Children Have to Grow Up Too Fast

Something is lost when little red wagons and mud pies make way for worksheets and tests.

Something is lost when little red wagons and mud pies make way for worksheets and tests.
Dispatches: Childhood
Credit: Indigo Flores

She waltzes into my room on winged feet -- all 3 feet and a bit of her, with a pixie cut and huge brown eyes. She is Katy (not her real name), and she is in the first grade. As everyone else settles down, Katy twirls in a dizzying display of excess energy. She is wearing her favorite outfit -- a rainbow poncho and a tiara with pink feathers. The rest of the class sits on the rug, crisscross applesauce. They stare up at me expectantly. Katy is trying to lie across my lap and peer up into my face. She slithers down, bounces up again, and moves to her desk to see what treasures might be in her backpack. Her bottom has never touched her chair. I invite her back to the group and sit her right next to me -- her favorite place in the room.

A little young, I tell myself on the first day. Not ready for first grade and the rigors of state standards. I'm new to the school so I do not know her history. Perhaps she's just young for her age. I can't help thinking someone dropped the ball here. She's a kindergartner dressed in first-grade clothing.

When I check her file in the office, I am dumbfounded by an inch-thick IEP folder. This is not good news. An Individualized Education Program usually signals some serious area of concern. The plan spells out goals for the student and how the teacher will monitor and assess the accomplishment of those goals. Benchmarks are set. Meetings are held. I've never had a first grader with an IEP. Most students come equipped with a slim folder holding their vaccination records and birth certificate. What could possibly be wrong with this girl that warrants this level of scrutiny?

The answer: nothing. She has an older brother with a learning disability and anxious parents who want to make sure Katy doesn't "fall through the cracks." I keep reading, looking for a diagnosis, some indication that there is something wrong with this sprite. But the only thing I see is that she "doesn't know her entire alphabet." She can't write all her numbers to thirty. She's "inattentive" during instruction.

There is nothing wrong with Katy except that she is a kindergartner deprived of kindergarten. Ten years ago she would have been in the dress-up corner in front of the mirror, draping feather boas across her thin shoulders. But on this particular day, she's a first grader with an IEP and goals that are unattainable for someone at her stage of development. She will go to special classes three times a week to make up for her "deficits." She will continue to smile boldly, but soon she will start to wonder what is wrong with her. She will leave our classroom three times a week and trudge, not dance, down to room 15. She will start to feel the weight of those goals. The benchmarks will pinch just a bit.

Katy is not my first kindergartner. In the past five years, as expectations have continued to expand at each grade level, teachers have scrambled to help students feel successful. A good proportion of my class is not at grade level. They are taking multiple-choice tests and filling in bubbles with the anxiety of their older siblings. We throw around terms like "algebra" and "response to literature" to six-year-olds who are barely decoding words. We push and cajole and yes, sometimes secretly curse the child with her head in the clouds. We are accountable. We are observed. Our jobs may depend on the ability of our students to understand the subtle distinction between strategies like "predict" and "infer."

There is no kindergarten. It has gone the way of the little red wagon and mud pies. The time when children learned how to go to school, how to use a tricycle, or wait their turn on the swing is gone. These were important skills -- vital to success in the grades to come. We do not have time to teach them now. We have worksheets that need completing. We have take-home books to copy and homework packets to staple. We have accountability.

I look down at Katy while she copies the words from the whiteboard. Every now and then, she holds up her paper for me to see, and smiles. I love how the light dances off the rhinestones on her tiara. And I wonder how long it will be before someone tells her that she can't wear hats in class and she can't dance in the hallways. I will miss the pink feathers and rainbow poncho. But while she is mine, I will dance around the rules just a little and find places for her to stand, not sit. I will teach her what I can to the best of my ability. I will hold off, as long as I can, the weight of the file that dogs her footsteps. And I'll look for a rainbow poncho of my own to remind me that the Katys of this world just might be on the brink of extinction.

Dispatches: Childhood
Credit: Indigo Flores
M. Jones is a pseudonym for an elementary school teacher in northern California.

This article originally published on 3/18/2008

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play is learning

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As an early childhood educator-in-training, I am often baffled by reports of recess being omitted from the elementary school day or children not being allowed to run on the playground. All of the emerging brain science supports what we are being taught in school and see in the classroom. Children learn through play. What happens to our kids when they get to the upper grades? Why isn't the work children do in the toddler room taken seriously? I read some hopeful messages on this website, but how can we inform the people in charge of making decisions that affect the lives of children and families?

Mark Atkinson (not verified)

Quote:I believe the push for

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I believe the push for accountibility is appropriate, it is usually the "how" it is measured problematic for teachers and students. I take no exception to the premise that learning need not be proven by plethora of worksheets or high stakes test. Learning is fluid, but it can be measured; and yes, learning should be fun!However, I take exception to the teacher's statement about the IEP. Her posit of "What could possibly be wrong with this girl that warrants this level of scrutiny?" is most offensive. Clearly, this teacher does not understand why an IEP exists. Did she read the IEP? Did she understand the content? An IEP is a collaborative document by a team, including the parents, and it is created to meet the Individual Educational needs of the child. Does she really believe her peers (and the anxious parents) would spend the time, energy and resources to craft a proper IEP if it was not needed? Does she believe the parents have amazing influencial superpower? I do not.I do know the best case scenario. The IEP is a written record of skills and challenges unique to the child and how teachers and others, will foster learning to meet grade level expectations with special instructional services, support and accommodations. There is nothing WRONG with the child. The IEP is a tool to allow the teacher(s) to know more about how the child learns. Absolute best case, provides and details how the child will meet end of year expectations.I do not live in a best case world, but I will advocate to get my reality a bit closer to it. Cheers to educators in the trenches and doing their best every day -- students and parents included.

I am sorry, but you are gone. This is KINDERGARTEN we are talking about here. Kindergarten is supposed to be about learning how to interact with other children, learning how to play together, learning how to share. You and your "We need to Craft" and "We need to Foster" words. Come down to Earth for a minute and step off of your grammatical throne of professionalism. Stop spewing you jaws with your fancy college level jargon. It doesn't make you sound smarter, just ridiculous bearing the fact that we are talking about five and six year old children here. The teacher is right in stating the kids are being forced to grow up too fast. This is what is ruining America. You cram all of this information into young minds, and they wind up growing up talking like robots, but having no basis for their thoughts. They are programmed. They don't become critical thinkers, because you don't teach them to think for themselves. They don't learn the important things like the teacher said, because you over stuff their brains with all this crap. Nothing makes me madder. All this is, is the liberals trying to indoctrinate our children into growing up with the mindset that regulation is salvation.
This country is going to hell because of idiotic rhetoric from liberal professors and college brainiacs like yourself.

Cheryl (not verified)

Comment from anonymous: I

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Comment from anonymous: I teach high school, and most of the IEP's I have seen were written for the sake of the parents, not the kids. Offended yet? By the time they reach us, they know how to play the system and the social promotion that is expected by administrators, parents, and counselors is a heavy load to bear as a high school teacher. We have no time to teach self responsibility, ethics, time management, and preparing teens for all the things required of us in our adult lives. We are too busy giving retests for something the student would have passed had they any clue of consequences for their actions; extra time for something that the student put off, not something they couldn't do, or needed help with. (Bet you are offended now). I understand the purpose of an IEP. It is just abused so, that the real need gets lost in the process. I agree with M. Jones. Let the kids be kids just a little while.

I agree that a lot of these issues would not exist if we made children accountable for their actions or inactions. During my school years, there was no social promotion. You stayed put until you mastered what they said you needed to master. Students today take no responsibility for anything that they say or do. Students will state openly that they can't be failed because they have an IEP. If you question why they are not working or why they are behaving a certain way, they will say "You know I have an IEP"

kinder teacher (not verified)

I agree with the writer! I am

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I agree with the writer!

I am a kinder teacher that has to teach 90 minutes of guided reading DAILY, 75 minutes of math DAILY, 75 minutes of SCIENCE daily. children are not allowed to "play". We (the teachers on my kinder team) are saddened by the thoguht of "Friday Fun" and the fact that there is no longer "fun" time or "play" time in kinder. The poor little girl in the article is not developmentally ready to sit in my kinder class, let alone her first grade class.

Why is this? Why should she need an IEP? Where did teaching kids how to play nice, share, take turns, be proud of your accomplishments, learn how to tie shoes, etc. gone to?

I have a daughter in kindergarten. I REFUSE to do homework with her at night. She goes to school from 9AM - 3:45PM everyday. When is she supposed to be 5?

I can understand that students CAN achieve high academic success in kinder... but... why do they HAVE to? Why does my daughter and the rest of the kinder students have to be reading at a DRA level 6 or above when they leave?

WHY?

Marcia Lynn Gainer (not verified)

Parent/Artist/Educator/Business Woman

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Excellent observations and viewpoints that parents everywhere would do so well to read. I will try to post on FB...these points need to be considered by EVERYONE who is in the position to affect children's lives, not just conscientious educators who are already trying to do their absolute best with what they have.

It IS time for everyone to look around, see the destruction of spirit, happiness, creativity and LIFE itself. TO restate one contributor's point, it is NOT WRONG TO SPEAK OUT FOR THE BETTERMENT OF OUR CHILDREN AND OUR WORLD...and the time to do that is NOW.

Thank you all.

Marcia Lynn Salim

Marya (not verified)

Katy

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Beautifully written.

linda barkenbush (not verified)

Patrick, you bring up a good

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Patrick, you bring up a good point about the parents meaning well. The article mentions that Katie's older brother had learning difficulties. The extensive documentation/intervention may partially stem from the desire to avoid Katie encountering similar problems. However, parents/school staff may be going overboard with their actions. Not allowing Katie enough time to pursue typical childhood activities will stifle her creativity and ability to engage in diverse experiences. She also may become overwhemed by pressure to master material she is not yet ready for.

Patrick (not verified)

Is the pendulum about to shift?

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Is the pendulum about to switch? It seems like more and more people are concerned with this notion of "lost childhood". And yet parents are trying to get more and more out of a child's formative years. Tiger Woods was handed a golf club when he was, what, 1 year old? Are we shifting to once again to valuing letting kids be kids? I'll believe it when I see it. There's nothing parents like to do more these days than intervene. I don't know if I'd be able to resist myself.

This mother sounds like she meant well. It's hard to be upset at her. I knew kids when I was younger who had skipped kindergarden and they seemed like normal kids (with the added advantage of being one year ahead of the curve!).

Matthew (not verified)

Those were the days....

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Wow! This is all I can say. As a first grade teacher I have been in this very same situation. I have my very own Katy this year. She is an exuberant young lady who is full of life, but is not suitable for the first grade classroom. She is only there because of her age, not her abilities. My Katy is in her very first year of school, while most of her peers have been in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. She is a child who has bounced from home to home with no sense of consistency or security. When she entered the classroom for the first time she was overwhelmed, and not in a good way. Now that she is part of the classroom community she wants to constantly be exploring and using her imagination and playing with her peers, but in the days of accountability it is my responsibility to make sure that she is meeting state standards. I now feel like a robber. Like I have taken away this child's right to be a kid. I love to see her face when she is enjoying a moment within my classroom, but these moments are very scarce. Most of our time is spent trying to keep her on track and focused. I know that all I can do is try to accommodate her free spirit, and take a little of what she brings to school everyday and incorporate it into every aspect of my life. We as educators should all look at our Katies as inspirations to not let childhood disappear.

Matthew (not verified)

Those were the days.....

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Wow! This is all I can say. As a first grade teacher I have been in this very same situation. I have my very own Katy this year. She is an exuberant young lady who is full of life, but is not suitable for the first grade classroom. She is only there because of her age, not her abilities. My Katy is in her very first year of school, while most of her peers have been in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. She is a child who has bounced from home to home with no sense of consistency or security. When she entered the classroom for the first time she was overwhelmed, and not in a good way. Now that she is part of the classroom community she wants to constantly be exploring and using her imagination and playing with her peers, but in the days of accountability it is my responsibility to make sure that she is meeting state standards. I now feel like a robber. Like I have taken away this child's right to be a kid. I love to see her face when she is enjoying a moment within my classroom, but these moments are very scarce. Most of our time is spent trying to keep her on track and focused. I know that all I can do is try to accommodate her free spirit, and take a little of what she brings to school everyday and incorporate it into every aspect of my life. We as educators should all look at our Katies as inspirations to not let childhood disappear.

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