Charities to help poor children of industrial families started kindergartens in Prussia in the 19th Century. This was a world where most people over age 10 worked. The kindergarten idea was radical in a world where young children often had to be left home alone while the parents and older children went to work. The young often were drugged or gassed to keep them safe. Caring people watching over the babies for free made it very popular. Kindergarten provided a safe place for children to receive nutritious food, basic hygiene, clean clothes and companionship. The original movement was inspired by revolutionaries like Rousseau who championed the idea that play was healthy for children. Learning in kindergarten was incidental. Most people went from kindergarten to work.
Eventually, the Prussian government banned kindergartens because it feared covert labor activism. Nevertheless, the idea was too good to abandon and it spread across the industrial west. Fear of labor propaganda abated even in Prussia and by 1860 all of industrial Europe, England, and the United States had private kindergartens.
Kindergarten is still a good idea, but today the state runs most kindergartens. The state also regulates private child care. Kindergarten becomes more a part of state education every year as state education departments push legislation to lower the age of compulsory education. Kindergarten is required in K-12 education in 12 states and The District of Columbia at last count.
The world of work is more humane in 2021 but the structure of work is not. Families too poor to afford leaving a parent to raise the children when maternity leave expires still need the early child care solution. All single parents without family to care for children need kindergarten. When both parents must work, they need kindergarten. Early industrial workers were relatively more affluent than their rural cousins, but everyone had to work. Today people are relatively affluent, but are too poor to raise children even if they have a nice house, two cars, a boat and power tools in the basement. Many parents cannot lose a paycheck. The solution has not changed in two centuries. Public kindergarten still manages the welfare of the child, keeps it safe, fed, healthy, and clean like charitable kindergarten once did.
Sadly, the idea of play is gone. Play is radical again. Rolling kindergarten into K-12 public education transformed it into public school for young children. Most kindergartens are abysmal innervating nets of rules and supervision. Any playing that happens at public kindergarten is incidental to all the work that must be done. The child is placed on the lower rung of the learning system to “prepare them with the basic skills to enter Grade One.” No fun there.
Requirements for Public Kindergarten
Children who will attend public school should attend public kindergarten. This is the simple path. The state says that a child’s basic knowledge to enter kindergarten should include social skills, motor skills, particular reasoning and concept development, specific language skills, reading skills, and writing skills. Despite the bureaucratic language, this reading and writing is not Shakespeare. Children must be able to scribble and watch along as stories are read to them. These are fairly routine skills for any five-year-old human. Parents should not fret. Parents curious about the preparation for kindergarten should search the Internet. Many commercial sites like Leap Frog1 exist to set the parental mind at ease. Non-commercial sites hosted by public school districts, like the Fairfax County “Stepping Into Kindergarten”2 provide free resources. The local school district also hosts websites with specific information about what a child needs to bring to the first day of kindergarten.
It is all serious business and not just for the dragon parents who want the “right” preschool to get into the “right” prep school. Every public kindergarten takes itself seriously and expects no less from parents. The usual kindergarten curriculum is likely be ten or fifteen pages of goals and assessments in specific categories.
VISIONWe inspire learning by providing the greatest public education to each and every student.MISSIONEvery student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social emotional skills to be successful in college and career.CORE PURPOSEPrepare all students to thrive in their future.CORE VALUESLearningRelationships RespectExcellenceEquity
It is all so deadly serious and dull.
The irony of the “COVID-19 lock-down kindergarten” is that the public kindergarten (and school) usually remained open for the parents who were the “essential workers”, who needed to leave the home. These children lost a year of play that non-essential children got. The white collar parents who worked from home kept an eye on the children attending distance kindergarten in the next room. 2020 is a year of unexpected children appearing in critical corporate zoom meetings. Good times. These were also lucky children.
Public School Not Quite Original Kindergarten
Public school kindergarten prepares the child for work by making school into work. The original flow-chart for public kindergarten must assume that 13 years of school prepares the child for a job. Most work is different from school work.
This all made more sense when most parents worked in factories or the mills. Workers went to the factory. Johnny and Joannie went to PS 135. Now the jobs are in offices, but the Kindergarten remains a blue collar factory.
Parents who use the public kindergartens should work hard to push the administrators toward the original impulse of play. Kindergarten should be fun. It is not some subversive idea. Make a sign. “Less marching, more dancing please.” Post it on Tik-Tok. Work will come to children soon enough.
2 Fairfax County Department of Family Services https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/familyservices/sites/familyservices/files/assets/officeforchildren/school-readiness/pdfs/stepping-into-kindergarten.pdf
3 Montgomery Schools Parent Guide for Traditional Kindergarten: https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/curriculum/elementary/parent-guide-traditional-kindergarten-en.pdf