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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

The Purpose of Kindergarten

August 11, 2004

As one who taught kindergarten for over 20 years, I read with interest the article "A Question of Age, Ability" (Aug. 7). I believe the real problem is that we have lost sight of the purpose of kindergarten and have instead, in our zeal for high test scores, pushed many children into reading and writing before they are ready. Kindergarten should enhance social skills and reading readiness skills through activities that recognize the individual differences in children. Children who have had preschool and other enriching activities may be ready for an academic kindergarten, but a growing number of children lack these advantages.

Children who have not been taught basic skills and have not been exposed to books at home may not be ready for the curriculum and homework that is offered now. If we are going to teach reading in kindergarten, then the schools should have pre-kindergarten classes to help those who are not ready for an academic program, rather than making them wait to start school. Changing dates of entrance will not solve the problem.

Elaine Babbush

Long Beach

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It's too bad that the issue of kids entering kindergarten as 5-year-olds is being propelled by the state's budget situation. This decision shouldn't be about money at all. The only factor that relates to the birth date issue is readiness: being socially and developmentally ready for school. Federal and state mandates are continuously raising the standards and skills expected for each grade level -- and as a result, the youngest kids in each classroom are at a growing disadvantage.

As a second-grade teacher I witness the consequences of starting kids in school who are simply too young and not ready. My district's first day of school is Aug. 19. The youngest students in my class might not turn 7 until almost four months of school have passed. Yet these little guys have to struggle with second-grade standards, such as probability and comparative fractions. My youngest students are most often the ones who are not developmentally ready for this kind of abstract thinking. They really try, but because they are still very concrete learners, abstractions are outside their grasp.

This is an unfair situation that many children with autumn birthdays become trapped in throughout their entire elementary school years. California needs to offer universal quality preschool. Give our children a chance to first grow up, not spend every school year playing catch-up.

Brenda Tzipori

Ventura

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