A longer childhood equals a smarter brain, take the African Honey Badger, they live 14-18 months with their mother, an unusually long time. In fact, Honey Badger juveniles are usually still with their mother, learning from her, when they have reached or surpassed her in size. This is so unusual that when they were first observed, it was assumed that Honey Badgers hunted in mating pairs. The result of this long childhood is an amazingly smart animal. Just how smart are they? Well, just watch:
The long childhood of the Honey Badger is nothing compared to the long childhood of Human Beings. Childhood is a gift that has been provided for the development of our brains. Playing, pretending, building, and all of the activities of childhood are necessary for the development and growth of the brain. These things are the work of childhood.
Most children are going to have a great childhood, but what about the children who will not have that chance? What about the child who has delayed speech? What about the child who has been exposed to too much technology at too young of an age? What about the child who doesn't have adequate nutrition? What about the child who doesn't get enough sleep? All children can benefit from a classroom that supports their social and emotional growth, but for these children, it is essential.
Now, to address the elephant in the room: the Common Core. There is a movement that is very against the Common Core. I am not against the Common Core, I do not believe that expecting academic rigor is the problem, but, I know where this movement is coming from. In the same vein, I am against Charter Schools (because the system is deeply corrupt) but when a parent wants to take their child out of public school and place him/her in a charter school, I absolutely know where they are coming from.
You are worried about the emotional health of your child, aren't you? I am too.
Kindergarten can be a place of academics, but that should not and should never be it's main concern. I recently saw a post by a fellow Kindergarten teacher that read something like this, "I have a child who constantly needs praise. It's interrupting my teaching! What do I do?" Do you see the problem in this statement? A child who needs to be taught intrinsic motivation, a child who has an emotional need, is interrupting the teaching. If we are truly doing the job of early educators, teaching a child emotional and social skills should always be the primary goal of our teaching it should never be secondary to academic goals and it should definitely never be thought of as an intrusion to them.
The most encouraging thing about a child's brain development is that it is not set in stone. Neurological development is capable of fixing past deficiencies and of forming new pathways at any time, if given the right experiences. There are children who desperately need us to give them those experiences, but if we are not consciously focusing on their needs, if we are only focused on the things that can be measured (by those who make money off of measuring), then we will never give those children the experiences that their brains really need.
Because the truth of the matter is, that every child is born with the same exact brain capability as Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, Steven Hawking, or Emilie du Chatelet. The only thing that sets us apart is the experiences each of our brains is fed. So if we are really concerned about the academic growth of our children, we shouldn't be concerning ourselves so much with what level a child can read at, or how far he can count. What we really need to concern ourselves with is this question:
How rich are their experiences?