A recently published study casts a new light on the value of kindergarten. The study revisits participants in a 1980’s study where children were randomly assigned to kindergarten classrooms of differing class sizes. The benefits of smaller class sizes were impressive during KG, but faded out over subsequent years so that by middle school measurable effects on performance had faded to 2-3%. The new study revisits the study but uses a wider lens. It compares the now-grown study children on measures like annual income, college attendance, home ownership, retirement savings and so on. And the effects are found to persist.
The conclusion that the media seems to be drawing from the new study is that a kindergarten experience defined by small class size and teaching excellence is an important factor in long-term adult success. And I’m hearing a lot of wavering and guilt and second-guessing based on this study from parents who had been intending to homeschool their kindergarteners. If kindergarten is as important as this study suggests, should they really be opting out of it for their children?
My take on it is this: Kindergarten is crucial because it’s first the year we subject kids to the incredible stress of immersion in a peer-saturated, authority-driven environment, separation from home and family, academic rigors, achievement standards, and large-group learning. As a society we’ve decided that age 4 or 5, children should leave loving homes during the majority of their waking hours and make their way in an institutional world separate from family and community. That crucial first year comes far too soon for the developmental capabilities of the vast majority of young children and is a poor educational fit for many. Therefore there are many factors which can be seen as “protective,” as helping ease the transition and insulate kids from a portion of the stress and poorness of fit.
Those protective factors include caring, innovative, creative teachers, small class sizes, a holistic classroom environment, and particular demographics to the peer group. Things which mitigate against the stress and anxiety of something that is terribly unnatural in the grand scheme of humanity — separating children from the flow of family and community life.
This is all common sense to me. If you’re going to buy into this institutional model of child-rearing and education, it will help your child to have the best classroom and teacher you can possibly find.
And homeschooling trumps it all, in my opinion. Rest easy, all you wanna-be homeschooling parents. Your kids will have all those protective factors in spades — and little of the stress that calls for protection in the first place!