learn these skills in a kindergarten
without play. Yes, Robert Fulghum
(2004) was right: Everything you need
to know, you learn in kindergarten.
trust take time—
But the kindergarten he’s talking about
is one that values the social, the emo- and time is in short
tional, and the aesthetic; it’s one that
teaches through modeling, practice, and supply in today’s
Rich play environments enable
children to develop what psychologists
call executive function. When children
in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and on
the playground. Her students dissolve
into tears or pick fights in situations that
challenge them. In the past, she would
have better known their triggers and
could have built opportunities for them
to be resilient. The students have no
reserves to draw from because teachers
simply haven’t had enough time to do
this important work.
The Cutoff Conundrum
play, they learn to shift attention,
remember, and inhibit impulses; as
a result, they are able to plan, solve
For Relationships and Trust
Celia Carlson describes how students
can no longer take the scenic route in
Policymakers have addressed perennial
concerns about readiness by requiring
children to be older before they can
problems, and work toward a goal.
kindergarten—her students are fast-
enter school. The kindergarten entrance
These skills relate to later achievement
tracked so they can get to the reading
date has slowly but surely moved back
in social areas and in academic content, level mandated by the district by the
from January so that most states now
such as mathematics and literacy
(Bodrova & Leong, 2007; Diamond,
Barnett, Thomas, & Munro, 2007).
Doing away with play does away with
end of the year. Although important,
such reading supports often involve
pulling students out of the classroom.
Celia worries that she’s not getting a
require children to be 5 in September.
Some states have moved it even earlier,
to a summer cutoff.
I lived through such a move when I
opportunities to develop these skills.
chance to build the foundation that stu- taught kindergarten in Missouri in the
In recent years, some have called for
dents need to be resilient learners who
mid-1980s. As the cutoff date moved
a kindergarten curriculum that once
can handle frustration, work through
from October 1 to July 1, my students
again includes attention to social and
emotional competence (Raver, 2002),
problems, and focus on the essentials.
Relationships and trust take time—
an important reminder that for children and time is in short supply in today’s
to succeed in school, a complex set of
kindergarten. Celia sees students
got bigger and bigger—and the baseline
for “typical” followed suit.
I have to wonder if this solution is,
in fact, contributing to the problem
capacities must be carefully balanced.
crumble when they hit any tiny bump— it’s meant to solve. With slightly older
Elements of a Hybrid Kindergarten
n It addresses all areas of child development:
social-emotional, physical, aesthetic, cognitive,
n It’s balanced, with time for whole-group,
small-group, and independent activities. It
provides opportunities for teacher-directed
lessons and student choice. Some activities
require physical activity; others focus on the
n It’s intellectually engaging, addressing issues
of interest to 5-year-olds, respecting their curiosity and
encouraging them to develop inquiry and problem-solving
skills. It provides support for skills related to literacy and
n It devotes real time to play, both indoors and out, and provides extended periods for children to choose activities.
n Its physical environment includes a dramatic play
area, art supplies, unit blocks, equipment for
sensory experiences, musical instruments,
books, manipulatives, soft and hard surfaces,
and a place to cuddle. Yes, cuddling is a
requirement even in this touch-phobic society.
n It recognizes that kindergartners are eager
learners who do not march lockstep through
the curriculum. It toes a fine line between sup-
porting students’ current developmental levels and
stretching them to attain standards.
n Its teacher has a background in early childhood education
and knows the value of both guided reading and project
inquiry, of both solving mathematics problems and exploring
social issues. He or she advocates a balanced program
and has support from colleagues, the principal, and the