What should you look for in a Kindergarten?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This week, two different people asked Me for opinions about Kindergarten. And by Me, I mean Actual Living Me, the person they know in real life.  Because Real Life Me is occasionally distracted or at a loss for words, I sometimes don't answer a question as fully as I would like. Given a few hours, my brain starts to overheat and think of all the things I wanted to Say, but forgot, or got sidetracked or overheated in my opinions about something else. If you are my best friend, I start to get upset FOR you and the words "Bullshit", "That's a bunch of bull shit" and "Do you want me to drive down and go to this conference with you? Because this is BULLSHIT"  starts to overwhelm the conversation.

I am, if nothing else, a passionate person.

So, I thought I would write this down for posterity.

Now, mind you, I have a very specific philosophy about education and children. It is Child Centered. By this I mean, I consider the needs of the child as primary to any decision about their education.

"Sure", you may be thinking, "We all think about the needs of the child"...But do we? Do we really? Because I would hazard that No - a good 90% of educational decisions have nothing to do with the needs of the child.

The needs of the teacher? The needs of the parent? The needs of the school district? The needs of the tax payers? The needs of  companies that develop textbooks and "curriculum's"?

I would hazard that this is what drives a majority of decisions about a child's education. Ergo, this combination tends to leave out the most important person in the mix - the child. I guess it is because they are small and can't vote and don't have disposable incomes or the adults around them believe they can't be trusted to have an opinion which should be honored that they get the shortest end of the stick.

In my time as Validator for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the question that I repeatedly came back to was this: "Would I want to be a child in this program?"

That question broke down further to several other questions:

"Would I feel Known as a Person in this program?"

"Would I feel Known as a Learner in this program?"

"Would I feel safe with the adults in this program? If I was crying or hurt, would they know how to comfort me?"

"Is there time for me to play and talk - fully play and talk - with my peers? Is my play valued AS education and not slotted between other activities as filler?"

"Is my body respected - as in, can I use the bathroom and get a drink when my body tells me I need to?"

"Is the art that I see produced by Children, or is it a bunch of photocopies that everyone is told HOW to do the same thing?"

"Are children being asked to sit and do worksheets which have no intrinsic value other than something that fills time?"

"Are portfolios of children's work being collected which represents authentic learning?"

"Are adults in the program doing  ongoing and meaningful observation of children? This does not mean sitting down to assess with a worksheet - but sitting and doing anecdotal observation of the child at play?"

"Are child getting outside - EVERY DAY - except in severe weather ( as in below zero or heavy rain)? "

" How do the adults in the program communicate with family? Is there frequent personal communication?" How? Can parents easily reach the adult/teacher if they need to discuss something - or is there a ton of obstacles between the parent and the school?"

"Are there enough materials in this classroom so that children can explore and use them without worrying they won't have enough?"

"Does the adult in charge of my education understand and honor Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum as well as fully understand the developmental stages in which children learn subjects like math, science, and acquire literacy skills? Can the teacher tell you where your child is in those stages and how he/she is planning their curriculum to meet those specific needs?"

These are the questions I would arm parents to walk into any Kindergarten and keep in mind when assessing if the program will be a good fit for your child. These are the questions I would tell parents to walk into a conference with a teacher and ask.  Parents are always the best advocates for their child and just because a teacher has been "doing it this way" for xx years doesn't mean he/she should not be challenged or questioned about teaching practices. Tradition can easily be a code word for laziness.

There is no mystery in curriculum, and a parent should never feel bullied by the word, or by a teacher wielding the word. Parents must be fully prepared to be active and questioning partners in the education of their child. No one gets to sit on the sidelines, or rest on their laurels.

Education is constant motion.

8 Baleful Regards:

Amira said...

I just sat my husband down to read this post and we both could not agree more.

Although Aiman, our son, won't start school for at least another year or two, we're already talking about how different we wished the "system" was and the difficulty we're most likely going to face in finding the right kind of school FOR HIM. Like you mentioned, we firmly believe that educational decisions should revolve around children too, sooooo I'm already dreading the school search/research process.

Thank you.

And really, you should write a book on this.

Or an autobiography. That would be pretty neat too.

Jane said...

My daughter won't be in school for a couple of years either, but I'm definitely bookmarking this post. You're right that a parent should be able to ask all of these questions and get honest, thoughtful answers. It seems to me if a teacher can't (or won't) communicate well with the parents, that they can't be doing too hot of a job with their students.

jwg said...

Well said. The sad part of the whole thing is that most parents can't afford private school and have no choice but to send their child to the local public school. Around here, and in most of the US, Kindergarten is boot camp. Now if we could find a way to convince parents that all of this nonsense is not progress perhaps we could start a parents' revolution. The powers that be certainly aren't listening to the people who actually teach the kids.

Dawn said...

Jane - Really, I think that you can apply these questions to ANY classroom - even elementary school. I know I do!

jwg - the next post is going to be on developmental stages of reading/writing and math. My best friend is facing some Very inappropriate practices with her Kindergarten son.

MOCK! said...

Dawn wrote: Because I would hazard that No - a good 90% of educational decisions have nothing to do with the needs of the child.

Right now it seems a majority of the decisions made at my school are made with NO input from the teaching staff. The Business Manager operates separately from the IT Department that operates separately from the Curriculum Director who all seem vaguely aware that their are kids in our building....

I always tell my IL at least PRETEND to solicit our input....even if you have already made up your mind...let us THINK we are part of the process...

jwg said...

Looking forward to the post. Have you been a Validator within the latest system? It's insane! I'm so glad I retired before the big push for accreditation. My question when I do CDA and NAFCC observations these days is "Would I send my grandkids here?" It's all a matter of perspective.

Goddess of Madness said...

These are many of the questions I asked before I chose school for The Starlet. I am exceedinly lucky in that there are charter schools in Calgary that offer alternative programs including public based Montessori. The Startlet is in an arts based school and the level of communication we have with ALL of the staff is fantastic. They know Charlotte is in a blended family and has days when it's hard because she doesn't want to go to Dad's house and they let her express that with out pressure, and gently work with her to not only express is to them but to both myself and my ex. How many regular public schools do that?

Unknown said...

There is no choice for us. There is one elementary in our town. Kindergarten is horrible. I hate sending my son there to sit perfectly still and quiet and do his 12 worksheets a day over 7 hours. We're having our first conference next week and I'm working on a list of topics I want to discuss.

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