All-day kindergarten not answer
Feb. 7, 2004 12:00 AM
Both sides of the all-day kindergarten debate are right.
On the pro side, many of Arizona's schoolchildren do need to arrive at school
better prepared for learning.
On the con side, state-funded all-day kindergarten will be extremely expensive,
and it is exactly what detractors call it: state-funded day care. While all-day
kindergarten is very popular with two-income families who must juggle schedules
and finances, more day care isn't really what ill-equipped children need. What
they need is enriching, formative, experiences in a nurturing environment, at a
very young age.
Since too many parents aren't supplying those experiences, teachers increasingly
are expected to make readers and good citizens out of understimulated,
undercared for, poorly disciplined 5-year-olds. These are the 5-year olds who do
not know their last names or alphabet. They cannot tie their shoes or sit and
listen to a story. They are unfamiliar with "please" and "thank you," and they
do not know how to hold a pencil, much less a pair of scissors.
But longer schooldays for 5-year-olds are not the answer.
Sally Engram of Waddell has taught kindergarten for 12 years. She doesn't see
the benefit of an all-day program. "Schools would need more space, more
teachers, and more money," she says. And an all-day program doesn't mean more
learning. "The all-day classes just stretch things out. They don't cover any
more curriculum." Even if they did, how much information can a 5-year old absorb
in one day?
Engram's concerns aren't just academic. "Even three hours is a long time for
some of these kids. They get tired. They miss their moms. They want to go home,"
she says. "They are just 5, really babies, after all."
Mary Kae Vranesic of Avondale taught publicly funded half-day junior and senior
kindergarten for 11 years in Toronto. That city faces many of the same
challenges as Arizona, not the least of which is large populations of
non-English speakers. The program takes kids as young as 3 and focuses on social
and emotional development, self-reliance, reading readiness and phonics.
"The philosophy there is to get them younger, not longer," Vranesic says. And it
works. "Their brains are such sponges at the younger age. They are less
inhibited. It is a fun environment that fosters a love of learning."
Instead of throwing tax-payers money into all-day programs that simply warehouse
kids for an extra three hours a day, let's invest in programs that will really
increase the readiness of kindergarteners. We should implement or strengthen
high school programs that address parenting with an emphasis on how early
childhood experiences affect future learning. Then, we should offer half-day
pre-kindergarten to 3- and 4-year-olds who are young enough to benefit from an
early childhood development and school readiness program.
For the fortunate little kids who have nurturing, stimulating experiences
outside of school walls, where they are engaged in physical, social, and
intellectual activities with loving, attentive adults, all-day kindergarten and
preschool must never be mandatory. These are kids whose after-school day-care
provider takes them to a park and sings to them; kids who go to the zoo with
mom, get a story on Grandpa's lap and get a regular nap. For these kids,
premature institutionalization would mean the end of a rich chunk of childhood.
As for the free day care, it enables non-parenting. Our state Legislature needs
to say no. That's not the mission of public schools and it is not the
responsibility of taxpayers.
Kathryn Simpson was raised in Phoenix. She has lived in
the southwest Valley for nine years. She is the mother of two and a community
advocate. She can be reached at simpsonscolumn@ yahoo.com via e-mail. The views
expressed are those of the author.