This article appears in our November 2015 issue of Indy’s Child Parenting Magazine. Pick up a copy today at your local Marsh store, YMCA, public library or community center.
Take a moment to reflect on your kindergarten year. Mine goes back many years but the happiness of it is still so easily accessible. Remembering how excited I was to see my friends, finger-painting at the easel, singing a song about ducks, taking a chance on the monkey bars, playing dress-up, looking through new books and creating a tissue paper owl to take home to my mom and dad. Was I learning? Was I playing? Did it prepare me well for first grade?
What is the purpose of kindergarten?
The answer to that question varies widely among parents, educators, developmental scientists, superintendents, school districts, states and countries. Perhaps the more pertinent question is “Who is answering that question for my child?” because they will make decisions about what happens in the classroom. As parents, we want to make an informed decision of what kind of kindergarten classroom our children experience.
For children of preschool and kindergarten age, the science leans heavily on the value and promise of learning through play for later academic success. Guided play and scaffolded play are developmentally appropriate approaches to learning that can be used by educators in the classroom and by parents at home. It involves observing children to meet them where they are developmentally, co-playing, asking open-ended questions and suggesting ways to explore materials that children might not have thought of on their own. These interactions occur within a planned play environment enriched with toys, objects, play-stations and hands-on, active, child-directed opportunities to engage with this environment.
Developmentally appropriate schools offer advantages in emotion regulation, child stress, behavior problems and motivation for school, reading and math compared to schools that push direct instruction. These advantages last through the primary grades.
Do not compare…investigate
Do not compare your child to what other children can do. There is always that child in the preschool class who can read. Parents tend to think, “Oh no, I’m doing something wrong, my child cannot do that.” Then you go home and drill reading skills. It’s called “drill-and-kill” for a reason: it carries with it stress and burn-out. There is no research that documents long-term gains from learning to read in kindergarten. An alternative approach is to investigate. Find out early literacy skills typical for children the same age and stage as yours and developmentally appropriate ways you can encourage these skills. I promise you will have more fun!
What to do?
Explore the options for education in your community, read publications on different approaches to early education, interview your educator and observe different kindergarten classrooms. You know your child, so what makes the most sense for him or her? You can always change your mind.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS:
- – Alliance for Childhood. Use on what to look for in classroom environments.
- – Zero to Three. Use on early literacy and developmentally appropriate expectations.
Developmental psychologist Jessica Beer combines her real world experience as a mother with her professional training as a researcher to provide parents with a practical way to apply the most current findings in childhood development research to their everyday life.