Opinion | How the Pandemic Affected Kindergarten

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To the Editor:

Re “A Year Without Kindergartners” (front page, Aug. 8):

As a pediatrician serving a very diverse urban, suburban and rural population of families, I see the devastating effects of a year without meaningful instruction on the youngest school-age children.

At least half of my kindergarten-through-third-grade patients are six months to a year behind, based on my evaluations. The implications are huge: Kids who can’t read competently by the end of third grade are handicapped in their ability to succeed in school.

I encourage families to read to their children daily and share their concerns about kids falling behind and becoming discouraged. The solutions will lie in returning to school, family involvement in that process and patience.

Daniel J. Levy
Columbia, Md.
The writer is president of the Child and Teen Wellness Center and past president of the Maryland Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

To the Editor:

In the 1970s we sent our son to a “free school,” called The Farm School, for kindergarten and first grade. The free school movement, much the rage in that era, meant my son was free to choose to go to class and learn traditionally or to wander about the farm, playing with his friends. My son chose to play.

When he was 7 and still didn’t read, we panicked and enrolled him — midyear — in second grade at the local public school, where, with some discomfort and no tutoring, he learned to read. Today, he has a Ph.D. and is a professor at an elite university.

The message, perhaps, is not to bemoan the loss of a year of early schooling until the evidence is in about the effects of this one-year delay in learning to read.

Edie Gelles
Palo Alto, Calif.

To the Editor:

“A Year Without Kindergartners” underscores the toll the pandemic has taken on families already stressed by poverty, health disparities, structural racism and inequitable funding for public schools.

There is another story that is also worthy of attention: Child care programs, an essential part of our economic and educational infrastructure, helped fill the gap for some of these families. They enrolled their children in community-based programs that provided both care and education.

It is time we recognized the valuable economic and educational role that high-quality child care can play — and made the public investment needed to ensure that all families have access to such care, in safe, healthful environments with teachers who are properly respected and compensated for the essential work they do.

The American Families Plan proposed by President Biden would make that investment. It needs our support.

Barbara Reisman
Montclair, N.J.
The writer is a senior adviser to the Maher Charitable Foundation, which has advocated for expanded high-quality prekindergarten.

To the Editor:

Worried about academic deficits, some educators and parents are eager for a return to in-person kindergarten. But there is a problem. Before the pandemic, kindergartens had generally become so academic that they crowded out opportunities for creative play and informal socialization. Moreover, the academic instruction often ignored children’s interests and capacities, leaving children frustrated and stressed-out. Many lost their love of learning.

Now is a good time to review how kindergartens have changed in recent decades and see if they might be put on a better path — one that fosters enthusiastic learners.

William Crain
New York
The writer is a professor of psychology at The City College of the City University of New York.

Transgender Youths and Health Care

To the Editor:

Re “What It Means to Forgive” (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 10):

Jennifer Finney Boylan’s article zeroed in on a particularly disturbing aspect of the anti-transgender era: targeting children.

The legislation restricting transgender health care (introduced in 20 states this year and made law in Arkansas) demonstrates the latest deception. Sponsors of these laws peddle the false idea that providing medical care for children in a way that validates gender identity — as opposed to assigned-at-birth sex — harms both the bodies and minds of youth.

Children who think that they are trans, by this logic, need to be protected from medical care that affirms gender identity. The medical care bills reframe the issue in making the case that these discriminatory laws will protect transgender youth from themselves.

As the parent of a teenager who identifies as nonbinary, I am not fooled by this hate, dressed up in shining armor.

Kate Rubick
Portland, Ore.

Vince Lombardi Was Wrong About Winning

To the Editor:

Re “Our Culture of Winning at All Costs Nearly Broke Me,” by Zoë Ruhl (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 7):

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This statement, often said by the professional football coach Vince Lombardi, is today’s mantra for American politics, businesses and athletics.

Competition can drive us to achieve great things, but it can also result in destruction and damage to the human spirit. Perhaps in the future we will evolve into a less competitive and more collaborative creature.

Future historians may view our era of divisive politics, ego-centered business titans and ultracompetitive athletics as the vestigial elements of a more “primitive man.”

I recently had an M.R.I. for a football injury from more than 50 years ago. Vince Lombardi was one of my childhood heroes. He was wrong.

Theodore Markus
Stuart, Fla.

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