It's Never Too Early to Set Standards Illinois Outlines Guidelines for Kindergarten Learning

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Byline: Tara Malone Daily Herald Staff Writer

So much for papier-mache and Play Doh.

By the time they graduate to first grade, today's kindergartners will learn to use technology, recognize the value of voting and still name their basic body parts.

Illinois education officials Tuesday outlined for the first time exactly what every public school kindergartner should know before heading off to first grade. The state joins a dozen others nationwide in setting learning standards for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Yet academic rigor cannot come at the expense of good, old- fashioned playtime, many educators caution. That, too, teaches kids.

"It's a fine line and we walk it every day," said Shelby King, an early childhood consultant with the Illinois State Board of Education. "You can teach all this to kids and they don't even know they are learning because they are having fun."

The juggling act begins immediately.

The new standards come after four years of discussion between state education officials and 500 teachers from school districts across the state. They cover eight subjects, including everything from foreign language to fine arts and emotional development.

As for emotional growth, kindergartners should know not to hit when they're mad and learn about classmates' family customs, the plan says.

The push for standards stems from federal law. Come third grade, every child nationwide will be tested and their schools judged on how well they read, write and do math.

Creating benchmarks along the way helps ensure kids are ready, said Mimi Howard, director of the early learning program at the Education Commission of the States.

In the past, Illinois set standards for children in all other grades, including those in pre-kindergarten.

"A lot of states are beginning to realize they need to have standards in those grades before children hit third grade and are suddenly being tested," Howard said. …