The year my son Sam started kindergarten, he turned 6 in October. He was one of the oldest children in his class, and he didn’t know how to read. When he started first grade he was almost 7, and he still didn’t know how to read. Fortunately for Sam, he entered first grade in 1999. And his teachers, Mrs. Gantt and Mrs. Floyd, didn’t panic if a child didn’t learn to read in kindergarten. In fact, they expected that most children would be learning to read in first grade. (They also supported and encouraged children who easily learned to read in kindergarten, like Sam’s brother Ben.)
If Sam had started first grade this year, however, he probably would have been labelled as “slow” or “behind.” Because the new standard is that children should be learning to read in kindergarten. Even though most educators know that many children aren’t ready to learn to read until first grade. Even though countries like Finland educate kindergarteners by allowing them to play, not teaching them to academic skills. And even though the new standard causes teachers, parents and even children themselves to worry that something is “wrong” if children aren’t reading when they arrive in the first grade classroom.
But guess what? Sam wasn’t “slow” or “behind,” and neither are most of the other children who don’t read in kindergarten. Sam became a fair reader by the end of first grade, and a good reader by third grade. By the time he reached high school he was an honors student. And last weekend, he graduated from college – with a 3.93 grade point average.
So what happens when education standards require that children like Sam learn to read in kindergarten and that teachers like Mrs. Gantt and Mrs. Floyd had better make it happen? Many educators say the result is ineffective and counterproductive classroom practices. Which means that many children actually learn and retain less than they would in a developmentally-appropriate kindergarten classroom.