Why Pre-K?

Why Pre-K?

There is a lot of discussion on the news and online, in schools and homes across the country about whether or not having a robust and even mandatory pre-k program in our schools is necessary. There are all kinds of statistics pointing to the advantages of pre-k. For example, the “Chicago Longitudinal Study” found that pre-k recipients were 29% more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who did not attend pre-k. The “State Efforts to Evaluate the Effects of Pre-Kindergarten” study out of Yale found that pre-k attendees were 44% less likely to repeat grades than their peers who did not attend pre-k.

So it is a slam dunk that we need pre-k… Right?

Every kid should go… Right?

Believe it or not, these are not simple as yes and no answers. It would be easy to look at these statistics and say that all 4-year-olds need to be in a pre-kindergarten prep class. It would also be easy to infer that if our kids all attend pre-k, our kids will be doing much better in school and have a much better chance of academic success. But when you read these studies a little closer, you find the groups are looking at the kids who are at the highest levels of risk. These are the kids who are the most likely recipients of special education due to either learning and/or behavioral disorders. These are also the kids most likely from homes that are at higher levels of risk due to poverty and divorce.

So what… Right?

If it works, it works… Right?

We are all concerned about the state of our schools and we all want the right answers. Pre-kindergarten for kids may very well be one of the big “right” answers, but I think we need to approach mandating pre-k very carefully. What is the objective? If it is to simply accelerate our kids’ academic capacity to make kindergarten more academic-centric, then I think we are missing the mark. While reading and writing and doing math are the ultimate goals of education, if they are the sole goals then the education will never be complete. This point is even more critical in pre-k than in primary grades.

Think about it for a minute: Are our kids falling behind in kindergarten, first and second grades because they cannot read and write with the necessary level of proficiency? I thought that is what kindergarten and first and second grades were for. No, we have kids lagging behind and dragging their classmates behind — not because they don’t show up for kindergarten unprepared to read — because they show up for kindergarten unprepared to socialize.

pre-k

The pre-k through early second grade years are within the “Preoperational Stage” of the Piaget Stages of Development. During this stage, kids are developing memory and are beginning to use their imagination to create cohesive stories and link experiences to play. During this stage, kids are an absolute sponge and can learn languages and other abstract processes at an accelerated rate because it is all new and they do not have the rules of learning yet to create boundaries that may or may not support their learning capacity. But as much of a sponge as these kids are, they are not yet fully capable of learning complex processes such as cause and effect, time management, and even comparisons. In other words, a 5-year-old might be able to quickly learn multiple phrases in multiple languages, but doesn’t yet realize their actions have consequences and that they therefore need to be accountable for those actions.

I do believe in pre-kindergarten preparation. Some kids will do great in a “Mother’s Day Out” program coupled with a robust accountability parenting at home. Some kids will do great at a day care and learn structure through that time. Some kids will come from a very active home and will learn social responsibility through their interactions with their brothers and sisters. However, some kids will come to the first day of kindergarten not having a clue why they need to sit down when the teachers tells them to. They won’t understand the concept of sharing, and they definitely do not understand that taking something just because they want it is wrong.

I say all of this to say that the reason some pre-k programs are successful is not because they give our kids a head start in reading or adding or writing. They are successful because they begin to help our kids understand and conceptualize the process of socialization and the stratification of authority and accountability. We might take it for granted that a kid coming into kindergarten will know to obey the teacher, but why would be take that for granted? Have you been in public lately and seen some kids that do not obey their parents? Why then would they obey a stranger? And when you get one or two of those kids in a classroom, then suddenly we have kindergarten teachers teaching the basics of social responsibility and accountability to the detriment of academics.

Now, this is not to say that kindergarten teachers do not need to teach socialization; on the contrary, it is vitally important. However, they should be teaching the socialization necessary to begin learning, not how to begin being around other kids and interacting with peers and authority. Those are lessons kids need to come to school with a basis of understanding.

Over the next couple of weeks we will explore the pros and cons of pre-k.

As with any initiative, it can be incredibly important and successful if it is done right.

As with any initiative, it can be an absolute bust if it is done as a quick fix without the proper focus on results if it is not implemented correctly.

Pre-k can be a difference maker, but it can also be one more grade level that is behind from an expectations standpoint because we have kids coming into pre-k that are not ready for the academic benchmarks of that aged group.

Let’s think boldly and out of the box on initiatives like pre-k.

Let’s look at the true need of this age group: It isn’t to read and write and add. Those skills will come from the very capable hands and minds and mouths of our teachers. Instead, pre-k should be a time to focus on how to walk into a classroom and be a part of a group. It should focus on how to listen and mind a teacher. It should focus on how to work independently as well as part of a group. It should be about how to play and work and sing and eat and walk and talk and run with your classmates while still doing the tasks and work that each individual is accountable for. Pre-k can be a game changer if we use it as the first step in educating the whole child, not just the part that is on the standardized test. I have had a friend tell me once that it is much easier to teach a kid when they aren’t throwing a chair at you. Let’s teach our kids to sit in a chair an listen as part of the process of moving towards teaching them to read and write.

Yes, pre-k can be a difference maker. It is most likely necessary. But we have to do it right. We have to begin realizing that the sole focus on academics alone is not truly educating a child when that child’s behaviors keep him from learning.

The balance of intellectual capacity and social quotient is how intelligence is measured.

We need to start nurturing whole intelligence early and often.

We need to feed intellect and social capacity hand in hand.

We have to educate the whole child. And pre-k is a great place to start.

How Can Pre-K Really Help?

How Can Pre-K Really Help?

The ongoing debate over the need for pre-k tends to take a “baby and the bathwater” tone which has proponents on one side saying it should be universal and even mandated with opponents on the other side saying it is basically glorified babysitting and tax dollars could be better spent elsewhere. As is the case in most of these situations, the truth lies in the middle and not the fringes of the argument. Can Pre-K benefit kids? Absolutely, the data is very clear. Should every kid be mandated into a Pre-K program? No. Many families are doing a great job preparing their kids for school and have access to resources where socialization and learning are taking place.

Let’s set the arguments and politics aside and talk about how and why pre-k could become a critical element of the educational system.

Consider these 5 points:

Learning to Learn – the ability to teach our little ones to learn to learn dramatically increases our ability to teach them to love to learn. Watch a preschooler’s eyes light up when he picks up a picture book and someone takes a few minutes to read it to him. Watch a little girl sit spellbound as she listens to stories and sees the pictures. There is an innate curiosity in every child and if that curiosity can be harnessed and pointed towards reading and math at an early age, they will struggle less with both later.

learning to listen


Learning to Listen – just as importantly as learning to read is learning the incredibly important skill of listening. It is not in a preschooler’s nature to stop and listen for instructions and follow instruction. Even at home, a preschooler often has to be told multiple times to do a simple task. Now complicate that task by adding in 15 more kids, each with their own set of listening issues, and you can see how kindergarten can become a full time “teaching to listen” rather than “teaching to learn” environment. Preschool is a terrific place for kids to learn to listen to and follow instructions in a group setting. Many parents will say that they are teaching their kids these skills at home, and that is fantastic. However, if you do not have an extra 15 4-5 year olds at your house, you cannot replicate the environment your kids will have to learn to listen in at school.

Learning to be independent


Learn to be Independent – this is a hard one for many parents to come to grips with. Most parents want their little ones to need mommy and daddy and are worried about sending them off into the world too early. Please consider this: no one can replace mom or dad but mom and dad, and even multiple siblings, cannot replicate nor duplicate the social structure that your little ones will need to adapt to in school. They will need to learn to sit down by themselves, listen when told to do so, complete work on their own, and be self sufficient in regards to bathroom, eating, and self grooming skills. A preschool type environment places an emphasis on independence in a group setting.

Learning to Play


Learning to Play – playtime is one of the most important aspects of a good preschool. Playtime is when sharing and consideration and manners are not only taught but also applied. Learning to play with others in a group setting is an incredibly important step in learning to learn with others. The ability to collectively share imaginations, share toys, play both organized and non-organized games, and interject in the group dynamics is foundational stepping stone to academic success. Playing is a preschooler’s way of expanding and engaging their imagination and when that can be shared both expressively and receptively then the next step of learning to learn as a group is so much easier.

Basic Learning


Basic Learning – there is a fallacy that pre-k should be an academic learning environment. If a pre-k focuses primarily on academics then it is not likely to be successful. However, if a preschool program focuses on socialization and then uses academic lessons as an adjunct to the socialization process, the outcome will be a more academically prepared kindergartener because of exposure to academics. Good pre-k is more concerned with teaching little ones to be ready to learn, not jumping straight into the academic learning. But when the first is achieved, the second will follow.

The pre-k argument is like most others. There are those on both sides that have valid points, but they let the vitriol of their stance overshadow the validity of their arguments. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, let’s acknowledge that little ones who learn to love to learn and learn to be a part of a group are going to do better with academics. Let’s also acknowledge that exposing little ones social and emotional and developmental skills within the construct of a group will do better in a classroom. Pre-k can and should be a terrific addition to the academic milieu but only when the intent is to prepare little ones to learn. Government provided babysitting is not a benefit. School based interpersonal and group skill teaching is a benefit that cannot be overstated.

The Focus of Pre-K: Are They Ready to Learn?

The Focus of Pre-K: Are They Ready to Learn?

One of the real issues facing schools today is the readiness of kids to begin. Are little ones ready for Kindergarten? If not, is Pre-K the answer? What should the focus of Pre-K be? Is it academic readiness or is it social preparation? Can you mix the two? How do you know which is the more pressing need?

There are lots of questions about readiness and not a lot of canned, ready to implement answers. In February 2015, Mark Howard published a very interesting article titled, “Kids and Catch-Up”. In this article he gives the statistics in Florida involving the impact of poor reading in the 1st grade and how 88% of these kids are still poor readers in the 5th grade. He then follows the trend lines of kids who entered school unprepared to learn and continued learning behind the curve and many who ended up dropping out and an alarming number that ended up incarcerated.

Pre-K Child

What makes all of this so difficult is that it isn’t as simple as dropping in good reading program and everything will be fine. These are little kids. Even if you have the best reading program in the world, how are you going to teach it to them when you can’t get them to sit down and pay attention. Again, the question is about preparedness.

Many schools are wrestling with testing and assessments for Pre-K-aged kids to determine their learning readiness.

Some are even going so far as to try and put together behavior scales and assessments to determine social and emotional preparedness. This is a very difficult task, because little ones can assimilate knowledge very quickly and can learn at an accelerated level well beyond an adult– but they do often do not possess the ability of discernment, decision making, and social and emotional maturity for educational and social integration.

Jean Piaget’s cognitive stages of development posit that kids in the age range of 4-7 typically have a similar cognitive functionality. This stage of development is known as the “Intuitive Phase” and during this phase, kids tend to be myopic in both learning and problem solving. Everything is seen and experienced and therefore dealt with through the prism of “Me”. This makes the integration into a structured social platform, ie classroom, a very difficult transition for many kids. It also means that we have Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st graders who will struggle with this, and that is actually normal. It is not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a Pre-K student to fit right in and and grasp the structure of a school day with no problem. It is also not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a 1st grader to struggle with the structure of a school day and the social and emotional expectations and demands.

So what do you do?

To answer these questions you have to look at the platform itself. Even though kids develop in phases, they are placed academically on age. There is not an acceleration or deceleration platform for kids based on maturity. I wish we could keep kids at their maturity level until they are socially and emotionally ready to progress, but we don’t. The main reason we don’t is because that process is expensive and it is counter to our linear educational systems that moves kids to higher level of accountability based upon their age, not their maturity.

This means we have to work within the platform. How do you do this? You define the expectations of the platformed ages and then you teach to those social and emotional expectations just like you would to the reading and writing level. We expect our kids to be able to read and write and add and subtract at advancing levels for each year of school.

What are your social and emotional expectations for Kindergarteners vs 3rd graders vs their Freshman year?

These aren’t usually defined. And the problem with little ones, those in that intuitive phase, is that it isn’t something you can simply assess and address. Instead, you have to make the maturing of your students’ social and emotional aptitude part of your instructional and teaching day. You have to teach them how to sit down and pay attention. You have to teach them how to stand in a line. You have to teach them how to get along with the kid sitting next to them. You have to teach them how to talk appropriately. You have to teach them how to be a member of the class, and then you must have a strategy that both reinforces and provides consequences based upon this teaching.

In other words, if you want kids that are mature enough to read and write and add and subtract, you have to teach them how to be a student. You have to teach them how to work and think and develop within the structured day of a classroom. You can’t simply assess and address. You have to make the development of your students’ social capacity an equal to their ability to read and write. If you don’t, a lot of our kids will continue to be poor readers and writers and learners. They can’t afford that, and neither can we as a society.

The Focus of Pre-K: Are They Ready to Learn?

The Focus of Pre-K: Are They Ready to Learn?

One of the real issues facing schools today is the readiness of kids to begin. Are little ones ready for Kindergarten? If not, is Pre-K the answer? What should the focus of Pre-K be? Is it academic readiness or is it social preparation? Can you mix the two? How do you know which is the more pressing need?

There are lots of questions about readiness and not a lot of canned, ready to implement answers. In February 2015, Mark Howard published a very interesting article titled, “Kids and Catch-Up”. In this article he gives the statistics in Florida involving the impact of poor reading in the 1st grade and how 88% of these kids are still poor readers in the 5th grade. He then follows the trend lines of kids who entered school unprepared to learn and continued learning behind the curve and many who ended up dropping out and an alarming number that ended up incarcerated.

Pre-K Child

What makes all of this so difficult is that it isn’t as simple as dropping in good reading program and everything will be fine. These are little kids. Even if you have the best reading program in the world, how are you going to teach it to them when you can’t get them to sit down and pay attention. Again, the question is about preparedness.

Many schools are wrestling with testing and assessments for Pre-K-aged kids to determine their learning readiness.

Some are even going so far as to try and put together behavior scales and assessments to determine social and emotional preparedness. This is a very difficult task, because little ones can assimilate knowledge very quickly and can learn at an accelerated level well beyond an adult– but they do often do not possess the ability of discernment, decision making, and social and emotional maturity for educational and social integration.

Jean Piaget’s cognitive stages of development posit that kids in the age range of 4-7 typically have a similar cognitive functionality. This stage of development is known as the “Intuitive Phase” and during this phase, kids tend to be myopic in both learning and problem solving. Everything is seen and experienced and therefore dealt with through the prism of “Me”. This makes the integration into a structured social platform, ie classroom, a very difficult transition for many kids. It also means that we have Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st graders who will struggle with this, and that is actually normal. It is not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a Pre-K student to fit right in and and grasp the structure of a school day with no problem. It is also not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a 1st grader to struggle with the structure of a school day and the social and emotional expectations and demands.

So what do you do?

To answer these questions you have to look at the platform itself. Even though kids develop in phases, they are placed academically on age. There is not an acceleration or deceleration platform for kids based on maturity. I wish we could keep kids at their maturity level until they are socially and emotionally ready to progress, but we don’t. The main reason we don’t is because that process is expensive and it is counter to our linear educational systems that moves kids to higher level of accountability based upon their age, not their maturity.

This means we have to work within the platform. How do you do this? You define the expectations of the platformed ages and then you teach to those social and emotional expectations just like you would to the reading and writing level. We expect our kids to be able to read and write and add and subtract at advancing levels for each year of school.

What are your social and emotional expectations for Kindergarteners vs 3rd graders vs their Freshman year?

These aren’t usually defined. And the problem with little ones, those in that intuitive phase, is that it isn’t something you can simply assess and address. Instead, you have to make the maturing of your students’ social and emotional aptitude part of your instructional and teaching day. You have to teach them how to sit down and pay attention. You have to teach them how to stand in a line. You have to teach them how to get along with the kid sitting next to them. You have to teach them how to talk appropriately. You have to teach them how to be a member of the class, and then you must have a strategy that both reinforces and provides consequences based upon this teaching.

In other words, if you want kids that are mature enough to read and write and add and subtract, you have to teach them how to be a student. You have to teach them how to work and think and develop within the structured day of a classroom. You can’t simply assess and address. You have to make the development of your students’ social capacity an equal to their ability to read and write. If you don’t, a lot of our kids will continue to be poor readers and writers and learners. They can’t afford that, and neither can we as a society.