March 15, 2013

Regarding Deborah Kenny’s March 10 Sunday Opinion commentary, “The right kindergarten curriculum: Play”:

The Common Core regimentation of kindergarten can only sadden those of us who were fortunate enough to have gone to school before World War II, when kindergarten was devoted entirely to socializing children. The only specific thing we ever learned was nursery rhymes. We spent our time playing games or listening to our teacher read to us. Now some poor little kids even have homework in kindergarten. This, I would submit, is likely to stunt their social and academic development.

We never learned anything of substance until the first grade, but then we went on to learn substantially more than children seem to be learning today. There was no prejudice against memorization, now usually disparaged by preceding it with the pejorative “rote.” We acquired a great deal of knowledge this way. For example, we memorized multiplication tables. Now one sees young people using calculators to solve simple multiplication problems. We learned to think by using the tools of knowledge we acquired.

William Lloyd Stearman, North Bethesda

I agree with Deborah Kenny’s recommendation that every school needs “to empower its principal to select, nurture, and develop an outstanding faculty” to meet the “immensely challenging” Common Core standards. Harlem Village Academies should be applauded for educating its principals about the disparities among kindergarten programs.

Unfortunately, during my 30 years as a kindergarten teacher, it was apparent that most school leaders lacked understanding of how 5- and 6-year-olds learn. In one case, a principal did not attempt to replace a rote-learning environment with a multi-sensory approach to learning simply because the kindergarten team leader believed in a pencil-and-paper, linear approach to learning.

One would hope that principals and kindergarten teachers enter the field with strong early-childhood backgrounds, but that is not necessarily the case. Taking the time to discuss teaching strategies, learn from mentors and analyze standards, as Ms. Kenny’s staffers do, is important to developing “an organically integrated” curriculum.

I share Ms. Kenny’s belief that what students are expected to know is not the issue. That Harlem Village Academies takes the time to evaluate how to teach in relation to how kindergartners learn should serve as a model for educators who are faced with implementing state standards in kindergarten.

Charlotte Dwyer, Alexandria