Have you ever had a parent ask you if her/his child is ready for kindergarten? Have you ever heard a teacher complain about a child who doesn’t have enough academic skills to be in kindergarten?
I’ve been wondering a lot about these two questions.
Checking online, I found one after the other websites-advising parents about kindergarten readiness. Some sites discuss the pros and cons of redshirting, keeping a child back from kindergarten so as to give (usually) him an extra ‘edge’ in the grade and also giving him time to develop the ability to sit still for extended periods – time for hours of reading, writing, phonics and math.
My big question is this: Shouldn’t kindergarten be ready for all children?
Shouldn’t teachers (and administrators, of course) understand that within this kindergarten age group there’s a wide range of development, physically, socially and intellectually?
New York State, among many others, has adopted the Common Core Standards (a document that defines, grade by grade, what children should be able to do in reading, phonics, writing and math by the end of the school year.) These prescriptions are all about ‘academics’. Social and emotional issues are not even addressed. I could go on and on criticizing all different parts of these ‘standards’ but unfortunately this is what schools must consider when thinking about classroom practices.
What I’m noticing is that many schools seem to be feeding the fire of this hysteria by assuming that kindergarten must now, because of the standards, become the ‘new first grade.’ Hence come the fears and anxieties of parents who naturally want to protect their children and insure their school success.
However, I strongly believe that teachers (and administrators) should analyze these standards and then revisit the writings of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. It is possible to create classrooms where children have many opportunities to learn through exploration, play, exciting inquiry projects, singing songs, reading funny big book stories together and also meet the standards. This can, and should, be a class where there is an environment of stress-free learning and fun.
When I work as a consultant in kindergarten classes, I always stress the importance of keeping inquiry-based explorations and play at the core of the child’s day. Reading, writing and math workshops certainly can by incorporated into the program but they shouldn’t be the focus of the child’s day. When I was teaching, I certainly did have those workshops, but my day always began with a group meeting that flowed into choice time centers. I put a lot of thought into planning centers that challenged the children while they were playing and having fun. This started our school day with energy and good feelings.
Now, returning to those standards for kindergarten, here are some thoughts:
Why not sing Down by the Bay, Jenny Jenkins and many of the other rhyming songs, where children need to listen for and generate rhymes? Won’t children then be demonstrating an understanding of how to “recognize and produce rhyming words” and have fun at the same time?
Why not introduce an inquiry into the names of classmates? Children will gain contextual practice in recognizing alphabet letters. They’ll have many phonological and phonetic experiences when they clap out the syllables of the names and make interesting comparisons and ‘noticings’ (“Look! Akhira and Alexandra both start with A and end with A” “Lee only has 3 letters and it has one clap. Barbara has more letters and it has 3 claps”. “If we take away Pam’s P and change it for an S…its Sam! Pam and Sam have rhyming names!”) With teacher guidance, they begin learning the small, frequently used words that are hiding inside names (am is in Sam, and is in Randy, in is in Devin…).
Inquiry projects provide unlimited opportunities for teachers to keep an eye on helping children meet the standards. For example when children study the trees around the school, they get to make shape comparisons, measure tree trunks, see how leaves can float (if they’re lucky enough to have a water exploration center in the classroom!), learn how to use nonfiction texts to get new information By exploring a topic that is of interest and that is a part of their real world, children learn that they can use a variety of tools and strategies to look for answers to their questions. They become researchers!
If we were to judge how young children learn best by putting inquiry based learning on one side of a scale and hours of paper and pencil instruction on the other, I think that the result is a no-brainer. I believe that the scale would tip down on the side of inquiry. On the inquiry side children have fun while learning and practicing skills such as formulating and asking questions, recording information, purposefully using a variety of math strategies, working cooperatively in groups, and using many different avenues and materials for making discoveries.
When teachers move towards a constructivist approach, the knowledge and needs of the children becomes central. This is different than a teacher-led programmatic approach where the program goals are central and the children must adjust to them. By designing instruction based on the children’s prior knowledge there are more opportunities for children to feel successful. When a teacher gives children opportunities to explore areas that interest them, she is helping children develop a disposition to become self-directed life-long learners.
This is what kindergarten should be. In this type of classroom, kindergarten is ready for the child!
I want you to be my kindergarten teacher when in my next incarnation.
It’s a deal Mel! But for now, let’s try to get more joy into the kindergartens for the children are in the here-and-now.
As an art teacher I of course agree. Not only do children learn more and better this way, but what they learn MEANS MORE to them, and hence remains with them.
I very much appreciate your blog, which reinforces many of my most deeply felt convictions about education as, literally, a bringing out from within. We teachers must allow children to discover for themselves what we could so easily “teach” them…we must not ruin those surprises, that wonder.
I’ve just recently read about the schools in Pistoia, Italy. Their approach to early childhood sounds very much like the schools in Reggio Emilia. What seems different, however, is that they seem to reach out more to the public school children. They have different learning spaces that public school classes can visit (an art studio, an area for exploring nature and science, etc. ) Do you know anything about these schools? I’d love to find out more about them.
I love your “shape map” idea!
I would, however, be wary of calling Choice Time, “Academic Choice Time” because I could easily then see it becoming a literacy-task time. I think that it’s a good idea to educate parents and administrators to all that children might be learning in different centers. I also think that many new teachers need to learn about the many things that children learn when they play and explore in various centers. That would also help teachers understand how important it is to document what children are doing, saying and asking. By doing this, the teacher then has a clearer understanding of her role in developing even richer centers, adding different materials, introducing more ways for children to record their observations, etc.
What do you think about this?
One of the best articles I have read recently was in the American Educator, an AFT publication. The author, Prof. Susan Neuman of the University of Michigan, conducted a meta analysis of reading comprehension. She found that background knowledge is a significant factor in test results for comprehension. Even students who did not have high scores in any of their previous testing showed good comprehension results when the topic of the test paragraphs covered something the student was familiar with. Prof. Neuman suggested that we need to refocus on experiences that give background knowledge in all subjects. In other words, the children need more social studies, science and active learning. Some teachers I know call choice time “academic choice time” and have centers set up with materials having a clear connection to “academics”. Perhaps we early grade teachers need to redefine our schedule, renaming things to state the developmental benefit and actual academic nature of the activities. Block play, for example, develops crucial spatial skills used in math later on. Children in kindergarten are still learning the meaning of phrases like “on top of, under, to the side of” and they are learning to share space, observe rules, work together and follow a clean up procedure. When I was teaching Pre-k, I simply put a big pad of chart paper to the side and had the children draw “shape maps” of their structures to help my administration see the value of this work.
As an early grade science teacher, I start my science lessons with songs and poems that are related to my science unit of study in some way. Singing helps children settle down and get ready to attend to my mini lesson, which then leads to hands-on activities. I have developed hand motions for my songs, based on natural gestures and American Sign Language. I consulted the occupational therapists at my school, who thoroughly approved of this movement work, as any movement crossing the midline of the body engages both sides of the brain. I find that my early grade science students are eager and enthusiastic learners. In general, I do not have problems with difficult behavior and the extra time that management eats up, because my young scientists have learned that I come in with something interesting to learn about every week. I attend to their needs as developing children, and bring in real science, real observing, real responses and just real life!
As a math coach in an elementary school, K-5, I wonder why we even limit inquiry-based learning to just Kindergarten? I think children in all grades wonder “lwhy? how/ what if….? what might happen when…? How could we…..?” Don’t we want all children in all grades to love to learn and learn to learn? From this lens, I actually think (for most students) meeting the common core standards are not too far of a reach. If learning is not skill and drill, if learning is engaging and purposeful, these standards can be met. K children will have no trouble couting to 100, for example, if they are taking inventory of items in their classroom….figuring out how many blocks in the block corner or books in the alphabet basket. I am not defending the common core but I think more about our methodology. If we are growing readers and writers, and mathematicians who ask questions and love books, love stories, and love making sense of numbers…I think we are meeting the standards. And standards come and go…I like the way we are thinking here about what is most important- a goal of the love of learning.
I SO agree with you. Inquiry should really be a way of thinking and teaching. I’ve seen wonderful inquiry projects being done in the second and third grade classes at the Brooklyn New School. In the second grade class, the children had Project Time. It was so exciting to see the way that groups of children collaborated, recorded their work, came up with theories and experimented with many different types of materials. It was obvious that these children were enjoying themselves AND learning so much across the curriculum…measuring, using shapes and patterns, writing, using nonfiction books to search for answers and using the internet.
Can’t you see this happening in all of the grades? It’s really a matter of trust in children and teachers, isn’t it?
I have 2 comments.
When you wrote about taking the P away from Pam and putting as S it reminded me of the old Electric Company. That’s what they did on the show and it taught my son how to read!
My second comment is I think you’re consulting in the wrong schools! (hint hint!)
Yes, the Electric Company writers understood how much fun learning could be.
Perhaps teachers and administrators should watch some reruns!
I so agree with your commentary. I led a professional development session for headstart teachers in Ohio in September. They loved learning how to incorporate movement in literacy training. We used movement activities to prepare for the content, embody the content, and to do assessment of content knowledge of the book as well as perceptual-motor markers. One teacher said she would gladly use the single book for a month of rich multi-sensory learning activities across disciplines… but then with a crest-fallen expression said that that would not meet their mandate to cover 30 books. RACING to some outwardly determined top seems to leave children behind too.
I totally don’t understand that concept of racing through books. I think that the original thinking came from Richard Allington’s work but I really don’t think that he would be happy with the way that it’s interpreted. Sometimes my grandson does his homework at my home. He has to keep a journal of how many pages he reads each evening…not anything about the book, just how many pages he’s read. How misdirected this assignment is.
I just yesterday received an email from a friend who teaches pre-k in central Harlem. Previously he taught kindergarten but he moved down to pre-k because of the inappropriate demands being made, forcing him to change his teaching in ways that he did not agree with. Well, guess what? Now that he is teaching pre-k (and he runs a wonderful inquiry-based classroom) he was just given a reading program that he must use with his 4 year olds. He said that the preparation for this program doesn’t leave enough time for many of the exciting inquiry projects that he usually did with his class.
I am beginning to think that education about developmentally-appropriate and exciting instruction needs to be addressed to the parent community. If children’s families protested these inappropriate practices, that might bring about some change.
Any ideas on how to do this?
There’s a mix of good and bad in my school. A new kindergarten teacher has come in, a couple of years out of Bank Street, and she’s really terrific. I brought up the blocks for her from the basement, previously abandoned by our kindergartens. Her room has become a happy place for a change!
Our new principal arrived a year ago September, from the Leadership Academy. I had fears of someone coming in and asking where the desks and worksheets are. But she’s been extremely supportive of my pre-k program! Perhaps they learn a bit about EC at the Leadership Academy???
The school bought a reading program last spring, “Reading Street” from Pearson. I was hoping there wouldn’t be a pre-k component and I could continue to use the methods I’ve developed over the years, but no such luck. However the principal said she trusts me to use it as I see fit, and I’ve disregarded large parts (e.g., directives about book-related activities that should take place in blocks, etc.). As far as the actual reading and writing activities, I’ve been able to continue much of my tried-and-true along with the better parts of the proscribed program. Still feeling my way, and spending much more time on planning than before. Unfortunately, with time and energy going in that direction, other things have suffered, such as classroom cooking and minimal fall investigations. Hopefully I’ll get my act together, but it’ll probably take a whole year of wrestling with the reading program.
Herb, I’m really sorry that you have to deal with that reading program. It’s so misinformed and, knowing you, I’m sure that your children were always getting a really rich introduction to literacy.
I wonder if you could somehow do an inqury project that doesn’t involve taking trips away from the school. I was recently reading about the CHAIR project (http://www.dukeschool.org/files/The%20Chair%20Project.pdf) and believe that you might find something right in your classroom environment that the children find interesting and worth investigating? It’s just a thought. I really don’t want this reading program to take away from your wonderful teaching!!!
Pingback: Following the Children’s Life Force | Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration, and Play
I love this question! I’m going to start asking it in my travels. I wrote a post in June very much connected. I talked about how although classrooms aren’t Disneyland, there needs to be a little Disney in the Land. Whatever happened to developmental appropriate practice? Is Kindergarten ready for the child? I love it.
Hi Nikki. Thanks for your response. I went back to your June entries on your blog and this stood out to me : “Hard fun is academically rigorous tasks that engage the whole child. When students are having “hard fun” both their hands and their minds are engaged. When students are having “hard fun” they are doing rich mathematical tasks that push them to reach and learn. When students are having “hard fun” they laugh, they communicate and they struggle through the difficult parts hanging onto all the scaffolds we set up.”
The problem that I see is that often, teachers will confuse “hard fun” opportunities with “hard work” that is out of the child’s ZPD. this just leads to frustration, feelings of failure, anger, discipline problems and, ultimately, an inability to move forward. I’m wondering what you think of this and if you have any suggestions for teachers that relate to this thinking?