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Should my kindergartener's progress be further than 'where he should be'?
Q: My 5-year-old son is attending kindergarten and to me, he's progressing as he should. However, other parents are upset, saying that the school is not teaching the children as they should be. This is a private school and initially, the contract said that his was an advanced class. I've noticed that some of the other children get harder work and are further along than my son. I've had two conferences so far and both times it was just after listening to those disgruntled parents. The teacher tells me my son is where he should be, but if this is an advanced class, shouldn't he be further than "where he should be"? I'm confused…parenting is hard work!
A: You are entirely right. Parenting is hard work, and it never gets easy—not if you’re conscientious and try to do a good job. And one of the things that makes it hard is that there’s always somebody who’s trying to tell you what to do. As I suppose I fall into that category, I want to make clear that in your case I come down solidly on the side of your son’s teacher. Listen to her (and to me), and pay no attention to those disgruntled parents who have fallen victim to the push-push-push philosophy of early education that prevails today. As one who has for years stressed the importance of appropriate early experience for enabling a child to develop his or her potential fully, I deplore the way this idea has been distorted and abused. It is amazing to note how many parents now seem to think that, before starting kindergarten, their children should have skills that are traditionally taught in kindergarten.

If the private kindergarten your son attends is offering him a watered-down first grade curriculum in order to prove to parents that the school is upscale and “advanced,” then, no matter how much you might be paying, he is being cheated—cheated of one of the greatest educational experiences ever to be devised. A good kindergarten is one in which the curriculum fits the child (not the parents’ preconceptions) and in which the teaching style is appropriate for his level of development. By playing and working together, kindergarten children develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually. They improve their listening and speaking skills and become able to modulate their emotions. And yes, reading is taught in good kindergartens. But it is not taught by having the children laboriously copy letters and words that little fingers have trouble forming; it is taught by reading books to them, by having them make up and tell stories, and by talking and listening to them.

The next time you get into a discussion with some of the other parents, speak up for this position. You’ll actually be speaking up for your son—and for their children, as well. If they give you too much flak, you refer them to me!