In other countries, educators are committed to keeping Kindergarten about play.
Kindergarten is the first stage of classroom education but the curriculum and the age a child enters Kindergarten differs around the world.
In most of Canada, Kindergarten starts the year a child turns five. However, many municipalities in Ontario offer both an optional Junior year and a mandatory Senior year of Kindergarten. This offers more time to transition from play to sitting at a desk.
So what is Kindergarten like in other countries?
In China, there are three levels of Kindergarten and even an optional year of preschool prior to that. When Chinese children turn three years-old, they begin a highly structured Kindergarten experience, with much higher expectations than in Canada, says Dave Bennett, a Canadian teaching in an English Kindergarten in Shanghai.
By the time Chinese children complete three years of Kindergarten, they are expected to know basic math and be comfortable speaking and reading in two languages, though â€œsome are very adept and others not,â€ says Bennett.
â€œPublic schools are very competitive in China and private schools are often viewed as where rich parents send kids who can't get in to best public schools,â€ he adds. â€œThere is much pressure to succeed even at an early age. With many families only having one child this pressure can become even more significant. Family and face are everything so if the child fails it, reflects badly on all involved.â€
Denmark is not only a world away from China in a geographic sense, but also in its approach to learning. In most Scandinavian countries, children start Grade One the year they turn seven and Kindergarten is not compulsory â€” though 99% of Danish children do attend in this preparatory year.
There are also three years of nursery school available, but the emphasis is entirely on play.
"The usual argument has been that until they are seven, they are not learning. They should be playing or having a nice time and being together in a free environment,â€ says Niels Egelund, a professor with the Danish University of Education in Copenhagen and the Director of the Institute of Educational Psychology. â€œThen, when they are seven they are ready for formal learning. â€œ
â€œChildren are expected to play in Kindergarten, â€œ says Kristina Autio, an administrative assistant who taught kindergarten in a Helsinki suburb for five years. â€œThey have to grow up so much as it is that in Finland, they donâ€™t expect too much at that age group. Itâ€™s more about learning social skills like sharing. There is some learning but they donâ€™t push the children as much as we do here.â€
Play or Work?
In a recent New York Times story, many parents in New York are opting to keep their preschoolers out of Kindergarten until they are a year older. Kindergarten has become so rigorous in New York that many parents want their kids to have an extra year of development, rather than be behind the rest of their classmates.
In Denmark, despite the country's strong literacy rates and the popularity of starting Kindergarten later, the Danish government is acting to bring itâ€™s education model in line with other OECD countries. By next year, Grade One will begin at age six, says Egelund. But he remains critical of this approach: â€œTrying to differ between learning and playing is somewhat artificial, because I think without play there is nolearning and without learning there is no play. I think they should be integrated in our new Grade One.â€
The play versus work debate continues in Kindergarten classes around the world. In Italy, the value of learning during play is alive and well. Many of its ideas on early childhood education such as the Montessori Method and the Reggio Emilia Approach have spread across the world like wildfire. But increased globalization puts pressure on politicians and educators to create an educated workforce with a decreased emphasis on play-based learning.