What to look for in a Preschool and Kindergarten Program: A Professional Viewpoint
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 and sell 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. Oh, and the unspoken belief that teachers aren’t really that smart so we’d better give them an idiot proof curriculum that they can’t screw up, but I will save that little bugaboo for another day.
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 the lessons planned with no regard to child interest – as in “It is March so we do X”"
"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 are 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?" Are the materials Used by children, as in they are not on a shelf for show OR tattered old crud that nobody uses anyway?
"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 Preschool and 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. Not even people with (nearly) PhD’s in Early Childhood Education.