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What's the 'Next Generation' Kindergarten?

 

Q. This will be my third child in all-day kindergarten, and I don't really like it and don't know what to do about it. I've noticed with our older two children and their classmates that the ones who are ready to read and learn are kind of put on the sidelines in kindergarten, while those who have problems are getting most of the attention. Kids have all different levels of preschool preparation, and their reading readiness, for one thing, is all over the map. It seems like it's letting down the top half or two-thirds of the pupils in our district to cluster them all together in the "intake" year of kindergarten. I like to innovate and would like to help our district create a more forward-looking kindergarten experience. What should I do?

 

The wave of the future seems to be in matching the learning experience better to the needs of the learner, and making use of community resources and a more flexible approach.

 

What classroom teachers have been noticing with increasing concern is the increasing diversity in the learning readiness of the students. This appears to be the most troublesome in the kindergarten year. For example, one kindergartner is already reading while the next one doesn't even know the alphabet letters yet. One might have enough self-control to be doing simple science experiments, while his seatmate can't sit still for five minutes.

 

"Segmenting" the transition to all-day school is an exciting solution to the problems of diversity that you have experienced. With segmenting, the kindergarten day and the kindergarten year are broken down into parts. Part of the kindergarten learning occurs at home or a child-care setting or private school such as a Montessori, part occurs out in the community in places such as nature centers and art museums, part occurs online with home supervision, and part occurs in the traditional classroom setting.

 

Those children who need full-time kindergarten - especially disadvantaged children and the non-English speaking - can be in the traditional classroom setting all day to be brought "up to specs," which is an irreverent way of saying to learn the alphabet, colors, numbers, how to share, and so forth. Meanwhile, the other classroom might host two half-day kindergarten sessions for those children who already meeting the minimal state learning standards on the first day of class, and they can work with learning activities more appropriate to their skill level.

 

That would save a considerable amount of money, since the schools would no longer be paying teachers to basically "back-burner" children who already have mastered the kindergarten curriculum, and are ready for more music education, foreign language, arts education, or just time at home playing and exploring.

 

Then those children will be freed up to participate in more meaningful learning activities until the group has caught up. As an example, they might be in the traditional kindergarten classroom setting five mornings a week; go to a day-care center or parent co-op two afternoons a week; stay at home two afternoons a week and go to the library, do computer learning games or work on their hobbies and interests; and go out on mini field trips every Friday afternoon.

 

Since the alternative is to lose those children to private-sector schools, that do allow for enrichment and accelerated learning, the public schools may be forced into offering segmented programming.

 

You can innovate and get this started in your district, without costing the district a dime, by recruiting some other like-minded parents and meeting a year, or at least several months in advance, with your building principal to work this out. The key is that most states will pay for a full-day's enrollment as long as the child is at school through the lunch hour. So your district will still receive the full amount of money for your child's education even though the child will only be there for a half a day.

 

After a couple of weeks of orientation, once your children are pre-tested to make sure they already have the skills expected of them at the end of kindergarten, parents will start pulling their child out of school in the afternoons to do enrichment activities, also known as "complementary learning" opportunities. You might start doing this just one afternoon a week, and work your way up.

 

These might consist of art lessons, mini field trips, more time spent at the park and library, community learning activities at the zoo and museums, and so forth. You might have a good child-care center nearby that would take school-age children part-time and offer a quality curriculum, for working parents who can't supervise the afternoon sessions.

 

Invite the other parents to join you and collaborate and carpool on this. Teachers like it because if the kids who are already "getting it" in school leave part of the time, teachers can focus better on the kids who are NOT "getting it," and then everybody will be happy and have their needs met!

 

If it is a success, then your school can start counting the enrollments of participating kindergartners as part-time, rather than full-time, for monetary reimbursement of tax dollars, thus saving taxpayers in your district thousands of dollars per child.

 

Here's a way to go about it:

 

n       Educate your administrators and school board members privately, quietly and well in advance - over a year is preferable. To avoid hurting feelings or polarizing people, avoid pejorative terms about all-day kindergarten or insulting words like "bored" or "wasteful." Stress the achievements of your older children to show that you know what it takes to build a good learner. Stress, too, their comments about being bored and pushed aside during their all-day kindergarten experiences.

 

n       The two key tasks of kindergarten are (1) to build phonemic awareness and to teach children phonics, the building blocks of literacy, and (2) give them a taste of school before first grade begins. Those services can be delivered in just a few minutes a day, and anything more than that really is just babysitting for parent convenience. If your child is already reading, it makes the idea of an "enrichment pull-out" a lot more convincing.

 

n       Tell them you can't find any scientific evidence (not just opinion) that full-day programs provide academic benefit on down the road. That's because it doesn't exist: the benefits of full-day kindergarten wash out within a year or two, and neither educators nor researchers can tell if kids had full-day kindergarten or not. If educators try to block your idea, ask for the evidence that your child will be better off in a full-day program than in a more flexible, segmented program. They can't give you any.

 

n       On the other hand, there is significant research pointing to increased aggression, difficulties with attachment to parents and self-esteem issues, and "sour attitude" about school, in young children who are placed in controlled, out-of-home environments at too young an age for too much time.

n       Recruit other parents and older taxpayers to your cause. There are safety and strength in numbers.

 

n       Recognize that schools are under a lot of peer pressure to adopt all-day kindergarten to "keep up with the Joneses." The educators at your school have already shown that they care what other educators think about them. Now show them how they can be the innovators and the leaders in parental involvement! They'll love putting positive peer pressure on other schools to copy what you're doing.

 

n       If they turn you down, notify them that you will be taking your child out of school every day before lunch. Then they will only get a half-day's state aid and other tax support for your child's enrollment. Encourage the other parents to do the same, and follow through on your enrichment idea. Always be polite and gracious, and you may wind up educating the educators!

 

n       Read and interact a lot with your child before first grade begins. Voila! You'll "grow" an excellent learner at no charge to taxpayers . . . and in just minutes a day. Parents can do what no school ever can: love that child with all their hearts.

 

Homework: Educators often do not realize that a preliterate child winds up with better literacy skills if the time spent before first grade is spent on non-reading activities that still build vocabulary, concentration, listening ability, hand-eye coordination and other skills. That's the best use of the kindergarten year for those children who don't come to school ready to read. See pre-literacy information on www.nrrf.org

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Ages & Stages 127 2008

 

 

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