What a Quality Kindergarten Looks Like

The Association for Childhood Education International recognizes the importance of kindergarten education and supports high quality kindergarten programs that provide developmentally appropriate experiences for children.

Children's developmental needs have not changed, and so the importance of educating the whole child-recognizing his or her physical, social/emotional, and intellectual growth and development-remains. A change in the kindergarten curriculum, however, was brought about by:

1) societal pressure,
2) misunderstandings about how children learn,
3) aggressive marketing of commercial materials largely inappropriate for kindergarten-age children,
4) a shortage of teachers specifically prepared to work with young children, and
5) the reassignment of trained teachers in areas of declining enrollment.

The inspiration remains to educate the whole child, focusing on physical, social/emotional and intellectual growth and development. Children need quality kindergarten programs in order to achieve their full potential.

Kindergarten children are trying many things for the first time. Kindergarten children are active, curious learners who need space, a variety of materials and large blocks of time to try out their ideas, gain experience and expand their learning. A high quality kindergarten program provides a strong foundation upon which children can build the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for lifelong learning.

The curriculum in a high quality program

• is sensitive to the needs, interests and background experiences of the children.
• integrates all content areas to provide a solid foundation for learning in language, literacy, math, science, social studies, health, art, music and movement
• responds to the nature of the learner, rather than trying to "fit" the children to the curriculum
A high quality kindergarten program offers children many choices.

The classroom is arranged with a variety of areas for children to explore, including:

• a block corner for building
• a science area for observing and investigating
• a dramatic play space for role-playing
• an art area for trying out a variety of materials
• a comfortable, quiet place with good books for browsing and reading
• a writing area with paper, pencils, crayons, markers and possibly a computer
• table games and manipulative materials for developing hand-eye coordination, as well as sharing,
problem-solving and thinking skills
• a music area for experimentation and enjoyment
• a large open space for group meetings, story time, music and movement
• multiple opportunities for "living" social studies through classroom interactions.

Play Is Essential

Play is the most important way by which kindergartners learn. Through play, children learn concepts, practice roles and test ideas. Play with materials involves investigation, problem solving, critical thinking, sharing and creativity. Play is the essential ingredient for children's learning.
The pressure for academic achievement, coupled with the mistaken idea that today's children have outgrown the need to play, have led to increased emphasis on "basic skills" in kindergarten. The principal source of development in the early years is play (Vygotsky, 1976); in fact, Catron and Allen (1999) state that the optimal development of young children is made possible through play.

When viewed as a learning process, play becomes a vehicle for intellectual growth, and it continues to be the most vital avenue of learning for kindergartners.

In the race for high test scores, kindergarten students and even preschoolers are now subjected to a similar barrage of academic drill work at an age when they were meant to learn through play and hands-on experience. If the NAEP and TIMSS results are an indication, these teaching methods are unsuccessful; yet they are being introduced at increasingly younger ages, in the vain hope that they'll somehow "take," if we start young enough (Sharna Olfman , 2003)

Some parents have misconceptions about the goals of the kindergarten program and, as a result, they focus on such cursory academic skills as counting and reciting the alphabet (Simmons & Brewer, 1985). Many people feel comfortable emphasizing such learning because it is easily measured. Elkind (1996) warns, however, that pushing children into academic areas too soon has a negative effect on learning, and refers to this practice as the "miseducation" of young children.

Research indicates that academic gains from non-play approaches are not lasting (Schweinhart & Weikert, 1996). Play involves not only use of materials and equipment, but also words and ideas that promote literacy and develop thinking skills. Consequently, in addition to the three R's, play also promotes problem-solving, critical thinking, concept formation, and creativity skills. Social and emotional development also are enhanced through play.

Play fosters holistic learning (Isenberg & Jalongo, 1997). "Children integrate everything they know in all domains when they play" (Almy, 2000, p. 10). The classic words of Lawrence Frank (1964) remain as meaningful as ever today: A conception of play that recognizes the significance of autonomous, self-directed learning and active exploration and manipulation of the actual world gives a promising approach to the wholesome development of children …. It is a way to translate into the education of children our long— cherished, enduring goal values, a belief in the worth of the individual personalities, and a genuine respect for the dignity and integrity of the child. (p. 73)

Unfortunately, many parents and elementary educators do not view experiences in child care or other prekindergarten programs as "real learning." Spodek (1999) reported that many of the programs have shifted their emphasis from spurring kindergartners' development to highlighting specific learning goals. While programs vary in quality (as they do in elementary and secondary schools), children of any age are learning in every waking moment. ..Although broad variations in children's abilities are evident, all children can learn. Noddings (1992) reminds teachers not to expect all children to bring similar strengths and abilities to the classroom. These variations in abilities, coupled with children's varying ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, add interest, joy, and challenge to the kindergarten program.

Suransky (1983) warns that "eroding the play life of early childhood has severe implications for the children we attempt to 'school' in later years" (p. 29). Froebel believed that in free play children reveal their future minds (cited in Bruce, 1993). It is important to emphasize that critics of the current practice of emphasizing academic work over free play are not advocating an environment that makes fewer demands on children. Almy, Monighan, Scales, and Van Hoorn (1984) state, "Teachers who, drawing on recent research and their own classroom research, justify an important place for play in the early childhood curriculum will not lose sight of their responsibility as instructors…. Teachers have responsibility… for providing the play opportunities in which children can consolidate and make personally meaningful the experiences they have had" (p. 22).

The activity/experience-centered environment, which is essential if young children are to reach their maximum potential, provides for a far richer and more stimulating environment than one dominated by pencil-and-paper, teacher-directed tasks. A well-designed kindergarten program capitalizes on the interest some children may show in learning academic skills. At the same time, it does not have that same expectation for all children; nor does it use up precious time to inculcate skills and knowledge for which children have no immediate use or real understanding. Learning to learn should be the emphasis in the early years (Bloom, 1981).

Kindergarten teachers agree with researchers and experts who contend that child-centered activities that provide cognitive challenges, and also facilitate the development of autonomy and social skills, are essential for young children (Spidell Rusher, McGrevin, & Lambiotte, 1992). Wardle (1999, p. 7) writes "… as we [have] seen many of our public funded early childhood programs become downward extensions of public schools, we need to advocate for the children's right to play."
Moyer, J., Egertson, H., & Isenberg, J. (1987). The child- centered kindergarten. Childhood Education, 63(4), 235-242. www.acei.org/kindergarten9.htm

Need for snacks

Once children commence kindergarten, life takes on a new routine. A regular intake of food is needed throughout the day to help keep children active and concentrate while learning.

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