This is adapted from a talk that Mrs. Ackerman gave at a parent education event called Lightning Talks on September 28, 2022. Watch it here.
On the front end I want to warn you that this talk may make kindergarten sound like a battlefield, but in this short time I don’t have time to go into the wonder of kindergarten, the beauty of reading, or any of the other reasons why kindergarten is full of joy and straight up magical. I promise I am not a mindless drill sergeant. I’m simply answering the question: “Why do we have high expectations in kindergarten?”
When I speak of high expectations, I am referring almost exclusively to procedural or behavior expectations as opposed to academic expectations. If a student leaves kindergarten able to read, but not able to listen effectively in class, I would consider that less ideal than a student struggling to read but who is coachable, receptive to correction, and eager to learn.
So I am referring to things like the following: Raising hands before speaking; Not talking while I am talking; Making eye contact with me while I am speaking; Sitting well enough to fully listen; Putting materials away neatly; Putting on snow gear independently; Holding a pencil properly; Speaking loud enough so as to be heard; Following multi-step directions I have only given once; Knowing and applying the Golden Rule across various situations. These are just to name a few.
Why do we place such high expectations on 60-month-olds?
First off all, because they are capable. Simply put, kindergarteners are capable of more than most people think. They are capable and, moreover, I have discovered that they actually crave the satisfaction that comes with rising to the new standards that come specifically in the classroom.
Secondly, there is also a very logistical reason to have high expectations for behavior and it is summed up with this paraphrased Chesterton quote: “Structure and order exist so that good things can run wild.” We do not have time in 3 mornings a week kindergarten for mundane, distracting, or bad things to run wild. The classroom must necessarily run smoothly or we risk not only forfeiting the expectations I have for behavior, but falling short of academic benchmarks we set for the school year. It would be exceptionally difficult to teach a student to read if he did not know to look at me when I am speaking.
The third reason is the value of learning to obey when you do not understand. Students do not need to fully understand how the command to honor your parents translates into honoring the teacher whom the parents have entrusted. They are called to obey authority. In kindergarten, and primarily at home, these children flex the muscles they will need to use later in life to respect authority in the workplace or more importantly to obey commands or calls from the Lord where they do not have all of the answers ahead of time. So when I unexpectedly ask the class to line up, I do not expect students to shoot me with a hundred questions about where or why we are deviating from the agenda they had in their minds. I encourage them to trust me to get them where they need to go and that they need to be comfortable not having all the answers.
The fourth and most pervasive reason why we have high expectations is that when we have high expectations, failure is inevitable. This is why I create ample opportunities for discipline – not because I think it is fun to slap names on the board or discipline for its own sake. I am talking about Proverbs 12:1 discipline: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but he who hates reproof is stupid.” The more students get discipline of this kind from an adult who loves them, the better off this student will be in life as they deal with inevitable failure and discipline from the Lord. And this is the lowest-stakes discipline they will ever receive outside of the home.
Failure to meet expectations warrants discipline that allows students to confess their transgressions, ask for forgiveness, receive grace, give an apology, and confront consequences. Discipline that they learn does not feel good but is good because it is the pressure cooker breaking down the tough fibers of the meat. It is the crucible heated to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the physician setting a compound fracture.
Obviously, when students leave kindergarten they are not these fall-off-the-bone, shiny and indestructible, miraculously healed and perfectly sanctified humans. But what they are is that much more familiar with how the Lord disciplines us into the conformity of the image of Himself, only to be perfected in eternity.
In conclusion, high expectations in kindergarten set the tone for a lifetime of learning, failing, trusting, and obeying. With the parents leading the way, in kindergarten, students have the groundwork laid for how they will take accountability for their actions, how they will joyfully submit to authority, and how they can confidently deal with failure unto the glory of God.