How Kindergarten taught my kids to ‘hate learning’

I feel pretty strongly that kids shouldn’t hate kindergarten. They also shouldn’t fail kindergarten. My two did both!

They should be given a safe and enriching environment in which to learn through play. Kids at that age naturally want to learn about everything around them, including letters and numbers.

There is nothing to gain and so much to lose by forcing kids to learn to read and write before they’re ready- and that’s not even addressing special needs. When you toss learning disabilities into the mix, you end up teaching kids to believe that they are inferior, stupid, and worst of all – that they hate to learn.

I know whereof I speak. It took two years after his kindergarten experience before my son stopped insisting that he ‘hated to learn’ or do ‘school work.’ My daughter, who used to sit and do letter and math worksheets for fun, now can’t stand them. After one semester of kindergarten, she stopped liking anything you refer to as ‘school work.’

This is why, if you ask them what they did for school that day (which people do…I trust that it is out of habit rather than trying to make sure I actually ‘taught’ them something that day…) they will respond with something like “Oh, we didn’t do school today!”

I’m usually equally divided with pride that I successfully taught them in ways that didn’t resemble what they experienced as ‘school’ in kindergarten – and gripped with concern that I’m about to have to ruin all that effort by explaining (typically in great detail) to the inquisitor what ‘facts’ my children actually learned that day when they were ‘just having fun.’ ::head:table::

Things that they love doing or watching suddenly become torture as soon as you mention anything about ‘school’ or ‘learning.’ This breaks my heart. Learning is the most interesting thing we do in life! Anything you do – unless you sit and stare at the wall all day (and you’re probably still learning SOMETHING) involves learning in one way or another.

There are about as many ways to learn important information as there are people who need to learn it. My goal is to provide information to my children through methods that best fit the ways they each learn. Why in the world should we force kids to learn in ways (or at a pace) that not only don’t fit their needs, but actually deter them from a desire to learn?

The traditional school setting did not provide my children with appropriate ways to obtain information for their learning profile. Sure, I could force the school system to provide what they are legally required to provide for my children’s ‘free and appropriate public education’ – but it’s not my job to fix the system. It is my job to raise my children and to be sure that they are adequately prepared for adult life – with minimal trauma from under informed or over pressured teachers.

It is my well considered opinion that kindergarten is too young to learn that you hate school- or that you don’t measure up to the apparent standards someone (who knows nothing about you) has set. It is too early to be taught that you are not smart enough or can’t keep up with expectations.

This article from The Washington Post explains a number of great points regarding troubles with current kindergarten requirements.

I just barely resisted quoting the entire article…you should definitely read the whole thing – and/or watch the video– but here are the highlights. This is exactly why both of my school aged kids only made it halfway through Kindergarten before begging to homeschool (and why I agreed with them whole heartedly).

“Research shows greater gains from play-based programs than from preschools and kindergartens with a more academic focus…

We are setting unrealistic reading goals and frequently using inappropriate methods to accomplish them…

Kindergarten has, since the 1980s, become increasingly academic — with big pushes from President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top — and today many children are being asked to do things they are not ready to do…

Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience…

Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning.”

~Washington Post

In even the short time between my son’s kindergarten experience and my daughter’s, expectations have been raised. She also struggles with a learning disability but quite obviously is stronger in reading and writing than her brother. She can read better than he currently can (he is profoundly dyslexic, though very bright…but that is a topic for another day) and certainly better than he could in kindergarten, yet her grades were lower than his had been.

When I inquired about this in a conference with the child study committee meeting I requested, I was told that the report cards can be misleading to parents. I pointed out that I compared their grades and their actual tests side by side and that she had more correct answers but a lower score. I was told that kindergarten has gotten more challenging in the two years since my son was there.

They explained that they were all being held to higher standards and even kindergarten has been affected. They then told me that even though it was possible that my five year old daughter could actually fail kindergarten, and that she has a known learning disability, they did not feel that she needed any additional help through special services.

That did it for me. Not only were the schools doing it wrong two years ago, they still are – and it’s getting worse! They expected her to perform beyond her ability and weren’t even willing to go any extra distance to meet her where she was.

She had gone from begging to go to school three months before, and being so excited to learn that she could hardly stand the wait, to begging us to let her stop going.

Two for two so far, public school system. I’m not impressed.

You can have my children for the majority of every day, of every year for 12 years if you are up for the job- but you can’t break them. You can’t take a child who is dying to learn and in three months strip away that desire to the point that they recoil at the use of the words ‘school’ or ‘learning’.

You’re doing something wrong. That’s why we don’t do school anymore. You missed your chance…and a lot of other parents agree with me.

Sent from my iPhone



My ideal life


I have mentioned my mental note cards laid out, all a mess, before me these days. Being a researcher and writer by nature, when I set my mind to planning the future, it usually involves notes, stickies, diagrams, mental maps, and vivid illustrations in my mind. I relish the moments of far away thoughts and day dreams of what adventures may yet come. I even enjoy looking back and embracing the dreams that have already slipped past, unfulfilled. A good deal of the pleasure is in the moments of wild adventure it allows me during every day life.


C.S. Lewis said, “You can make anything by writing.” His worlds hold many of my most precious memories of time with my family, growing up.


My mother says, “You can draw a picture of anything.” She is usually referring to the perfectly drawn illustrations of clothing patterns, which has always amused me, but I have found that it applies in many areas of life.


At this moment, we have been plucked from the life that we thought we would lead forever. Through a journey that has been painful and scary, and which is still not looking as though it will end very soon, we have found ourselves with what seems to be a blank book. A pick-your-ending story…


It is impossible to say how life will turn out from here, but for a moment…for right now…we have the freedom to dream.


So, what do I see as our ideal life, you may ask? Well, since I can draw you a mental image – a story – of anything…let me take you on a little journey.


There are two totally different paths that I love to meander down.


One of them leads to a little farm, surrounded by little red and brown barns. We have our two beautiful children, who are now a little bit older, and their two younger siblings. I’m voting for twins so I can get a two for one pregnancy deal – but they need to be one of each gender…you know, like the Boxcar children, or the Pevensies of Narnia fame. If you are going to solve mysteries and go on grand adventures together, there just need to be two of each. Besides, the two we have are so incredible, four would be even better, right!?!?!


We would continue to homeschool, but in a fun and real life way – like raising random baby farm animals and making our own wool yarn. We’d make food prep into science experiments, and spend afternoons riding horses in the woods behind our house. They would want me to hang out with them, of course, because I’d be cool like that. 😉 We would learn archery, and survival skills – just for the fun of it, and we would cultivate our own organic food to learn about healthy living.


We would breed golden retriever puppies to be trained as assistance dogs, and have a relatively constant supply of happy, fluffy, rambunctious yellow puppies flopping around the house and fields. Gypsy, my parents’ border collie would come and retire on our farm in her old age – you know, so she could herd the puppies and little chickens and ducks.


We’d be happy there. It would have to not be an old farmhouse, though, because…well…those creep me out. But it would definitely have old world charm, in a new, non creepy way.


If we don’t do that, which I must say, it is highly unlikely that will ever happen, maybe we will be world travelers…


We could save money over several years, living with family members (check!) and hopefully save them money by contributing to all expenses (working on it!). Matt could move up in his job and take a position that allows travel, and we could save up his frequent flier miles to travel the world. We’d have to stop with just the two kids, though, and Hazel the wonderdog probably would only get to go on adventures that we could drive to.


Since we would be homeschooling, the kids could learn about history while on grand adventures, aiding their love of life long learning and curiosity. They would learn different cultures and appreciate more deeply the value of all human life, rather than only that which is familiar to them. We could also learn to be ninjas. That’s for Hadley. You just never know when you might need some mad ninja skills while back packing across Europe. 😉


Of course, now we have found out that I might just fall over dead at any moment, but – as the doctors say – I’ll probably be fine. 😉 I have also come to appreciate the fact that much of the joy is in the experience of real daily life. The right now. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, and planning or worrying won’t do a lot to change the uncontrollable unknown. When things don’t go as planned, like job loss – or unexpected illnesses – or any other event that seems to be mucking up our plans…our real life…I think of this:


The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls ones’ ’‘real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. –C.S. Lewis

And I will leave you with a thought from my dad, throughout my life:

This is it, kid. This is the fun part.