What is Kindergarten for?


Gender-aware best practices in the early years

Over the past four decades, there have been profound changes in what happens in nursery school, in pre-K, in kindergarten, and in early elementary education. The most obvious change has been the acceleration of the curriculum. In 1981, teachers didn’t teach phonics to 5-year-olds; today they do. The kindergarten curriculum of 2021 looks a lot like the 1st grade curriculum of 1981. And this acceleration pervades much of the early elementary curriculum. In this presentation, we first review evidence documenting the acceleration of the elementary curriculum, and the factors which drove this acceleration; we then consider some of the unintended consequences of this acceleration.

In 1981, most teachers (and most professors of education) believed that kindergarten should be a mix of didactic instruction, experiential learning, and play, with a healthy mix of music and arts and crafts. Today, many school administrators across the United States believe that the objectives of kindergarten should center primarily on literacy and numeracy. I present evidence that this change in focus, combined with the accelerated curriculum, has resulted in some boys disengaging from school altogether, by 3rd grade or even earlier. And it has narrowed the focus of some girls, so that today it is not unusual to find a 3rd grade girl who asks, “Is this going to be on the test?”

We can’t turn back the clock. The main focus of this presentation, then, is on gender-aware strategies which teachers can use today, in the context of today’s reality, in the coed setting, to ignite the fire of curiosity in every child, and help every child to achieve to their fullest potential.

Some of the specific questions raised and answered in this presentation include:

  • Is it ever acceptable for boys to pretend to kill other people? “Bang bang you’re dead!” What is allowable and what is not? How can these limits be established in ways that young boys can understand?
  • “Story time” often involves sitting still and being quiet. What about “Noisy Time Story Time” – a story time in which students are allowed to stand or make buzzing noises? How has that worked? Can one classroom offer both formats? (Please see my article on “Noisy Time Story Time,” which was the cover article for the September 2007 School Library Journal)
  • What are some effective gender-aware approaches to discipline and classroom management in the coed pre-K and early elementary classroom?
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