On Psychology

Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 1999 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Dr. Wade Horn

All-Day Kindergarten Not Well-Suited For All

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Q: To my dismay, the school board in Arlington, Virginia, has eliminated the half-day kindergarten program. I am a full-time, at-home mom. I think full-day kindergarten is too much too soon for those children who have not been in a day care setting or another structured educational situation.

For decades kindergarten has served as a transition from home to school, and the traditional half-day program was fine. What do you think about the elimination of the half-day kindergarten program?

A: Over the course of my 20 year career as a clinical child psychologist, nothing has dismayed me more than the increasing disappearance of childhood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we approach the education of our children.


There was a time when parents and educators alike understood that formal academic instruction not only could, but should, wait until a child was in the first grade. Kindergarten was seen as a time of transition for children, when 5-year-olds learned how to get along with others, follow instructions, and develop a love for learning.

If along the way, some kindergartners learned their ABCs, that was fine. But formal reading instruction could wait, most counseled, until first grade. There was no rush. In the long run, hurrying five-year-olds would only be counterproductive.

No more. Today, we have downward extended first grade into kindergarten, providing children as young as 4-years-old with formal instruction in letter and number recognition and "early literacy" skills."

If we don't, advocates of such changes say, we will miss a critical period in a child's brain development, and our little cherubs won't be on the fast track to Harvard.

But it's not just a desire to get kids reading earlier and earlier that is driving these changes. For at least some, the actual motivation behind longer and longer school days was summed up with chilling succinctness by former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley when he proposed "we take them as early as we can get them in elementary school and keep them in that school setting, that formalized training and motivational setting, away from their parents."

Message: Schools good, parents bad. The more we, the schools, have your children, the less influence you, the parents will have.

Too often, busy or ambitious parents act as willing accomplices to all of this. Some are all too grateful for the free child care that full-day kindergarten provides. Other parents worry that if their child is not reading Shakespeare by the beginning of first grade, they will be deprived of the opportunity to put a Harvard or Yale sticker on the back windshield of their car.

Forgotten in all of this is what children need. And what children need is childhood.

By childhood I don't mean countless hours responding to flashcards and involved in language drills, but time spent dreaming and wondering. When 4- and 5-year-olds are force-fed formal academic instruction, we don't turn them on to learning, we turn them off.

This is why I am against mandatory full-day kindergarten. It is just further evidence that we have given up on childhood and decided instead to treat children as Future Information Workers of America, in need of as much early training and indoctrination as possible so that they will fit in to the modern economy.

I do not mean to be insensitive to the needs of parents who work outside the home for pay. In fact, I believe schools ought to accommodate to the needs of these parents by allowing for opt-in full-day kindergarten programs.

But this concession to "reality" should not be used as an excuse to force everyone's children to attend full-day instruction. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Arlington (Virginia) County Public Schools have decided to do.

Well, parents are starting to fight back. Some have organized into an ad-hoc group called Arlingtonians for Half-Day Kindergarten. Their request seems utterly reasonable: Full-day kindergarten for those parents who want it, and half-day kindergarten for those parents who don't. In fact, that's exactly what a school system advisory panel recommended earlier this year.

But that is not what the Arlington County Public Schools decided to do. Instead, like it or not, ready or not, every 5-year-old in Arlington County must now spend 6 1/2 hours a day, five days a week, in formal instruction.

Why? Because, the school system says, it would be too difficult to arrange for some kindergartners to go home after just half a day, even if their parents were to pick them up. Furthermore, the school administrators maintain, it would cost more to let some kids go home after half a day than to have all of them stay the entire day (huh?).

Besides, if the children went home at noon, they might just have to take their afternoon nap in their own bed. Now wouldn't that be tragic.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


10/06/99: Broken Relationships Can Be Fixed, Slowly
09/29/99: When the step-mom is the saint
09/02/99: Homosexual Son Needs Love, Support of Parent
08/25/99: Shining a Light in the Darkness
08/19/99: There's No Excuse for this Column
08/12/99: Male Nurturing Deficit a Major Gripe For Wives
07/30/99: Time to Penalize Those Who Sell Trash to our Youth
07/23/99: Moms Want Help From Dads --- Sort Of
07/15/99: NEWS FLASH! Mothers and Fathers Are Different
07/07/99: Lunacy 101: Questioning the Need for Fathers
06/30/99: Enforce House rules on Youth Using 'Net
06/24/99: IRS, Welfare Discourages Low-Income Marriages
06/15/99:'Male Abortion': A Fiction to Shirk Responsibility
06/08/99: No Way to Ease Pain of Split-Up on Young
06/02/99: Reassure Child Before Making A Business Trip
05/24/99: Recognize and Nurture Child's Gifted Abilities
05/06/99: Terrible Twos Signify Time of Important Growth
04/28/99: When a Son BecomesToo Clingy With Dad
04/21/99: Baffling Conclusions About Child Sex Abuse
04/12/99: Teen Deserves Support for No-Sex Stance
03/22/99: Fatherhood hype
03/15/99:Contributions of Dads Cover Many Fronts
03/04/99:Little Girl's Cry for Love of Dad Should be Heard
02/18/99: Divorcing with a 'tude
02/11/99: Basics Remain the Same for Single, Custodial Dads
02/05/99: Failure Today Can Lead to Success Tomorrow
01/14/99: Child Need Limits, Rules as well as Love
01/05/99: Top Ten 'Dad' Movies
12/22/98: Silly, Dangerous Ideas About Child Rearing
11/18/98: Problems Develop When Others Do Parents' Job
10/21/98: Government punishes marriage, pushes cohabitation
10/16/98: Television draws teens into vast wasteland
10/08/98: Sibling Conflict Not A Scream For Parents
9/29/98: Dads, moms both get job done with babies
9/23/98: Sleep tight -- and right!
9/09/98: Daddy?
9/03/98: How much should we tell the kids about The Bill-n-Monica Show?
8/25/98: Having class-clown son is no joking matter
8/05/98: When a marriage goes stale
6/29/98: Do bad 'authority-figures' make good parents?
6/24/98: When to tell the truth
6/17/98: An ode to a dad who stuck around
6/11/98: No-fault divorce and the partner who "wants to make things work"
5/28/98: The oys and JOYS of fatherhood
5/21/98: When child-support becomes a 'catch-22'
5/15/98: Why ‘shacking-up' for marriage's sake fails
5/6/98: Collision with a pathetic reality
4/26/98: It's time parents learned to 'Just Say No!'

© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn