New brain research reveals that the tasks taught in a typical kindergarten curriculum are not appropriate expectations for the brain of a typical five year old. Neither the language centers for reading nor the processing centers responsible for what we see as self-control are fully developed. The pressure for American education to improve is high and has led to the trend of pushing reading instruction in kindergarten instead of first grade, and changing from a half day to full day to accomplish that. This push has caused an increase in reading disabilities and behavorial issues and puts the successful education of our nation’s children at risk.
As an example of the reasoning behind the trend, a small rural school district in central PA used to give two choices for kindergarten: half and full day. After comparing the test scores of the two sets of children at the end of a year, the district concluded that the children in a full-day program “learned more,” and based on that, now require all children attending kindergarten to a full-day and the task of learning to read. Of course children who received twice as much instruction learned more! But that fact does not equate to full-day kindergarten as better for children or a good reason to change educational policy.
Some doctors, educators, and researchers are concerned that the rationale for teaching reading in kindergarten is not based on research about how the brain develops cognitively. Most 5 year old’s brains consist of only the brain’s right hemisphere’s language center; the portions of the brain needed for many of the complex tasks of reading reside in the not-yet-developed left hemisphere’s language center.
To process written language, each hemisphere of the brain controls distinct aspects of the process. Susan Johnson, MD, a pediatrician and certified Waldorf educator, asserts “children should be taught to read only when their neurological pathways for doing so have fully formed.” Requiring kids to learn to read before
these functions of the brain are all present is unreasonable and results in negative consequences on children’s educational experiences. However, this is exactly the reality in the US educational system. Our nation has bought into the notion that educating earlier will lead to smarter, more productive kids.
Lessons from other countries’ educational choices
A look around the world reveals some interesting food for thought. Countries of the UK have, for over a century, begun schooling the year children turn five, with some starting at four. But the past few years has brought Britain to question their policy, due simply to looking at their outcomes versus most other European countries that start at six or even as late as seven, such as the Scandinavian countries. Instead of that later start revealing a lag in students’ capacity and pace of learning, the opposite is true; these students not only catch up and excel, but Finland’s students surpass their counterparts in the Americas, Europe and even Asian by earning the top overall scores in the world in reading, science and math in the last PISA assessments. The United States finds itself in the middle muddle in such comparisons. Attempts to improve education show the US beginning to emulate the UK and other countries whose early start has proven to be a liability, instead of following the steps of the top performers whose educational expectations follow the pace of brain development, giving their kids the best natural advantage to success.
Published in: Family