From what I’ve seen, pre-k is a success- developmentally appropriate, nurturing classrooms with lots of exploration, play, growth and joy. Why should kindergarten be any different?
When I walk into the pre-k classrooms at my school I enter a veritable learning and happiness wonderland.
Picture this: While some students count or match shapes and patterns, others build a city out of blocks. More explore foam at a sensory table and 4 eager, smiling kids observe insects and worms at a science center. In dramatic play, a circle of friends dress up in butterfly wings and pretend to pollinate flowers, and a few more draw, write and paint to their hearts’ contents at an art table.
Later that day, they will sing, dance, listen to a story and play outside. Outside they can choose to dig in the dirt, run around, blow bubbles, slide, jump, ride tricycles, build with stones or draw with chalk.
They eagerly discuss letter sounds over lunch, and are excited to choose books or math games during the short “center time” before dismissal. Some of them have started to read picture books on their own. Whenever I visit, they teach me about plants and seasons, animals and neighborhood features. They say please and thank you and independently solve problems among friends. There is a class “comforter”who makes sure that when a student is sad, they get a hug or pat on the back. There are 2 caring adults in each class, and only 18 students so everyone gets the attention they need.
Sounds pretty idyllic right?
And they are learning so much- socially, academically and physically. Students who didn’t know the letters in their own names are now spelling and reading words. A student who couldn’t throw a ball at the beginning of the year can play baseball. One little girl who did not speak a word of English in September is completely fluent and a leader in the class. Last time I visited, she explained a bee’s life cycle to me in detail, using vocabulary like pupa, larva, hive, nectar, pollinator and drone.
At this point in the year, the pre-k students are four or five years old. Many will still be four when they enter kindergarten in September. Some of them will not turn five until December of next school year. Which begs the question- if students are the same age or just a few months older than pre-k students, why on earth is kindergarten so different from pre-k? Is the experience of being four and a half really so different from being four?
In kindergarten, there can be 25 students and only one teacher. That is a huge jump from 18 kids and 2 adults. In kindergarten, students are expected to sit, read, write, put pencil to paper to meet common core standards, and yet we know that many kindergarteners lack the fine motor skills to hold a pencil. In kindergarten, outdoor play and sensory exploration become secondary to “real learning” aka academics, as does social emotional and physical development. Although in some lucky classrooms students still do get “extra” play time- is is thought of as distinct from learning rather than essential to it. In kindergarten, kids sit through tests that they often can’t even read.Why is this transition so abrupt? The kids are virtually the same and no person in their right mind would put a pre-k student in front of a bubble test. ( although I know it happens)
Kindergarten is still very much part of early childhood. Four and five year olds cannot learn or function without movement, sensory stimulation, singing, joy, play, choice and time outdoors. We have a structure for pre-k that has produced at least a few fabulous, developmentally appropriate classrooms.
Kindergarten needs to get on board. In fact, maybe all grade levels should be more like pre-k. Choice, play and happiness for all.