In today's classrooms, kids play, explore and develop learning skills
Successful Kindergarten programs are engaging and fun. Educational standards must be adhered to, but students should be encouraged to play, sing, move, pretend, imagine, explore, investigate, discuss, read, write and speak. In turn, they develop social skills, gain independence and become more responsible.
Ideally, Kindergarten is when children develop a love of learning through play and daily routines. “Students begin the school year at various points along a continuum of ability, and the goal is to have them move on to 1st grade with confidence in their newly acquired skills,” says Kerry DiSimone, vice principal at New Albany Elementary School in Cinnaminson, NJ.
“If you believe that how you start the race is usually a good predictor of where you will finish, assuring as equal a playing field for all of our young people is critical,” says Salvatore Illuzzi, superintendent of the Cinnaminson School District. Therefore, learning in Kindergarten — as in all grades — aligns with Common Core State Standards for language arts and mathematics, though in a developmentally appropriate way.
This base is meant to prepare kids for subsequent academic challenges. As such, by the end of their inaugural elementary year, students in Delaware’s Appoquinimink School District are “reading short passages, writing sentences and solving addition and subtraction problems,” says Gayle Rutter, principal at Townsend’s Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center.
Appoquinimink has also integrated Next Generation Science standards and State Social Studies lessons into its Kindergarten curriculum, but its administrators look beyond academics to help Kindergarteners develop school-readiness skills and social/emotional growth. “We strive to have students collaborating with each other throughout the day,” agree Gina Robinson and Carolyn H. Joynt, principals at Cedar Lane Early Childhood Center and Townsend Early Childhood Center, respectively. This gives kids, says Rutter, “ample opportunities to engage in conversations and play in order to develop their oral language and social skills.”
Play to learn
Intentional play is an integral element in Kindergarten programs. Students work on math, reading, writing, science and social studies while playing games, pretending, building with blocks, creating with art materials and scribbling in the sand. These imaginary and sensory experiences help them make connections to the world around them. The primary way to formalize such play is through “centers” that focus on dramatic play, reading, writing, listening, science, social studies, arts & crafts, sand & water, Play-doh, fine motor and computer.
“At any point during our half-day program,” says DeSimone, “I can walk into the classroom to see students engrossed in word work centers in which they are manipulating letters and sounds; reading short stories in small guided groups; solving word problems using dry-erase boards; painting a picture of their favorite part from read-aloud center time.”
Set school routines
Learning how to act and behave in a classroom is another important aspect of Kindergarten. Through daily rituals and routines, Kindergarteners are introduced to big concepts. Routines may include morning meeting or circle time, storytime, center time, free-play time, playground time, quiet time (reading independently, etc.) and cleanup time
Lining up to enter and leave the classroom, walking in the hallway and asking to use the restroom are just a few of the additional routines Kindergarteners will practice until perfect.
For children who may need a little more time to meet elementary-transition benchmarks, many local schools districts, including Cinnaminson, offer programs like Developmental Kindergarten and Transitional 1st Grade. Most kids, however, make the leap with aplomb. Reports DiSimone, “Kindergarten is such an exciting year in which students progress academically, socially and emotionally in leaps and bounds.”
Janet Tumelty is a freelance writer and mom from South Jersey.