Is Kindergarten Ready for the Child?
Renée Dinnerstein has over 50 years experience as an early childhood educator. She has taught both in Italy and the United States and has spent eighteen years as an early childhood teacher at P,S, 321, one of New York City’s leading elementary schools. She was the teacher-director of the Children’s School early childhood inclusion annex and worked also as an Early Childhood Staff Developer in the New York City Department of Education, Division of Instructional Support, where she wrote curriculum, led study groups and summer institutes, and helped write the New York City Pre Kindergarten Standards. She received the Bank Street Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award in 1999. Her book, Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, was published by Heinemann in August, 2016. This coming March 2019, the book will be published in Mandarin by the Beijing Normal University Press. Renee’s blog, It's Investigating Choice Time: Inquiry, Exploration and Play can be found at www.investigatingchoicetime.com. Renée lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the artist, Simon Dinnerstein.
Encourage inquiry to practice the alphabet and phonetics. Compare classmates’ names and make it fun!
- Lee only has one syllable so give it one clap!
- Barbara has more letters and more syllables so give it 3 claps!
- Akira and Alexandra both start with A and end with A!
- Take away Pam’s P and change it for an S…it’s Sam!
- Pam and Sam have rhyming names!
With teacher guidance, kindergartners will begin learning the small, frequently used words that are hiding inside names (‘am’ is in Sam, ‘and’ is in Randy, ‘in’ is in Devin…). As they are playfully learning letter and word concepts through a name study, they are also learning more about the community of classmates.
Have you ever had a parent ask you if her/his child is ready for kindergarten or heard a teacher complain about a child who doesn’t have enough academic skills to be in kindergarten?
I checked online and found many websites that advised parents about kindergarten readiness. Some sites discussed the pros and cons of redshirting, which is a strategy of holding a child back from kindergarten to give him an extra ‘edge’ in the grade and giving him time to develop the ability to sit still for extended periods. Isn’t this backwards thinking? 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 Learning 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 expectations are all focused on academics.
Because of these standards, many schools seem to be feeding the fire of this hysteria by assuming that the kindergarten year must become the ‘new first grade.’ Hence come the fears and anxieties of parents who naturally want to protect their children and ensure their school success. Social and emotional issues are not addressed which may cause children to be labelled with various attention deficits because of these improper expectations.
Reading, writing, and math workshops certainly can be incorporated into the program, but they shouldn’t be the focus of the child’s day. It is possible to create classrooms where children have many opportunities to learn through exploration, play, exciting inquiry projects, singing songs, reading stories together. These activities will lead children towards meeting many of the standards. Kindergarten can, and should, be a year where children are playing and exploring in an environment where stress-free learning is taking place.
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, 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!
With inquiry projects, 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. By giving children opportunities to explore areas that interest them, teachers are helping children develop a disposition to become self-directed life-long learners.
This is what kindergarten should be and in this type of classroom, kindergarten is ready for the child!