Makayla Warner has started year-round school that will include full days of academic lessons, nightly homework, computer work and keeping a journal. And she's only 5.
And she's only 5.
Welcome to today's kindergarten, where rising academic demands have gradually squeezed out playtime and naps in favor of more reading, writing and math lessons.
"It's not like it used to be," said Candiell Linear, Makayla's mother.
Kindergarteners in Jefferson County Public Schools learn to read, write short stories and do double-digit addition and subtraction -- skills once taught primarily in first grade. They write on computers and deconstruct sentences.
Some begin learning a foreign language.
"In the past, (academic) expectations weren't as high. It was more learning to cooperate, play together and share," said Rosemarie Young, a principal at Watson Lane Elementary and former head of the Virginia-based National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Many educators applaud the change: Young children are ready to learn more, they say, and more difficult lessons give them a leg up -- as long as instruction is mixed with play.
But others, including some early childhood experts, worry that children are being pushed too far, too fast.
"It's all very misguided," said David Elkind, a professor of child development at Tufts University in Massachusetts who has studied the issue. "They're starting too early, and getting burned out."
The trend -- a nationwide evolution over the past five to 10 years -- has occurred for several reasons:
Rising pressure to meet state and federal academic standards. Although statewide testing does not begin until third grade in Kentucky, the push to prepare students has trickled down to kindergarten.
Continuing research that suggests that children's brains develop quickly in their early years, making it an optimal learning time. Five-year-olds learn at more than twice the rate of older children, and by age 8 it becomes more difficult to bridge learning gaps, according to Lora Bailey, a University of Louisville professor and coordinator of its early childhood education program.
More working parents. The result is more children attending day care or preschool, where they learn to work in groups, line up, take turns, listen to adults -- along with basics like letters and numbers. Educators say that makes them ready for the heightened academics.
More time spent in kindergarten. The proportion of children in full-day kindergarten nationally grew to 60 percent in 2000, from 25 percent in 1979, according to the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit research group.
In Kentucky, 630 of 770 schools offered full-day kindergarten in 2003-04, the latest figures available. That's up from 552 in 2001.
Jefferson County's 87 elementary schools made the switch a decade ago to improve achievement, and officials say it's one reason test scores are rising.
The district in the 1990s offered parents a choice of half-day kindergarten, but few took the district up on it for fear their children would fall behind those who attended full-day, said Freda Merriweather, a former district elementary official.
Now, all kindergarten classes are full-day