As I sit here, preparing for a Teacher’s College conference, Seize the Moment: Rise to the Challenge of Pre-k, I can’t keep my mind from wandering to my years of teaching four year olds at a private nursery school and at P.S. 321, in Brooklyn, New York. At the time,so many years ago, I didn’t consciously think about the concepts of inquiry, investigation and exploration. I just assumed that those were the ways that four year olds learn. I didn’t, quite truthfully, have a philosophical or pedagogical background in pre-kindergarten instruction. I just seemed to understand and take for granted that four year olds needed many opportunites to explore, inquire, experiment and play, play, play. I was careful to set up centers that supported playful exploration. I brought in an old typewriter and this led to the children setting up an office.When we set up a fish tank in the science center, a fish study was born.
We made playdough each week. Not the cooked kind that could last for weeks. We made, instead, uncooked playdough so that the children’s hands could get right into the mixing bowl and feel what happened as each ingredient was added. We never used store-bought playdough. It was much more fun, and so much more learning took place, when we made our own mixture.
I have absolutely no memory of using any “program.” No Letter People. No Opening the World of Learning. No worksheets. I read stories. Lots and lots of stories. We sang songs. Many, many songs. Rhyming songs. Rhythmic songs. Clapping songs. ABC songs. We looked at our names. “Look, look, Johnny’s name starts just like mine!” “Yes, lets see if anyone else in the class has a name with Johnny and Jackie’s J.” We walked around the neighborhood and looked at familiar signs.
We wondered how many days it would be until Karen’s birthday. We counted the days on the calendar and each day noticed that it was one number less and getting closer to Karen’s special day.
Make-believe and dress-up! Finger painting (remember that?) Building!
All of our learning was playful, inquiry-based, and explorative. That’s what pre-k should be. Children should be able to lose themselves in the fun and challenge of a self-chosen activity. Who said that a four year old has a limited attention span? Offer a child materials that are totally engrossing and engaging and there will be a groan of “oh no!” when the end of the period is announced.
So now I’ll return to planning my workshops on “Inquiry and Investigation” and “Providing Big Opportunities for Little Scientists.” I hope that these forty minutes meetings with teachers will give me an opportunity to share my passion for creating pre-kindergarten classes that do not follow prescribed programs and unrealistic mandates but that do follow children’s natural curiosities and enthusiasms.
Great to read this entry, and also to catch up on some previous ones–including about your recent observations of art museums in London! All best!
I truly enjoyed your classroom photos. They are so reminiscent of my days as a preschool teacher. For many years now I am a childcare director and I cherish the teachers who embrace the true nature of young children. Through my work as an Adjunct in the CUNY system I hope to instill some passion into the art of Early Childhood teaching.
Thank you Maryann.
It’s so wonderful to hear that education students are being taught by someone who is passionate about education!
Very best wishes
Congratulations on having your book published! I can’t wait to read it! I started following your blog a few years ago when I started teaching 4k. I currently teach 2nd grade and I wanted to comment on a few things you posted. We have known for awhile that kindergarten is the new first grade but not many people have realized how that shifted all the other grades. 2nd grade feels more like 3rd grade with the amount of assessments we give. I feel less effective because I have less time to deeply analyze the assessments that really matter. Instead, I feel like I’m giving pretests, mid cycle tests, post tests…when I already knew what kids needed because I have watched these kids everyday and talked to them. Now I have to change my writing workshop into…prompt writing. Why? Because of new standardized testing in the older grades. And it’s not just second grade. 4k and up have to submit plans on how they are going to add timed prompt writing. I am starting to think that the big push for 4k in schools is not to give kids a beautiful exploration and socialization year, not to catch kids before they fall behind, not to get then excited about learning, but to start the skill and drill for 3rd grade earlier.
Your teaching situation makes me feel so sad. I guess we (teachers and parents) need to be very vocal in our opposition to this abuse of childhood and we need to also be vocal in offering alternatives. Do you teach in New York or somewhere else?
I teach in SC. I’m at a very good school and district. However, this big change feels like it is a panic from the district and they are trying to make a change to stay ahead of everyone else. I think they are pushing the teachers in the wrong direction.
Thanks for another great post, Renee! Four and five year olds do NOT need to be READING but the end of PreK!
Correction … “by the end of Pre-K!”
Pat, I would extend that to kindergarten!