Monday, June 4, 2007

Starting kindergarten

There is an interesting New York Times article discussing research on kindergarten starting times and longer-term educational performance. The bottom line: starting too early can actually lead to lower academic performance later on. Why? We can only speculate. But as is often true here: averages can give you pause to think but ultimately, it will depend on the child what is appropriate.

What is interesting is that kindergarten is seen as a curriculum and way of learning and that parents are supposed to match their child's readiness to this. Mix into that the fact that children's social compatibility might differ from their academic readiness and you have a system that coordinates on the latter and might then mismatch the former. And what we don't know is if that former mismatch is creating the learning differentials rather than changing overall rates of learning. What I mean here is that pool kids of the same age together and they might learn to read on average by age 6.5 but separate them out and the older kids might learn to read by 6.5 while the younger ones might fall behind to 7.

Reading this article made me wonder that what we are trying to teach kids in kindergarten might be inappropriate. The big example of this is reading. Watching a child learn to read English is excruciating. It is a tough activity and what is more the case to them to be reading at 6 rather than 7 is not particularly strong. Sure kids who can read by age 4 (we have one) can do lots more things. But they are also reading by that age because those are the things they are interested in. Forcing others to fit that mold is not obvious. Factoring out natural ability I am not sure whether early reading will lead to better later improved academic performance; although I can imagine that numeracy might. One day when I get a moment I might read further into this.