The traditional learning environments in the 21st century prides itself in training to focus on the prize (usually meaning college), ignore lesser and more instinctual needs (such as horseplay with peers), and ultimately push themselves to the learning rigor that is expected of students who ascribe to the school’s philosophy.
Thing is, part of the learning culture bubble in these schools is the increasing number of students who ‘act out’ or get ‘suspended’ for being unable to successfully meter themselves per the color system of conduct. Or there are those who are sent to the Dean of Students when the behavior they display is divergent from the rigid norm – this can range from protestations to full out tantrums.
The familiar explanation among circles is that these students need more discipline and structure to survive and thrive. Ironically though, the more the external constructs are being imposed on them, the more unnatural the social-emotional fit becomes. But how then to reconcile students’ emotional expressions, most of whom are not fully developed versions of themselves, with the constructs of institutions that have no time or place to develop such skill set?
Children at a young age explore the world initially through play and social interaction. It’s been proven that without the exposure to peers and to play circles in preschool, the Kindergarten experience is more difficult and isolating which tends to set the tone for the rest of the elementary years.
Then again, more and more schools are veering away from traditional Kindergarten experiences and pushing for more teacher driven instruction laying the foundation for the expectations of the higher grades. The school days are longer, the expectations of sitting in a chair beyond 30 minutes at time to pay attention to a lesson, and for some extreme programs, no recess times for these 5-6 year olds.
The CDC handout divides the developmental expectations of a typical 5 year old into 4 sections: Social/Emotional, Language/Communication, Cognitive, and Movement/Physical Development. This handout is part of the ‘act early’ initiative for parents to recognize what parents should be paying attention to when children are at the cusp of entering school-age.
It is also interesting to note that the CDC does NOT include in one of the bullet points to ask the pediatrician if a 5 year old can’t compose a 4 sentence paragraph during a writing session. Could that mean that the developmental gains and expectations are not hifalutin in comparison to the educational parameters?
According to an article from greatschools.org on March 16, 2016 addressing Developmental Milestones ages 3-5, they closely align with what the CDC checklist lists as expected milestones for a 5 year old, however they align the language closer to educational expectations. Their list goes:
Motor development: gross motor skills : runs in an adult manner, walks on tiptoe, broad jumps, walks on a balance beam, skates and jumps rope
Motor development: fine motor skills: hand preference is established, laces (but cannot tie) shoes, grasps pencil like an adult, colors within lines, cuts and pastes simple shapes
Language and thinking development: speaks fluently; correctly uses plurals, pronouns, tenses, very interested in words and language; seeks knowledge, understands and names opposites, uses complex language, still confuses fantasy and reality at times, thinking is still naïve; doesn’t use adult logic
Social and emotional development: distinguishes right from wrong, honest from dishonest, but does not recognize intent, plays make-believe and dresses up, mimics adults and seeks praise, seeks to play rather than be alone; friends are important, plays with both boys and girls but prefers the same sex, wants to conform; may criticize those who do not
And similarly to the observation from the CDC’s list, there is nothing mentioned about the ability to write an essay. That doesn’t mean however that this is not a reality for Kindergarteners in classrooms however, especially as Common Core Standards (CCLS) are expected to guide and drive schools’ teaching across the country. The CCLS for Speaking and Listening in Kindergarten are:
Comprehension and Collaboration:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1.a: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.1.b: Continue a conversation through multiple exchanges.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.2: Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.3: Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4: Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5: Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.6: Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
Then based off these, Education-focused organizations and schools create their own rubrics which fit to their communities or ideologies. One of the resources commonly used online for teachers created by teachers is the site time4writing.com, and they lay out what Kindergarten classrooms should be creating for the writing process (keeping in mind again that these are 5 year olds):
Kindergarten: The Writing Process
In kindergarten, students are introduced to the writing process through shared writing activities, in which the teacher writes a story and students contribute to it orally. The writing process is also taught through interactive writing activities, in which students and the teacher compose text together. In kindergarten, students are taught to use each phase of the writing process as follows:
Prewriting: Students generate ideas for writing through class discussion and by drawing pictures about their ideas for self-selected and assigned topics.
Drafting: Students participate in drafting writing by drawing, telling, or writing about a familiar experience, topic or story, and by creating a group draft, scripted by the teacher.
Revising: Students participate in revising the draft for clarity and effectiveness, by adding additional details to the draft and checking for logical thinking with prompting from the teacher.
Editing: Students participate in correcting the draft for standard language conventions according to their level of development.
Publishing: Students participate in producing, illustrating, and sharing a finished piece of writing.
Kindergarten: Written English Language Conventions
Students in kindergarten are taught Standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level. In particular, kindergarten writing standards specify these key markers of proficiency:
Words and Sentences
—Recognize and use complete, coherent sentences when speaking.
—Understand relationship between sounds and letters.
—Recognize sight words such as “the” and read simple sentences.
—Use letters and phonetically spelled words to write about experiences, stories, people, objects, or events.
—Write words and brief sentences that are legible.
—Write his/her own first and last name and other important words.
—Use end punctuation, including periods, question marks, and exclamation points.
—Capitalize letters to begin “important words.”
—Spell simple words independently by using pre-phonetic knowledge, sounds of the alphabet, and knowledge of letter names.
—Write consonant-vowel-consonant words (“cat”).
—Print uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet and recognize the difference between the two.
—Write from left to right and top to bottom of page.
—Recognize spacing between letters and words.
—Understand the concept of writing and identifying numerals.
Are we then, based on the survey of information, pushing 5 year old to perform educational expectations beyond their developmental capacities? Or are we erring more on the side of environmental nurture to create synaptic responses in their young brains, supporting the practice makes perfect adage?
What ever happened to meeting the student where they are at developmentally without sacrificing their education? Rigor should never be mistaken for appropriate education, nor should minimum standards be a comfortable catch phrase for those who safeguard our children’s future.