roman also has time set aside just for play but said there’s pressure from the school district for the children to meet certain reading and math targets before moving on to first grade.
Kindergarten is also a key time for kids to acquire social skills — like, for example, not biting people they disagree with.
“There’s the kind of old adage of ‘Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten, of course,'” said Max Crowley, a professor at Penn State who studies human development.
He said kindergarten has evolved from making kids into good workers to helping them learn how to learn. “That leads them to then get better grades, to be able to navigate the social system that schools are so they don’t get in trouble, so that they can be successful, that they can be happy.”
Crowley calls kindergarten an essential first step — one many kids have been missing.
Vicki Bentley with the Home School Legal Defense Association argues that the kindergarten of today isn’t right for some kids.
“They have a lot of gifts in a lot of areas, but academics at this level aren’t it. And so they feel pressured. This affects their self-confidence,” she said. “Whereas if we would just let them move at their own pace, when they’re ready, they will pick that up.”
Bentley said mandatory kindergarten funding should go toward educating parents how to teach kids at home.
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