Tonawanda News

June 20, 2013

In praise of pre-Kindergarten

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Every once in a while, you hear someone grumbling (or read a Sound-Off), asking why school districts need to provide pre-kindergarten programs for their students. 

Can’t parents pay for outside child-care themselves if they want to get rid of their kids during the day? (Grumble.) And back in their day, kindergarten was plenty. (Grumble.) In fact, half-day kindergaren was just fine. (Grumble, grumble.) In fact, even that was optional. (Epic grumbling.)

Now, I remember kindergarten (dimly) as a time of basic letters and numbers, naptimes and snacks and struggling to master the tying of the shoelaces. Nothing that needs a lot of background, right? By first grade, we were learning to read (oh happy day!), but kindergarten was mainly socialization and the very basics. Nothing for which the average 5-year-old needed much preparation.

But, folks, things have changed since 1979.

Kid No. 2, a recent Ken-Ton pre-K graduate, proudly brought home his “report card” at the end of the school year this week, an assessment of his progress both at the middle of the year and now at the end. He was scored on an array of the skills he needs to know to be ready for kindergarten and beyond. 

In addition to characteristics of a successful learner (such as “focuses during teacher-directed activities” and “uses technology appropriate to grade level”), motor skills (such as “holds writing tools properly”) and life and self-help skills (such as “puts on own outdoor clothing independently”) are goals in literacy development, math and science and social studies. Such as:

• Describes the role of an author and illustrator.

• Demonstrates understanding of the organization and basic features of print.

• Uses a combination of drawing, dictating or writing to express an opinion or compose informative/explanatory text, with prompting and support.

• Participates in experiments and other science activities.

That doesn’t sound like the preschool of my youth. That doesn’t even sound like the kindergarten I remember. My parents, who were astounded when I read them the above skills, agreed. Why would 4-year-olds need to know that sort of thing?

But they do.

Standards keep changing, for better or worse, and children are expected to know more heading into their kindergarten years than their parents or grandparents did before them. You can blame that on increasing testing (and I know folks who do) and state standards, but at its core, it’s not a bad thing. Kids will surprise you with how much they can rise to the challenge ... with a little bit of help. Mine did.

Thanks to that, I’m heading into the summer knowing my son is ready for the challenges ahead. Some of that is him, some of that is us — but a lot of it is the pre-K teachers who worked so hard to give him a good start, and to let us know how to help even more.

It’s something you can’t value too much.

•••

There’s a television commercial that used to run every late summer or fall that I love.

To the tune of the Christmasy “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” gleeful-looking parents are shown frolicking around a department store while their offspring, who wear downcast, somewhat petulant frowns, lag glumly behind them. Even before I had children, I thought it was funny. 

Now, I think it’s hysterical. 

Even the most loving parent knows that within a week or two of the end of the school year, the rugrats who were so happy and excited to be out of class for the summer will be bored, whiny and sick of their progenitors. Who will be heartily sick of their bored and whiny offspring. Did I mention that they’re bored? Boooored, I tell you.

Local school districts wrap up their classes and head into summer this week, and the notion of time off is still shiny and new and really sort of cool for my kids. But eventually, all that shiny is going to rub off.

We’re dealing with it by doing what generations of parents before us have done: Scheduling the heck out of their summers. This leads to other stresses (the season hasn’t even started yet and I already feeling like Mommy’s Taxi Service), but if it curtails the whining and restlessness, I’m all for it. Bonus if they actually manage to learn something while they’re at it.

Here’s where we’re lucky: There’s actually a lot to do around here over the summer for kids. I particularly recommend the Town of Tonawanda summer track program, which accepts children as young as 3 and is particularly good at absorbing the energy of even the most restless of kids. (Ask me how I know this.) And each of the Tonawandas-area municipalities has a summer playground rec program, all of which either have started or are about to begin. (See the Tonawanda News this weekend for a roundup.)

I won’t say the summer will be whine-free ... but it won’t be for lack of trying.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com.