By Jeff Mullin / commentary

Tears will be shed Thursday. There will be wailing and crying. Hearts will be broken.

And that's just among the moms.

School begins Thursday in Enid, and another generation of students will begin their journey through the education system.

The journey's first step takes them to kindergarten.

That's where the crying comes in. Mom and Dad shed tears because their baby is growing up and going into the world alone for the first time. The kids cry because they miss their mommies.

Preparing for kindergarten used to be a matter of buying the child a fresh box of crayons and a new pair of shoes.

But things have changed in the 21st century. More and more parents are hiring tu-tors for their children to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten. That's right, tutors.

Kindergarten must have changed considerably since I started school several decades ago.

A former Missouri kindergarten teacher has posted a sample schedule on the Internet. Granted, this is for all-day kindergarten instead of the traditional half day, but it still seems much more intense than the program I remember.

According to her schedule, students spend the morning doing math and reading, and working in what are called learning centers doing things like art and more reading. They take two 15-minute breaks in the morning, to use the restroom and get drinks, and for recess.

An alphabet lesson and phonics, along with writing and reading, follows recess. Then comes lunch and recess. In the afternoon, they have special classes in music, physical education, art or computers. Then comes nap time and afternoon recess, then the students wind up the day identifying pictures from magazines and working on science or social studies.

I remember two things about kindergarten -- nap time and milk and cookies. I hated the first and loved the latter. I didn't want to sleep in those days, I was too afraid I would miss something important. Now after lunch I have to fight myself to stay awake, and find myself saying, "I wasn't asleep, I was just resting my eyes," when the boss walks past my desk.

Nowhere on this sample schedule did I find milk and cookies. What an outrage. That was the highlight of the day during my kindergarten career. I don't remember whether the cookies were brought from home or provided by the school, but I know every student was given a small carton of cold milk. That was the coolest thing ever. In fact, I think nap time and milk and cookies should be introduced into every work place. A 30-minute power nap every afternoon couldn't help but boost employee productivity, and what better way to build a sense of camaraderie among the staff than by sharing milk and cookies every day?

Employing a tutor to prepare children for kindergarten seems to be part of a larger, disturbing trend. Children are being asked to grow up fast these days.

We expect so much more of them. The director of a Sylvan Learning Center in New York told CBS News what is taught in kindergarten these days was what first-graders were learning 15 years ago.

Even babes in arms, and in the womb, are being exposed to education. The popular Baby Einstein DVD and CD series introduces babies to art, music, language and the wonders of nature. Pregnant parents bombard Mom's belly with the strains of classical music to try and stimulate the intellect of their little one to be.

I suppose that's simply a reflection of our world these days.

Life is so much more competitive, with pressure to attend the right schools in order to get the right jobs, to be able to afford the right house and the right car, not to mention the right clothes.

Education is vital to a successful future, to be sure, but I think we should allow children to be children just as long as they can. All too soon they will be overwhelmed by the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood, and the carefree days of their youth will seem like some sort of dream.

A dream of nap time and milk and cookies.

Mullin is senior writer of the News -- Eagle.

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