“If you start school when you’re 3, by the time you’re 18 you’ve got to be exhausted.” — Barbara Rainville, Maple Landmark
Across the country, teachers and concerned parents are pushing for universal preschool programs requiring all children to attend at least some form of pre-kindergarten schooling. But what does preparing children for kindergarten really mean?
TDmonthly spoke to Barbara Gilmour, creator of Tanner's Manners: Be a "Kool Kind Kid," (ToyDirectory) which includes a music CD and curriculum materials. She said, "One of the most important components of kindergarten readiness is a child's ability to get along with others. They need to know how to listen, take turns, share and take direction. Many children enter kindergarten unequipped for these necessary behavior components and the teacher has to spend valuable learning time teaching basic social and behavior skills.”
But, according to Jackie Batista, Osmosis (ToyShow) president, much more is needed. “Can a child follow two-step direction? Be able to tell you a story with a beginning/middle/end? Be able to write his/her name? Know colors/shapes/count to 20? If your kids are not there, they’ll feel behind the curve.”
Which brings us to what may be the true push behind the recent kindergarten readiness trend: parents’ fear of failing to provide their children with the necessary skills to compete in a high-pressure learning environment.
“Kindergarten feels more like first grade these days and what we as parents really need to do is nurture confidence!” explained Mary Ryan Karges, director of sales and marketing for Moonjar (ToyDirectory).
Susan Jarema, founder of Googol Learning, believes that while "kindergarten in the most part is a social adjustment — learning how to follow rules and get along with others," she added that "parents who focus extra on reading and math skills will help their children become more confident and be ahead in later grades.”
Kate Beale, mother and vice presidentofSoaring Star Productions, LLC (ToyShow), explained that “parents are getting more involved now than ever before in their children’s education.”
Still, some parents may be taking the trend too far: “It does seem to be that parents like to say ‘my kid can count, can yours?,’” according to Jill Denlea, director of marketing for TheBrainy Baby Co (ToyShow).
“Yet, all children can read by the third grade. All children learn how to walk — you can’t tell which one did at 10 months and which one did at 12 months,” said Esther Novis, founder of The Young Scientists Club.
International Governmental Pressures
These days, the pressure goes well beyond the neighborhood. Carolyn Hurst, president, Barker Creek Publishing Inc., noted that “there’s a huge push nationally to get the U.S. up to par with the rest of the industrialized world.”
“Because of overall educational standards throughout the world, we test lower than countries in Europe. That’s why we’re starting them earlier; it’s the first step,” said Jonathan Zimlin, marketing director for Baby Bumblebee (ToyShow).
Deborah Manchester, PhD, president and CEO of Zula USA LLC, added, “I have a friend in Asia that said by age 3 to 3 ½, they’re speaking three languages.”
Additionally, much emphasis has been put on the No Child Left Behind Act. "It focuses on academic readiness, rather than on the social and emotional readiness that used to be stressed at that age. Which is why we make sure to keep the social, emotional, and, most of all, creative aspects alive in our products!" said Shari Kaufman, president and publisher of innovativeKids.
Sam Reich-Dagnen, principal and co-founder of Braincandy, agreed that though the intention of the policy is to help “everyone to start with a level playing field,” she and her program encourage “children to learn about themselves and how they're connected to the world before they learn more traditional academic skills.”
Still, “those without that [academic] opportunity fall through the gap,” countered LaQuiera Gantt, director of sales and marketing, Reveal Entertainment (ToyDirectory).
Do It Sooner Rather Than Later
Others agree that early learning years are incredibly important. Vanessa Trien, a Music Together teacher and creator of the children’s album, “Hot Air Balloon,” said research has shown that “every child has musical aptitude and that 0- to 3-year-old kids, given the opportunity to be exposed to musical experiences and others modeling musical behavior, have the ability to reach a level of musical competency."
Francois Thibaut, founder of The Language Workshop for Children and producer of TheProfessor TotoLanguage Education Series (ToyDirectory), stressed that “there is a window of opportunity within the first three years of a child’s life.” For instance, “learning Chinese is as easy as English.”
Toro Luby, owner and president of Bulls-Eye Creative (ToyShow),agreed.“We flaunt proudly that our product is multi-lingual in content.”
"Yet, [The government] is realizing we have a lot of kids without English as a first language. Those preschoolers need to have a basic command of the English language, or they will be automatically behind on their first day of kindergarten — and throw a spanner in the works of a stressed out teacher trying to get them up to par with the rest of the class according to the No Child Left Behind requirements,” said Sally Hanan, owner of Eager Mind (ToyShow).
Or, Be Creative, Take It Easy
However, some manufacturers take another view. They think all this concern is unnecessary, and possibly even counter-productive.
“If you start school when you’re 3, by the time you’re 18 you’ve got to be exhausted,” said Barbara Rainville, marketing manager, Maple Landmark (ToyDirectory). “I think we’re killing our kids. They need to learn who they are and find out what they want to do, but they can’t because we’re always telling them what to do,”
“A whole business has grown up around convincing parents that if your kid doesn’t succeed at an early age, he/she won’t be successful later in life. The reality is it’s probably not true,” added Mary Ann LoFrumento, MD, pediatrician and author of the Simply Parenting (ToyDirectory) series of books and DVDs and founder of Halo Productions.“I’m trying to give the message of ‘just relax,’ but I’m fighting the tide.”
Nancy Poffenberger, president of Fun Publishing, would agree: “Success breeds success … too much pressure isn’t helpful. You need to build their confidence and then they’ll be successful.”
How Do the Kids Feel?
At the heart of the issue are the children. Toy manufacturers, parents, educators and legislators would agree — this is what kindergarten readiness has been about the whole time: Making sure kids are feeling confident enough to get the most out of their education, and life, from day one.
“For kids, they need to feel like it’s fun to be learning because then they’re attentive to it, open to it,” said Becky Geis, owner of Speed Spell (ToyDirectory).
“With our books, they get information on what to expect [in kindergarten], what teachers will present, and we tell them how much fun school will be,” said Jason M. Wells, publicity and marketing director for Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, noting that for a lot of kids, kindergarten is scary. Making that experience less traumatic is what a good toy does and what parents and educators want: happy healthy children ready to embark on a bright future.
The Tanner's Manners: Be a "Kool Kind Kid" audio CD has now won 6 National Awards; including a Teachers' Choice and a Parents' Choice. Each of the 17 original songs teaches a different social skill in an entertaining way. Recent pilot studies proved this CD, which appeals to 2-10 year olds, is the FUN way for kids to learn manners.
Noom & Raj Start a Business: The ABCs of Money (Hardcover) by MOONJAR
Readers follow Noom and Raj in their adventures starting a small business. The book features a glossary of fundamental financial terms. It's hardcover, 9” x 9” and includes a Standard Moonjar Moneybox activity kit.
Googol Power Multiplication Vacation by GOOGOL LEARNING
Nena and the GoogolKids are having trouble learning their times tables! Send in the Googols, who use their powers to make multiplication an exciting adventure that journeys "from the jungles deep in Africa, to the icefields of Antarctica" and even into outer space! Follow Azatara, Cozmo, El Mundo the Great Wizard, and their friends Mr. I and Gary Q, as they use music and exploration to learn all about multiplication.
Pocket Snails Aquaphonic Adventure - DVD by SOARING STAR PRODUCTIONS, LLC
Pocket Snails Aquaphonic Adventure takes the Pocket Snails and their friend Jake on a new and exciting educational adventure, where they'll make some new underwater friends, ride in a submarine and scuba dive their way to learning the sounds of the letters. It helps teach letter sounds, vowels and letter recognition. “We combine an engaging storyline, original upbeat music and amusing animation to encourage and enthuse children in their educational and literary development,” Kate Beale, vice president of Soaring Star Productions, told TDmonthly. The DVD was named one of Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children’s Products and 10 Best Audio/Video Products for 2006. It also received Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toy Product of Excellence Award, is approved by Parents' Choice Foundation, and received Learning Magazine's 2007 Teachers' Choice Award for the Family.
Young Scientists make the ultimate bubble solution and use this solution to make many amazing bubbles — giant bubbles, bubble chains, three-dimensional shaped bubbles, bubbles coming out of a bubble harmonica, and much more. This creation and study of bubbles will excite Young Scientists as these awesome bubbles are formed and float away.
Draw Write Now Book One by BARKER CREEK PUBLISHING
Kids experience life on a farm while drawing and writing about horses, cows, tractors and more. They also learn fun, new ways to draw children and their favorite animal friends as well as practice handwriting. They learn how to draw popular storybook characters like The Little Red Hen and The Three Bears.
KicsFlix's 5 Volume DVD and CD Set by BABY BUMBLEBEE
This complete set of the first five volumes of KicsFlix Classic Tales includes such familiar stories as "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Old Mother Hubbard." Included also are lesser known tales, such as "Little Johnny and the Teddy Bears" and "The Fairy Ship." Each brightly packaged volume in the set includes both a DVD filled with tales and a CD.
"Get Ready for Kindergarten!" provides useful information, advice and hands-on tools that children and parents need for a confident and successful first year. It includes reusable games, activity books, hands-on learning pieces and a comprehensive 96-page parent guide. READ MOM REVIEW
"Braincandy, My 5 Senses" is the first DVD in a series of six, whose content focuses on young children learning about themselves as they learn about the world. The Braincandy recipe encourages active experimentation rather than passive drills and repetition. Braincandy uses a creative combination of engaging puppet characters representing the five senses introducing the host, Bruce Brain, “real” kids engaged in captivating, sensory oriented activities, and innovative animations that show how the senses work. A variety of multi-genre, "kidified" music forms a textured backdrop that gets young children up and moving! Ideal for children ages 6 months to 4 years old, the DVD/video lays the foundation for independent thinking as well as social and emotional development. Winner of 10 toy industry awards and endorsements, including Dr Toy's "100 Best Toys for 2005" and the "Top 10 Audio/Video Products" for 2005. (Read Review)
This fun album marks Vanessa Trien’s entry into the world of children’s music. Hot Air Balloon is a get-up-and-dance mix of blues, pop, bluegrass, acoustic folk, country, Chuck Berry-style rock ‘n’ roll and Harry Belafonte-esque tropical sounds, all tied together with Vanessa Trien’s clear, lyrical, easy-to-sing-along-with voice and creative lyrics that go right to the heart of children’s imaginations. Hot Air Balloon has won the following awards since its January 2006 release: a Parents' Choice Foundation Silver Award, an iParenting Media Award for Excellent Products, and, most recently, a National Assocation of Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Award.
WATCH & LEARN is available in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Chinese. Each 5-1/2 x 7-1/2” shrink wrapped package includes 1 DVD (60 Minutes made up of Professor Toto Animation - Part 1, 30 minutes of target language and 30 minutes of English), 1 Complete Script (Target language + English), and 1 Parent’s Guide.
Similar to the well-loved game for older children, the new PLAYSKOOL version provides arcade-style play but for a younger age group. The toy has two different play patterns: Roll It or Bounce It. During the game, electronic music plays and lights flash as players score points. Each game has three modes of play to meet the child´s skill level. Parents can easily set up and store the toy for anytime rolling and bouncing play.
The Made by Me kits come in six different vehicle styles — bug, racer, truck, tractor, train and tugboat. The vehicle bodies are 4” long, crafted from pine and sanded smooth to the touch. Each kit comes with unfinished wheels and axles for assembly, plus the vehicle body. The train engine kit even comes with a smokestack. Easy-to-follow assembly instructions are included under the tag ($1.90). New for summer 2006 were boxed Made by Me kits. Each box set comes with one of each vehicle (four in all) with wheels and axles to match, and a smokestack for the train. An instruction sheet ($7.60) is included. “Made by Me's [kits] are the product of imagination…[and] meet the needs of such a wide range of children and abilities,” Barb Rainville of Maple Landmark told TDmonthly. The product was named one of the 100 Best Children’s Products of 2006 by Dr. Toy.
Instant Piano Fun for Christmas by FUN PUBLISHING CO
This book contains many wonderful Christmas songs such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Up on the Housetop," and more ... all done in color-coded ABC Music. The set includes color-coded ABC stickers that are placed on your keyboard or piano, and then you are off playing right away.