Video: The new kindergarten

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/7/2005 7:27:35 PM ET 2005-06-07T23:27:35

ATLANTA — For Raeven Faulkner, it's another typical day of writing, spelling and reading — in kindergarten. Coloring, naps and snacks are still around, but these days its curriculum, not cookies that count.

In addition to the three "R's" (reading, writing and arithmetic), 5-year-olds in some schools are learning science, social studies and even map reading.

"What children know when they enter kindergarten about things like letters of the alphabet can predict reading scores all the way through 10th grade," says Russ Whitehurst, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.

Part of the academic push comes from parents, like Raeven’s mother, Sarah Faulkner.

"We wanted to know that a curriculum would help advance her," says Sarah. "She won’t be left behind."

The government's also helping to raise the bar with the No Child Left Behind Act. Under it, schools could face sanctions if they miss academic targets.

But critics contend it is too much too soon — turning kindergarten into kinder-grind.

"I feel we are robbing them of their childhood," says Leslie Falconer, who teaches kindergarten in San Diego.

Earlier this year, Falconer and her fellow teachers won a battle to reduce their school system’s reading benchmark after it had been sharply raised.

"It was frustrating for children, and also it was very frustrating for the parents, because they felt their children weren't achieving," says Falconer.

Researcher David Elkind says fun time is educational, too.

"Play is a very important part," says Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University in Boston. "Kindergarten education play is a way in which children learn. And children learn a lot of social skills through those things."

Experts say today's kindergarten needs to strike a balance between fun and study.

What do kids think?

"I don’t think I can answer that right now," says one boy.

But it won't be long until he has all the answers, since, as every parent knows, the days of childhood are numbered.

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