Should Math Be a Main Focus in Kindergarten?

Should kindergartners put away the building blocks and open the math books? According to recent research, earlier is better when it comes to learning mathematical concepts. But that could put undue pressure on kids, parents and even teachers.

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Too Academic?

There was a time when math, literacy and other subjects were saved for later grades, but those times are gone now. Much of what was once covered in first grade is now being introduced in kindergarten; even, as one researcher recently told The Huffington Post, 'preschool is becoming too academic.'

The new Common Core Standards, which are being adopted by nearly every state in the country, outline instructional math time for kindergartners. This includes shapes, number comparisons, sequential counting, measurement and addition and subtraction.

Kindergarten classes are also exposing students to calendars and clocks, even though, as points out, 'they're not fully able to tell time or even realize exactly what a month or a second is.'

'Promoting Later Achievement'

So why expose kindergartners to concepts they simply are not ready to grasp?

Preparation, some say. Such early exposure gets kids ready for more difficult problems later in their academic careers. Show them a time line or other simple concepts now, for example, and it is believed they'll better understand things like addition and subtraction later.

And according to a study by University of California Irvine professor Greg Duncan, math is more important than social development and even reading when it comes to academic success later in life. 'Math stood out as serving the kids best in promoting later achievement,' Duncan told The Huffington Post in December 2011. 'It was very surprising.'

Pushing Students Might 'Backfire'

Despite the research, is there an advantage to 'pushing' kindergartners too hard academically? Some say no.

In July 2010 Joan Almon, then-executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy child development, told 'there is research showing if you push 4- and 5-year olds too hard, it backfires.'

A report issued by the Alliance for Childhood earlier that year claimed that the changes to kindergarten over the past 20 years or so had transformed it into a 'pressure-cooker' and a 'place of stress and distress.'

All Work, No Play

Another concern about increased math instruction in kindergarten is that it takes away from all-important play time. And advocates of play say that the abilities and skills developed through this activity are also critical for success later in life.

'Through play children take on every aspect of life,' Almon said.

Behavioral changes in kindergartners have been noted as a result of stress; stress, some say, that results from too many expectations placed on them. And parents, too, are stressed. One mother told that she enrolled her child in summer tutoring classes for math and reading...before her child even started kindergarten!

So, will teaching math to kindergartners help or hinder them? Will they, and their parents, be too stressed out, or will the experience help them down the road? Time will tell...but for now, as research and the Common Core Standards indicate, early learning seems to be something that kindergartners can count on.

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