Is Kindergarten Too Much, Too Early?

Big Kid 80

My oldest boy, Riley, turns 5 this August. After some hemming and hawing over the issue, we've decided to keep him in his current daycare school for another year, where he'll attend their kindergarten program. The plan is to start him in public school kindergarten next year when he's 6.

The memories I have of kindergarten mostly center around the excitement of donning our smocks (which were always just an adult's button-down shirt worn backward), doing art projects, working with paste (the kind in tubs, which you'd trowel in thick white smears onto your paper with wooden tongue depressors), playing some weird game with balls and a rolled-out parachute, riding the bus on a field trip, singing "O Tannenbaum" at Christmas, and finger-painting (the cool, plasticky feel of the paints! The sense-pleasure of dragging your fingers through a particularly big glob of it, creating divots in the colors!).

I know there's more to kindergarten than just getting covered in nontoxic Crayola products, and that's why we're not enrolling Riley this year: I have some misgivings about his readiness for some of the more structured aspects of big-kid school. Still, I did imagine that the majority of a kindergarten curriculum was focused, as I oh-so-vaguely remember it, on creative learning.

So it was kind of a shock when I was talking to a friend of mine this weekend, and she described her kindergartner's homework load. Just about every day, she told me, he comes home with at least one worksheet to fill out. Front and back, sometimes. Mostly math problems, pattern recognition, that kind of thing. Not only that, but their school district's art budget was cut, and they only get art class once a month. 

Art once a month? And homework?

The homework itself doesn't sound that great to me (every day? Really?), but the next thing she said really worried me: "It's turned into this constant battle at home, getting him to do it."

I won't get into the whole sordid story of my academic experience, but suffice to say it was not good, starting from a very early age, and one of the contributing factors was homework. Specifically, the fact that I hated it—the busywork kind, the time-sucking front-and-back worksheets—with all my soul. I fought with my mom about having to do homework, and I eventually lied about whether or not I had any homework. My grades were ... very bad, as a result. My teachers were thoroughly frustrated with me and didn't bother hiding it. At one point, I got pulled from a gifted reading program because I didn't turn in my math assignments.  

Now, I'm not saying I didn't Meet My Potential and My Life Path Was Altered because of homework; clearly the fault was mine. And if I see my kids starting to head down a similar path, I'll do what it takes to help them get back on track. I'll do anything to try and make sure my kids aren't as miserable in school as I was. 

But. BUT. Does it have to start so early? It's not that I think kindergartners should never have homework, but ... oh, shouldn't we be asking them to collect leaves or count all the things in the house that are shaped like rectangles or draw a picture of their favorite bug or something, instead of doing page after page of this?

It makes me sad to think that as early as next year we might be arguing with Riley over how he has to do his homework before he can go outside and play. It worries me that he might be planted at a desk all day instead of playing with globs of paint. 

The overall topic of this blog is life balance, and for the most part, I'm writing about my own pursuit of it. I suppose this is the first time I've given serious thought to the balance in my kids' lives, and how school might change it for all of us. Even kindergarten

Read more of Linda's column Mom, Interrupted


elementary school, kindergarten