Kindergarten readiness means sit still and conform

It turns out that August is Kindergarten Readiness month. To protest the absurdity of this, I am including in this post a photo of my son turning cartwheels in Las Vegas, which is what he did last year instead of going to school.

Here are some totally annoying links on the topic:

Dreambox tells parents to celebrate Kindergarten Readiness Month by playing math games with the kids. Not because playing with kids is nice, but to give kids a head start on the official kindergarten topics.

Surf the Net with Kids tells parents that they can use the Internet in August to help their four and five year-olds get a jump on learning to pass tests. Because kindergarten is a competition, of course.

Nevada County makes it clear that their program is about teaching kids to follow directions. Because no teacher wants to walk in the first day of school with a bunch of kids who have not learned how to sit and stand and walk on command.

Kindergarten is the first time that kids will have their creativity crushed in the name of following along with the group. Kindergarten will be the first time they will be part of a group of twenty-five or more kids who are supervised by only one or two adults. It’s a different story with that ratio: kids need to fall into step to make things manageable. This is really what kindergarten teaches you.

Once kids know how to follow the rules, kindergarten is about learning what the other kids are learning. It’s about understanding how to look for the right answer. As if all questions have right answers.

I sent both my kids to kindergarten. My oldest son is a very independent learner, and he was thrilled to not have to go to school any more. My younger son is a rule follower. He likes rules, he likes to be part of the group. He is a people pleaser and he liked that he was great at pleasing his teacher. I spent the first six months of homeschooling helping my son to be okay without the rules of kindergarten. I had to deprogram his kindergarten readiness.

It was a lot of work to deprogram him, so I can appreciate how concerned people are about kindergarten readiness: there is a lot to indoctrinate kids with in order to get them to sit still and follow directions and pay attention to what the teacher says is interesting. This August I am celebrating kindergarten unreadiness. Because we spent the year unlearning all that stuff.

29 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I looked up the derivation of the word “kindergarten” and found it was coined by Friedrich Fröbel in 1840 for the Play and Activity Institute he had founded in 1837.
    The following excerpts are taken from his Wikipedia page ( ) – “He designed the educational play materials known as Froebel Gifts, or Fröbelgaben, which included geometric building blocks and pattern activity blocks.” and “Friedrich Fröbel’s great insight was to recognise the importance of the activity of the child in learning. He introduced the concept of “free work” (Freiarbeit) into pedagogy and established the “game” as the typical form that life took in childhood, and also the game’s educational worth. Activities in the first kindergarten included singing, dancing, gardening and self-directed play with the Froebel Gifts. Fröbel intended, with his Mutter- und Koselieder – a songbook that he published – to introduce the young child into the adult world.”
    I think he had the right idea. However, it seems as though kindergarten has evolved into something Fröbel would not recognize or approve.

    • cris
      cris says:

      My older daughter went to a fabulous private school for kindergarten. The program was so amazing it inspired me to create a yearbook and publish it for sale. Every single month involved a seasonal theme with field trips and parties and lots of history, writing, drawing, and music, exactly in line with the ideas of Froebel. Parents were present and welcome to participate from beginning to end. I sold yearbooks to 105% of the school population (~100 kids) and was excited for the administration to be able to use it as marketing material for their school. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the attitude I received instead was more embarrassment. “There are so many non-educational activities highlighted.” And “We didn’t realize there were so many parties.” I was horrified that I may have gotten the four head teachers into trouble and ruined what I knew was an amazing learning experience for any child.
      The decision to buck the system is never easy nor quick. Two years would pass before the ideas I had about education would clash with conventional “wisdom” with such force as to make me feel neglectful if I DIDN’T follow a different path for the children under my care. This experience was definitely one for the evidence box of reasons why we chose to take matters into our own hands.

  2. redrock
    redrock says:

    I read a study a few years back (sadly I cannot remember where) that kids who grow up in households which lack basic day-to-day structure have huge problems to learn, play, and focus. Even play often has a certain structure to it, a focus on certain aspects of the play. So if a kid has never developed a day-to-day rhythm they find it difficult to do anything in a directed manner. And the day-to-day structure was taken as very basic things: parents going to work, shopping in the evenings, meeting with friends on Sunday, dinner with the family…. They might benefit from a more structure oriented pre-kindergarten program. Other kids not so much… 4 years or so is just too early to pound on the rules….

    • Lesley
      Lesley says:

      When I was in college, I was an aid in a kindergarten class as part of my work-study job. It was a diverse school near my university, so some students were professors’ kids and some were from families living below the poverty level.
      I was supposed to be an in-class reading assistant, but I spent much of the time kid-wrangling because we had so many kids (about 10 of 25) who had no basic behavior skills. It ranged from not EVER being able to sit still during story time to hitting and shouting. There was a definite correlation between the kids who were not getting any attention at home, and the kids who had no basic being-in-public skills. And these kids really wanted the attention of the adults in our classroom, so they’d continue to get act out to get one-on-one time and specialized attention.
      So I think that kindergarten can be hugely beneficial for kids with no structure and guidance at home. For some kids, school is the only type of structure they get, and this structure can be a form of security when the rest of their lives are chaotic.
      (Obviously, Penelope’s boys don’t fall in this category.)

      • Yvette
        Yvette says:

        Kindergarten for many children is the only solid start in their educational development. I was an urban teacher/academic coach for 38 years. There were children coming to school not knowing how to hold a pencil or even use the bathroom properly…taught by the teacher. Many of these children did not know how to eat at a table, play with others, or listen to an adult…taught by the teacher. School is basically the only strong and positive learning experience these urban children were receiving. School is the only place where they can receive a good meal twice a day. State Standards also are in place to move children forward.

        Just remember that not every child is fortunate to have a stay at home mom or a special home school community. Do push how horrible kindergarten or school for that matter is for children. It just might not be the best place for certain children or their parents. There is something called a self fulling prophecy.

        • Kimberly
          Kimberly says:

          I’m sorry but that’s a bit silly. How many times are school proponents going to recycle that old bit about school being a good choice for the “least of these”? It’s almost as if they’re taking their last swing at the home school debate after they’ve lost all of their other arguments.

          Traditional school isn’t good for anyone, especially impoverished kids from a broken home. Contrary to popular belief, a teacher can never replace parents. Being shuffled around 30 other students and told to be quiet all day certainly doesn’t make you feel better after you’ve just been cursed out by mom before leaving to school. The fallacy of this argument denies that there are ANY issues with the school system. As if school is some sweet release from the drama at home.

          I’ve also been a teacher’s aide, and I will tell you no matter how much effort you put into the children, each child only gets a certain amount of attention and home life massively effects how they learn. So, no, they don’t suddenly release all of their negative energy at the door of the school yard.

          In fact, it can even be worse when children are not prepared to deal with bullies, teacher neglect/abuse and the sexual abuse that goes on within schools. They can easily lose themselves, because they are more vulnerable to it.

          If deprived kids need better, they need better. There’s no reason to treat school as a glorified orphanage.

  3. cris
    cris says:

    “To protest the absurdity of this, I am including in this post a photo of my son turning cartwheels in Las Vegas, which is what he did last year instead of going to school.”
    LOVE this. Hilarious. Go, Physics! And P.E.! Dance, maybe? Gymnastics!
    The key to convincing others of the worth of your “curriculum” lies simply in the ability to speak their language (eduspeak). You should try it.

  4. cris
    cris says:

    Oh, and one of my daughters was a rule follower, too. She would have done extremely well had I allowed her to continue in the system. Five years later, I understand what that success would have cost both of us. Whatever missteps I may be making, however many “gaps” may be present in her education, I will never regret my decision to pull her out to homeschool her. The cost of success through the system is too great in too many of the cases for me to consider otherwise.

  5. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I used to think that my son attending kindergarten would be a huge fail because he has to MOVE his body when he thinks. He can be seen jumping, running, skipping all around the house when he’s thinking about something. That would never fly in school. Then, when I realized that his dad and I are the same way (we pace when we think), it caused me to ponder why I was so successful in school… Then it dawned on me… I wasn’t thinking in school… I was listening, copying, remembering, regurgitating…. And that’s not thinking at all. Turns out, it wasn’t until I finished college and got my first professional job that I found myself finally thinking… and pacing… and talking to myself while I was driving… etc… all just to think. It was exhilirating!

  6. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    … And I should add… My son will not be attending school because I don’t want him to stop thinking…

    • David
      David says:

      This is a good point Tanya. “Wrangling up” kids or forcing them to sit still kind of goes against everything “kid”. They are young humans with tons of energy. They should be allowed to roam, explore, stand, dance, whatever they feel like it when learning.

  7. Katy
    Katy says:

    I just quit my job as a public school teacher. I spent several years of my career in kindergarten, and was horrified at the evolution of the “curriculum” over the last decade. It’s all phonics worksheets and reading strategies. I’m a certified reading specialist and educators/policy makers really don’t understand the critical importance of giving kids the opportunities to build experience through play…it helps them read later. I think turning kindergarten into basically a second grade classroom has actually caused a lot of kids to read poorly in the long run. My 2 year old goes to a preschool, because (for now, at least), it’s still “Ok” for 2 year olds to play in the sand table and listen to stories for fun and dress up and sing songs. I’m definitely not sending her to kindergarten, though.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this comment, Katy. You have a great perspective. And I have to say that both my sons did an incredible amount of letters and numbers worksheets in kindergarten and I was stunned by how mind-numbing they were.


    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel
      Nancy Sathre-Vogel says:

      I, too, am a long-time schoolteacher who is amazed and blown away at what has become of kindergarten and preschool programs. Young kids NEED to play and will learn WAY more through play than anything else. Every time I hear of programs for young children doing the “school” thing, I’m reminded yet again of how wrong No Child Left Behind is.

      That said, most of what the schools are doing is because of PARENT DEMAND. We have parents demanding that the “academics” be more of a focus and demanding that play time be cut down. I’ve gone through many a battle with parents trying to get them to understand the value of free time, but many simply can’t see it. As our society gets more and more demanding, many parents demand a more rigorous academic program at school.

      What can we do? Educate parents on the value of play. Help them to understand that kids learn more through playing in the sandbox than they do in a structured setting. Help them to understand that when we take field trips to the bakery or the local museum, it’s not just a fun day out with no learning happening.

      If enough parents realized the folly of trying to get young kids to do worksheets, teachers wouldn’t be forced to do it.

  8. Doc Gabo
    Doc Gabo says:

    The combination of the two phenomena – earlier academics in school and kids with absolutely no basic behavior and cooperation skills – makes the early grades a nightmare.

    Kindergarten was okay for my son because his teacher did little but go on field trips. First grade was utterly useless- these kids were required to sit still and do their work and couldn’t. The whole day was fighting and bullying and punishing and the good kids just got ignored. The move to group work also rewarded antisocial behavior like butting in and out-shouting.

    Now the little nipper is homeschooled and perfectly happy to work on algebra at eight.

  9. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    You are doing the right thing for your boys. I sent one of my three kids to kindergarten and he lasted one semester. The other two have never darkened the door of a school. They are all three doing great and are now 11, 9, and 8.

  10. techkim
    techkim says:

    Its how i made my money. I am a preschool teacher who get children read for kindergarten. Its a cock. 99.0% do not realize they don’t have to send their child to kindergarten.

    Am I very good at my job because I see “want” of parents to have someone else get their children ready for school and I filled it. All because I wanted to stay home (and homeschool ) my own children.

  11. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I know that it is probably an instinct among homeschoolers, but I wish that you could stop the constant drum beat that declares all schools a failure. My kids went to a kindergarten in which there were 5 teachers for 25 kids. They played in the sand table and explored nature, did lots of art, the teachers read stories, and the kids made up their own stories. They went to a school where the philosophy was that play is the work of children. There are terrific schools out there – schools that can adapt to the different needs of different kids, schools where teachers are more than traffic cops. Not every school is a failing school.

    • Tina H.
      Tina H. says:

      The (extremely rare) exception to the rule doesn’t negate the fact that the vast majority of institutional schools (whether public or private) have no clue about what’s really best for kids and have no desire to individualize. You don’t get to legitimately scold homeschoolers simply because you experienced something different than the norm; the fact is that your kids encountered a blessing that is a near-extinct, dying breed within conventional schools.

  12. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Unfortunately, schools like that are a rarity. How blessed your children were to have the opportunity to attend such a school. Most schools start the drilling in Kinder so they can get them ready for testing in a few years.

  13. steve
    steve says:

    I’ve been following this blog for a while now, and this article speaks to why we are leaning strongly toward homeschooling our kids. If you haven’t seen the work of John Gatto, you owe it to yourself to read why he sees school as an exercise in civil religion:

    Gatto is a veteran educator who has dedicated his post-retirement vocation to deconstructing the school experience.

  14. Sheilah
    Sheilah says:

    Children in kindergarten are faced with mastering those forever growing “state standards.” Day one, they must begin working toward demonstrating to their teacher they can count up to a certain number, identify colors, and shaped, identify the parts of a book…. I remember when kindergarten children learned to socialize and play well with others. Ha, maybe this is part of our social problem…we do not know how to play well with others.

  15. Erin Hardey
    Erin Hardey says:

    Thank you for this! You know, even after homeschooling for…let me count…my oldest is a jr this year, so we’re technically in our 12th year, but since we homeschooled preschool also…hehe… Anyhow, after homeschooling forever, I still worry sometimes when I hear those voices from people about how my almost 7 year old (and 4th child) can’t sit still for long, how he takes frequent trampoline or hammer breaks, etc… sometimes I wonder if our laid back, relaxed, ALMOST unschooling is wrong…leaving them without knowledge they need, social skills they need…but they are turning out ok, and maybe we’ll change the world, instead of the child…

  16. Mikki Green
    Mikki Green says:

    I am so happy I found your site!!!! I could cry tears of joy!!!! I will be here reading from now on. I’ve already made the decision to home school my children. I have been battling with the schools for seven years. I’m always sandwiched between the school’s issues with my children and my children’s heart breaking issues with the schools and their struggles with other students there. I am a photographer and a single mother. We struggle as we move from place to place. Our largest struggle is with the schools. I sent them to school smarter than their peers. My children are damaged because I sent them to school. And because they are unhappy, the school always look to me and our home as to the cause constantly. My son has severe binocular vision and Duane’s retraction syndrome. There are several complications with these conditions, like fatigue and irritability and coordination issues. To top it off he is left handed. He is so delightfully clever. So sharp in fact he is in grade two and can read at grade six level requirements and probably higher. When I was having the school call with issues about my son all the time, I told them he may be bored and perhaps indulging him with more advanced material would help. I was cut off in mid sentence when I was telling them how clever he is with math and language and critical thinking. The principal rudely cut me off and sniped, “yah well we don’t have programming or funding for that.” He has developed an odd behaviour of bolting away from the teacher or classroom and they again ask me if he does it at home. I do not experience such issues with him ever. He reacts adversely to unfairness and often at school they write notes about his reactions and do not bother to include the catalyst to the situation. My son is called cross eyed freak and doesn’t understand when children refuse to play with him or share. He has a hard time with this because my son has been raised to share everything. He will even give you his toys to keep if you ask him. He is a kind soul. The school’s rendition of my son is Hannibal Lector.

    This fall we started a new school. It was supposed to be a fresh start. It hasn’t turned out that way at all. It’s same thing different town. I attribute this particularly to their school record which shows we move often. In this record are notes from other schools and of course a ridiculous safety plan for my son! So my children never get a chance to unfurl and acclimate without judgements. Just because we have moved around does not mean we are a broken family. We are often treated with abject disrespect. Often I encounter downward snooting attitudes towards me as a mother. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to patronizing statements that perhaps if we didn’t move so much all of our issues wouldn’t be happening. Now I know there are several occupations out there in the world where families are required to move around. It is perfectly acceptable. I tend to view our life as wonderfully different. We have been to Italy and all over Ontario Canada. I like to think my children are living variety. Our travel expands their experiences and allows them to grow in unique ways. Yet I am a viewed as a bad mother? Would it be better if I didn’t work to support my family and relied on social financial assistance so we could stay at one school and suffer one schools disgusting abuse? Clearly from all the conversations I’ve had they feel this would be better for my children and our family. So there it is, I’m a bad mother because my children are not fitting in? I’m starting to believe them. I am feeling like a bad mother because I should have thought to home school them years ago. I feel shame.

    One week into this school year, I get a phone call from the vice principal who tells me my daughter is a sad child. She called me to disclose a boy named Wyatt who is being atrocious to my daughter. She told me my daughter came into her office crying. The vice-principal prattled on to tell me how she effectively spoke to this Wyatt. In closing the conversation, she offered (a poor consolation?) that my daughter is not the only student this child picks on. To date, I have downloaded my daughter her own diary so she can vent and we can discuss all that is happening to her and all that is not being dealt with at school. I’m thinking for the first time in my life that my daughter may need professional counselling. Her years at school have reduced her shine and damaged her self esteem. My daughter is forever a pariah. From day one of her public education entry, I have felt like I raised a kitten just to throw her in a pit-bull pen. School for my children is minimally about fundamental education and mostly about pain and unpleasant social issues. It is so bad she has become withdrawn and upset most of the time as school is the pith of her life at the moment. Every morning is emotional for all of us and I suffer anxiety all day worrying about my children and what abuses they will take on that day. Every evening is just as emotionally draining as we talk through their horrors.

    I feel helpless in so many ways. I’m starting to see now, sending them to school has damaged my relationship with my children. They suffer horrid experiences and humiliations and I do too and I’m not a student there! My children talk to me about all of it but I have been unable to protect them. Frankly, I am at the point where I am going to attend school with her. This is not a great solution because I cannot be in my son’s class and my daughter’s class at the same time. Since I cannot divide myself in half (Ohhh I openly envy the amoeba) to be in school with both my children, I should most definitely home school them. They were best educated being with me. I just thought sending them to school was the right thing to do. I was so wrong. My daily heartbreak tells me so.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Thank you for your post! Your words carry the way I feel and I have not began to fathom sending my 5 year old to public school, Every fiber in my body says no. As a single mother, I find it hard to manage financially without child support. If you would like to e-mail me on ideas or things that are working for yall, let me know. This is the most informative post, I have ever read in all the related issues that influence my thinking and heart.

  17. Kimberley Blackburn
    Kimberley Blackburn says:

    Ouch, but true – getting our creativity crushed seems to be fundamental to our education system. Why? It certainly doesn’t have to.

    Nancy’s comment on play is on point – play and learning are inseparable for children – anyone that does’t know this, should not teach young children.

    In my practice – working with nontraditional multisensory learners, I often give talks to parents of preschoolers on kindergarten readiness and risks. Because my practice is working exclusively with students who tend to ‘fall behind’ in traditional classrooms, I mainly focus on 3 Critical Factors:

    Is your child young for grade level?
    Is your child an multiisensory learner?
    Does your child have learning disabilities?

    I cover this in my book as well as the toll overachievement is taking on our children.

    In preparing our children for the future – what kind of people are we turning them into???

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