Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Meaningless Work of a Kindergartener

January 22, 2013

"Memorize these words but don’t ask me what they mean." 

Creativity needs to be nurtured & protected!
Spelling words: lad, fad, cad, tad, had, rad, mad, bad, sad, dad…Sentences to memorize and write: I am sad.  I see my mad dad.  Hard to be on board with my 6 year old son having to memorize a list of spelling words, learn their sounds, and write them over and over again so he can pass a test when 40% of these spelling words have absolutely NO meaning to him and teaching these meanings is not part of the curriculum. Also, what kind of message are those spelling word sentences sending to our children?  

It does not sit well with me, an early childhood educator, that my son and his classmates are administered tests which assess concepts that require the skill of independent reading and comprehension in order to know what is being asked when only two people know how to read in his class: the teacher, and one student who has been given the task of making sure the kids know what the questions on the test are and what they mean. This student is 6. At no point is any individual student asked to explain their answers to see why they answer the way that they do. If the answer does not match the key it is wrong and a sheet is printed out that simply gives a percent correct for that objective. This is totally ludicrous if you ask me. After one second spent with my non-reading child (other than beginning sight words and one syllable words) to assess his understanding I can see that he does indeed have a firm grasp of the concept of same and different.  However, he can't read the question himself to determine if he is to identify what is the same in the picture or what is different. And honestly, if he has to do one more meaningless, context-less ditto I think I'll cry for the sake of education.  

It is completely meaningless to me that my child has an overall grade of 88% on this “Accelerated Math” test because it is not a true reflection of what any child knows and certainly not any indication of whether or not the children understand the concepts being tested.  I am honestly more concerned with my child’s ability to learn math processes and solve problems by thinking of ways to reach a solution to a given problem rather than produce correct answers to pass a test and get a good grade.  Of course I agree that we need to teach children how to recognize letters and put sounds together to make words. However, words and sounds without meaning are just that, meaningless.  It is also important that children learn that some problems have only one correct answer such as 1 + 1 = 2, but I argue that children need to first learn how to do the problem and why it is done that way so that they can get the correct answer as a result of mastering the process involved in the concepts being taught.   

In this situation, grades no longer truly reflect what young children know and understand because they are solely based on Scantron type test results.  Children need to be assessed in a variety of ways to ensure that they are able to accurately communicate what they know.  While I don’t think that the teacher is necessarily the culprit in this problem, I acknowledge that she could do more to ensure and protect the learning process of the children in her class.  Rather, I look to the educational system, which requires this type of testing and results only evaluation of children’s learning.  

I say, stop drowning our kid’s days with context-less dittos and worksheets and start teaching kids how to learn and let them get involved in their learning.  In my experience working with young children, I know that children are curious by nature and have a desire to understand the world around them and be challenged to learn new things.  This is a natural part of childhood, which is being robbed from young children in this type of educational system.  How can we bring learning back to life in our public school system with this type of educational model?  How can we inspire lifelong learners who think critically and solve tomorrow’s problems with zest and enthusiasm when we are teaching from day one in Kindergarten that there is only one right answer to a problem and that the process of solving problems should be memorized instead of understood?  

I will take the time to teach my child the meaning of these words he has to memorize by Friday for his spelling test so that these words have some meaning and purpose and can be used again someday.  However, I will not encourage him to memorize sentences with such negative messages and will ask the teacher to reconsider the selection to reflect more positive thinking about one’s self and their dad’s.  In addition, I will be assessing my child’s understanding of required concepts and providing him with real world, concrete opportunities to apply those concepts so that they too have a purpose and meaning beyond this week’s spelling and Accelerated Math tests.  At a ripe age of six years old, after spending almost 6 hours at school each day, you can imagine that having to come home and do more meaningless work is not on the top of my Kindergartner's list.  However, after we "get through" the homework dittos (after all he needs to have a healthy respect for responsibility) I will begin to ensure that my child learns how and why he does what he does at school each day and to turn that into a real working knowledge with purpose and meaning.  It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.  And until I can do more than that which I have committed to do after he gets home from school, my attempts to bring meaning to his education will have to suffice for now.  I don’t want my child to “get through” school.  I want my child be actively engaged in his learning process, develop working knowledge, and enjoy the gift of education.  Is that so much to ask?


  1. I was captured with your statement, "I'll cry for the sake of education." Reminded me of the Prophet Jeremiah, when he wept over the sins and judgment coming to the people of Israel. Sometimes it takes this cry to awaken and realize that our hearts as educators must change! Making education meaningful to our children. Taking the necessary steps to equip them, and have God's Spirit breath into everyone of our activities and lessons in every subject area (Math, Science, English, Writing, Art, etc.).

    "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7 NIV)

  2. Niki - Great blog idea and thank you for inspiring me to bring more learning centered activities into our daily routines at home. In the three or so years that you have been a part of our lives, not only have my kids learned so much from you but I have as well! Best wishes on this new adventure to inspire and share your knowledge, energy, and love for learning with others! xo