Kindergarten is the New Middle School


Kindergarten is the new middle school!

I’ve been struck lately by how serious kindergarten has become in the past decade.  Gone are the fingerpaints, the blocks, the clay, the sandbox. Who has time for play when there is so much academic work to do? Yet that is just the thing – play is the developmentally appropriate work of children. In fact, not playing enough during the kindergarten year sets some children up for trouble in later school years.


Five year-olds need to figure out how to share, wait their turn, listen to others, take on the point of view of others, explore space, explore balance, problem solve – these skills are essential for success in elementary school classrooms – and these skills are learned in interaction with others. Playing together in the dress-up area is all about learning to get along with others. Building a city with blocks is all about balance and sharing and compromise.


These days children are not doing nearly as much playing in kindergarten as their parents used to do. The way we are doing kindergarten these days, it’s as if we had mistaken little five year-olds for middle schoolers. This uncomfortable fit has made it not so easy for children to love kindergarten these days. Many feel the stress of their teachers, who worry their students won’t measure up. Many feel the stress of being asked to do things all day long that aren’t really what they are meant developmentally to be doing. Most are exhausted by kindergarten.


I wondered if there were any principals left brave enough to encourage their teachers to run kindergartens the way educators honestly believe they should be structured.  I asked around a bit here in Maine and was told it would be unlikely to find kindergartens organized with the best interests of the children in mind.  I was told that teachers and principals alike have been cowed into running “serious kindergartens.” Everyone is afraid, even at this stage in the education race, that if they spend much of their school time playing, then the children won’t perform well on standardized measures.


Imagine my utter delight then when coming across the blog of Renée Dinnerstein, an early childhood educator in New York, whose blog champions those kindergartens whose mission is to promote inquiry, exploration, and choice. I recommend you take a look. It turns out that there are still sensible kindergartens out there that turn on the belief that a curriculum should match the developmental stage of a child.  Done right, a ‘playful’ kindergarten is rigorous, invigorating, and prepares children best for a lifetime of learning.

Please follow this link and enjoy!

Then take a minute to draft a message to your local elementary school, encouraging the principal there to resist conformity and do what is right for the children.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.