Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Kindergarten Has Changed

By Deana Nall

Published in The Baytown Sun on December 08, 2004

I think I’m getting the hang of this kindergarten thing.

Almost four months into my oldest daughter’s academic career, I have finally hit the rhythm of filling backpacks, making lunches, signing behavior reports, checking homework, reading her the lunch menu, tracking Accelerated Reader points, setting her clothes out every night and leaving the house by 7:40 every morning.

I gotta tell you, I’m tired.

Of course, Julia is never tired. She’d go to school seven days a week if she could. It’s not unusual for me to wake up (too early) on a Saturday morning to a 5-year-old bouncing on the bed saying, “Hey, Mommy! Want to hear me count to 100?”

“Make it a million,” I tell her. “Wake me up when you’re done.”

Actually, I think Julia does get enough of her new schedule at times. She’s just having too much fun to care.

But if you ask me, I think 36 hours and 15 minutes of school every week is a bit much for a 5-year-old. I didn’t work that many hours a week at my last job.

And it’s not just the schedule that has kindergartners and their parents worn out. Kindergarten is harder than it used to be. The Washington Post reported last week that curriculum once reserved for first-graders is now being pushed down to the


“It’s no longer playing and just socialization,” said Susan Benezra, principal of McNair Elementary School in Herndon, Va. “Everything has an academic bent.”

Since Julia started kindergarten in August, I’ve been comparing her first-year-of-school experience to my own. I went to kindergarten in Roswell, N.M. (This was when the government was still keeping the UFO crash there a tightly-guarded secret. I had my suspicions, though. The kid who sat next to me ate a lot of glue. I think he may have been one of “them.”) It was good to be a kindergartner in 1976. I caught the bus early in the morning, went to school, came home and had lunch with my mom while we both watched “Guiding Light.” Then I took a nap. It was an easy life.

Plus, I was cute as all get-out.

Back then, half-day kindergartens like mine were the norm. Today, 60 percent of American kindergartners go all day, like Julia (who, incidentally, is also cute as all get-out.). At Travis Elementary, where she attends, the schedule allows for art, music and theatre arts. But in many schools across the nation, such classes have been cut for more math and reading.

School districts just want their kindergartners to be ready for first grade, which is understandable. But sometimes, while Julia is in school, I glance wistfully into her empty room. It’s stayed pretty clean since August, and not because she’s finally learned to pick up after herself. She simply doesn’t have time to play at home anymore. I want my daughter to learn and be prepared for life’s academic challenges. And she is having a great time at school. I just don’t want home to be a place where she only does homework and sleeps. I want her to enjoy being a kid.

Next time she wakes me up on a Saturday morning, I think I’ll pull her into bed with me and turn the TV on to something completely non-educational. I’m going to make sure she knows how to take it easy before adulthood gets its schedule-dominating hands on her.

Who knows. We might even eat some glue.

Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is


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