Monday, October 2, 2017

Thoughts on Kindergarten...

I have this sweet Little Golden Book - We Like Kindergarten by Clara Cassidy. It's illustrated by Eloise Wilkin, which makes it even more precious. It was originally published in 1965, back when the idea of kindergarten was still thought of as 'garden for children'.

We Like Kindergarten depicts a girl named Carol leaving her puppy and kitten behind to head off to kindergarten. When she gets there, she hangs up her coat and is welcomed by her teacher playing the piano. All the boys and girls begin to sing. Then they take turns feeding the fish and turtle in the aquarium. Next, they finger paint, play with clay and musical instruments, and dance round singing "Farmer in the Dell", before the teacher reads them a story and they have show and tell. Then there is outdoor play and a snack preceding nap time. Lastly, the children wake from their naps to dance some more and draw pictures before saying goodbye to friends and the teacher and heading back home, where Carol is welcomed by her puppy and kitten. The book ends with Carol singing and playing her piano, pretending to be the teacher of her puppy, kitten, stuffed animals, and little sister.

Carol's kindergarten experience is very similar to my own here in rural Wisconsin, back in the late 1970's. (Yes, I'm dating myself.) Mrs. Fuchs and Mrs. Hawkinson both played the piano. We sang folk songs like "Farmer in the Dell" and "She'll be Coming Around the Mountain", which I remember vividly to this day. We made paper crafts, drew, and painted. We also had milk and graham crackers for a snack and nap time. We had outdoor recess and plenty of imaginary play time. There was story time and each week, we were introduced to a new letter of the alphabet via the inflatable Letter People. We also had a deaf boy in our class so we learned each of the letters in sign language.

Before looking ahead, let's take a brief moment to look back. My maternal grandmother is 98 years old. She was born in 1919 and didn't begin formal education until the age of 7 and in 1st grade. (She also purchased her driver's license from the local post office for 25-cents....can you imagine!!) Anyway, the Farmer is a bit older than me. He attended a rural one room school a couple of miles from his home until 4th grade, when the rural country schools in our area shut down and the districts began busing kids to the public school in the village. He began his formal education in 1st grade at age 6. Up until this point, there were no kindergartens in our community. However, a few years later, kindergarten reared it's head in our home town. Because of which, I was sent to school at age five.

Fast forward to the 21st Century, most children in our village and neighboring towns are no longer even beginning school at age 5, but now at ages 3 and 4. So in 100 years, children went from starting school at age 7 to age 3/4. However, children have not changed!! A child born today is still developmentally the same as a child born in the early 1900's. Genetics have not altered the various developmental stages. Children are no more developmentally ready to sit still, focus for long periods of time, and learn to read, then they were 100 years ago. I believe this is why ADHD and ADD are so prevalent today.

In Vol. 1, Home Education, Charlotte Mason had quite a bit to say about early childhood and kindergarten...
The Mother the best Kindergartnerin. - It is hardly necessary, here, to discuss the merits of the Kindergarten School. The success of such a school demands rare qualities in the teacher - high culture, some knowledge of psychology and of the art of education; intense sympathy with the children, much tact, much common sense, much common information, much "joyousness of nature,' and much governing power; - in a word, the Kindergarten method is nicely contrived to bring the child en rapport with a superior intelligence. Given, such a superior being to conduct it, and the Kindergarten is beautiful - 'tis like a little heaven below'; but put a commonplace woman in charge of such a school, and the charmingly devised gifts and games and occupations become so many instruments of wooden teaching. If the very essence of the Kindergarten method is personal influence, a sort of spiritual mesmerism, it follows that the mother is naturally the best Kindergartnerin; for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?
The Nursery need not therefore be a Kindergarten. - Though every mother should be a Kindergartnerin, in the sense in which Froebel would employ the term, it does not follow that every nursery should be a regularly organised Kindergarten. Indeed, the machinery of the Kindergarten is no more than a device to ensure that carrying out of certain educational principles, and some of these it is the mother's business to get at, and work out according to Froebel's method - or her own. For instance in the Kindergarten the child's senses are carefully and progressively trained: he looks, listens, learns by touch; gets ideas of size, colour, form, number; is taught to copy faithfully, express exactly. And in this training of the senses, the child is made to pursue the method the infant shapes for himself in his early studies of ring or ball. (Vol. 1, Home Education, p. 178-179)
Here we see, it isn't that Charlotte Mason is directly opposed to Kindergarten, which was a mistaken thought I used to hold, but rather, that she believed the best Kindergarten teacher is mother and the best setting is the home or the child's natural environment. She also advocated for the child to have plenty of sensory experiences, such as looking, listening, and touching the world around them. Charlotte Mason warned us about the perils of a structured classroom kindergarten back 100 years ago. She was also very specific about the qualities of the teacher, advocating that mother knows best.

Home educating affords us opportunities to provide a natural, loving environment for our kindergartners. You, as mother, are THE best teacher for your young child. No fancy curricula is needed. Simply let your child observe their natural world around them through beautiful books and time in the out-of-doors marveling at nature and God's creation. Let them play and pretend, developing their imaginations. Like Carol's kindergarten, sing songs, dance, introduce musical instruments, draw, finger paint, and play with clay. Allow your child those sensory opportunities. Expose them to great art and music. So many things we consider today as enrichment were absolute necessities to a liberal arts education in the past.

Finally, studies are showing better late than early may be the best approach. I recently read this blog that discusses Delaying kindergarten until age 7 offers key benefits to kids. I've been intrigued by Finland's approach to early childhood for some time. Could we come full circle after 100 years? Sometimes progress isn't always what it seems.


  1. I have long felt this way; just my own instinct. Very interesting to see how CM felt about it. I, too, had a Kindergarten almost exactly like you described yours. It seems that is now preschool or pre-preschool. I am so humbled to be able to afford my children this extra time to just be kids and grow as slowly or as quickly as each one needs. I wish more would see this better late than early and bring it into the establishment. Great post, thank you.

  2. Yes, I agree Cynthia that what was formerly 5-year kindergarten is now sadly 3K and 4K. Thanks for your thoughts and kind words.

    1. I would encourage you to read Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason. It's packed with a wealth of knowledge for children age 9 and under.