Myriad books, studies and articles have been written regarding the early maturity of children including tweens (a whole new category of consumer) and kindergarteners expected to perform at the first grade level. Let me share a secret that most early childhood educators already know - growth and development are not the same as learning. If you believe the definition used in most psychology and education classes, "learning" is a change in behavior that is repeated over time. Children "learn" lots of things - a two year old can "learn" to respond accordingly when shown a symbol like, for example, a letter "A". But, according to their natural growth and development, it is inappropriate for them to feel the pressure of "learning" that material in a traditional manner; for example, worksheets, drill and kill, and phonics instruction.
This article was about the pressure that pre-schoolers feel to perform and "learn." But who is applying this pressure? In the early 90s, Saturday Night Live had a skit with the comedian Bob Newhart in which he plays a psychologist dealing with a woman who has a variety of phobias. He listens attentively and then says, " Do you have a piece of paper? You might need to take notes when I tell you how to deal with your phobias. Are you ready? Ready? Here it is - STOP IT!!!" That is my advice to the parents. Read your developmental continua and realize, Kindergarteners don't need to know how to read by the time they LEAVE kindergarten much less when they enter it! So STOP IT! Let them be children; expose them to environmental text, talk to them, LISTEN TO THEM talk to you and play with letters and sounds - have fun!
If parents stop pushing their children to do things that aren't developmentally appropriate, then the next stakeholders are the teachers. In my book about the cliches and "slogans" of teacher education, I write about what happens when teachers close their doors and all the policy decisions, AYPs and district mandates go out the window in favor of what the students need to learn. We need to do more of that and be open about it. Every now and again I hear stories of "whistleblowers" and "troublemakers" who buck the system and that others won't because of the risk. There are some times when it is possible for an employer to say to a group of employees that they are all fired unless they follow procedure. That, generally, isnt the case in education. There are contracts to consider, union rules, parents' outcry and other barriers to releasing an entire school. The Bush White House made it so that an entire school could be "reconstituted" that wont happen any longer because the emphasis is waning on NCLB. But even in that scenario, if parents, unions, teachers, and administrators all said, we are NOT applying unnecessary pressure onto our youngest and most vulnerable, impressionable and valuable resource - our Ks; there is little that could be done in retribution. Especially not for the sake of some arbitrary academic goal.
And that is what it is...an arbitrary goal that, studies show, has no long term benefit for children. "Learning" to read earlier does not mean that child is ahead of the curve. It means they have ingested some rote skills but cant apply them until late 1st and 2nd grade BECAUSE THAT IS WHEN IT IS DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE FOR THEM TO ACQUIRE AND USE THOSE SKILLS (i apologize for yelling - it is for effect). Allow children to be children, let them play, let them discover, that is how we all learn most effectively and that is developmentally appropriate practice.