Recently I overheard a conversation on the Today Show debating whether or not it is appropriate to take kids out of school for family vacations. One of the hosts mentioned that he didn’t think it was a big deal when kids were young because they aren’t missing as much as say, a high school junior. Despite being a Pre-K teacher myself, I could definitely see his point. And, ultimately I do believe it is up to parents to decide what is best for their children when it comes to time off from school. However, what struck me as sad and disappointing was the response from America’s most beloved weatherman. He agreed with his co-host by saying, “Yea, kindergarten is just coloring and graham crackers.”
I get it. It’s been a while since Mr. Roker has attended kindergarten. And, besides some cute segments where anchors “go back to school” to do science experiments or play with young kids, he has no real experience as an educator. So, as an early childhood educator myself, let me be the one to help school our country’s favorite meteorologist on what kindergarten is all about these days.
While early childhood education (ages birth-8) does not have the same type of rigor or high stakes as middle or high school, it is a WHOLE lot more than coloring and graham crackers. (Although wouldn’t that be a fun job?!) Early elementary and even preschool has changed dramatically over the years. While many in the education world would argue that the demands on young children these days are not always developmentally appropriate (I agree), they are increasingly challenging. Gone are the days of naps and free time. Kindergarten is no joke, y’all!
While most teachers I know go to great lengths to go above the required standards and provide ways for children to learn through hands-on activities, movement, and play, the truth is, what is expected of young children goes beyond what most people imagine as “kindergarten.” Today’s kindergarteners are learning sight words, word families, comprehension skills, how to add and subtract, to sort and classify, map skills and even beginning economics. They are doing all of this while developing social skills, learning school rules, and understanding how to be a good citizen. They are assessed on computers, pulled in small groups for intervention, and identified for special services. Their teachers have advanced degrees where they took classes in Child Development, Psychology, Literacy Skills, Special Education, and English Language Learning.
Look, I understand that we often think of kindergarten as a time of fun and carefree learning, but there is so much more to it. While it may be just a passing joke on the part of old Al, there is a stereotype of kindergarten teachers that downplays the hard work that goes into their profession. When we make comments that imply that early education is simply glorified babysitting, it perpetuates the notion that they should be paid as such and be given that level of respect. When in all actuality, they are helping to raise our children and laying the most important building blocks to their future. Our discussions about these years of education should reflect the esteem and regard that early educators deserve.
So if you want to take your little one out of school for a family vacation, go right ahead. Those experiences of travel and quality time are beyond important. But, just don’t do it by justifying your child’s absences as only missing “graham crackers and coloring.” And, if you are still not convinced that what’s going in early childhood education is big and important, feel free to stop by my classroom, Mr. Roker.