Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just My Opinion...

I remember as a teenager my father distinctly saying to me one time, "Talking is not a virtue." For some reason, that comment has stuck with me throughout life and yet, I catch myself time and time again rambling on when I just need to learn to keep my mouth shut! Unfortunately, it's a behavior that has been passed down from my maternal side of the family and I pray that somehow it skips a generation with my kids. See what I mean...rambling.

If you know me well, you know that there are a few things that I'm truly passionate about and if you get me started in conversation, it's hard to get me to stop. For the past few weeks my wheels have been cranking after a community talk with some of the local Hamilton County kindergarten teachers regarding their expectations for children academically and socially as they prepare to enter kindergarten. It's only been 10 years since my first kindergarten teaching job and boy have times and expectations changed. I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in the community talk because I think that there are so many parents out there who are misinformed or not well-informed as to what they should be looking for when choosing a preschool program for their child.

After talking with several friends whose children participate in several different programs, I am surprised at the variety of options for children who are preschool aged. Many programs are strictly social where academics are kept to a minimum and many kindergarten teachers are finding that children are falling short of the necessary academic readiness skills that are needed to be able to keep up with the rigourous and demanding standards that are in effect. Some state that they have a good balance between academics and socialization, but when asked about curriculum have stated that they don't have a strict curriculum and instead follow bits and pieces of a curriculum that is not developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.

Ten years ago if a child entered kindergarten able to write part of his name it was considered success, let alone being able to identify half of the letters of the alphabet. Today, children are expected to come to kindergarten not only recognizing and writing letters (not all) and identifying sounds, but also to be able to participate in many phonemic awareness activities. Some preschool programs assume that because the standards have increased that the only way to teach is to hand a child some crayons and a worksheet. If a child comes home with more than one worksheet from preschool PER week, it's too much. Let me explain what I mean by "worksheet." WOWKITS WEBLOG says it best :

  • Worksheets are an abstract way to present a concept. Young children learn best through concrete, hands-on experiences. In fact, abstract ideas make no sense to children unless they have had related concrete experiences to think about and draw upon.
  • Worksheets don’t engage the whole child. Instead they limit children to visual stimulation and fine motor practice. This is stifling for children, but more importantly, it represents a lost opportunity to encourage a child’s development in a host of other important areas simultaneously (large muscle movements, language, musical, social, emotional, creativity, problem solving, etc.)
  • When a child is required to do worksheets, programs run the risk of creating self-esteem and behavior issues. This narrow approach to teaching goes against what we know about how children learn and does not suit the temperament of most preschool children.

When worksheets are presented as a choice, programs run the risk of enabling children to be passive learners, taking the easy way out. After all, the children most likely to choose worksheets are those who find the narrow task comforting.

Crafts - I just heard a preschool parent describe her daughter's preschool class a day with calendar, snack, play time and craft. "The parents love the crafts," she said. What's the point of the craft? Was it a learning opportunity where the end goal was for the child to follow a listening or visual instruction? Was the goal for them to practice their cutting skills or sequencing or was it just to have something cute to hang on the wall that will eventually end up in the trash? Crafts are cute and are wonderful keepsakes, but crafts in preschool should have a purpose other than to look nice on the refrigerator. Trust me, enough crafts are made at my house in one week out of recyclables and other junk to take care of a lifetime of preschool crafts.

What is your child's program doing to promote phonemic and phonological awareness across the curriculum? Do your child's teachers even know what phonemic and phonological awareness are and how to use them in their classrooms? Do they just read a story at circle time and then on to craft and snack? Do they participate in shared reading and writing activities? Are they introducing and providing opportunities for children to experience language in a way that promotes developmentally appropriate practice?

If you're still reading, you're probably wondering why I'm on such a rant about preschool right now. Education is something that I feel very strongly about and I feel as though every parent should know what they are signing their kids up for when it comes to preschool. If you want your child to have a chance to socialize, the Y has great recreational programs and has good wholesome core values. Mom's Day Out programs are great ways for your child to socialize, but don't expect that if that's all that your child attends before kindergarten that they will be in the same ballpark as others. But, if it's preschool that you're signing up for, I challenge you to really think about the purpose...yes, it is so that your child has an opportunity to socialize, but it's also so much more. For the longest time I've said that I worry more about Johnny being able to play well with others and trust that the skills can come later. I've changed my outlook on this after reading and spending time with teachers who are in the trenches with the kids that we really worried more about learning to share than to develop the necessary skill to prepare them for the next stage in their educational career. I'm sure some readers will want to throw a book at me with what I have to say next, but I feel very strongly about it, so hopefully I'll have a chance to duck and cover.

The NAEYC Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs states:

"Teachers who are knowledgeable about child development and learning are able to make broad
predictions about what children of a particular age group typically will be like, what they typically will and won’t be capable of, and what strategies and approaches will most likely promote their optimal learning and development. With this knowledge, teachers can make preliminary decisions with some confidence about environment, materials, interactions, and activities." They go on to say, "A hallmark of developmentally appropriate teaching is intentionality. Good teachers are intentional in everything they do—setting up the classroom, planning curriculum, making use of various teaching strategies, assessing children,
interacting with them, and working with their families. They are able to use a variety of strategies. Intentional teachers are purposeful and thoughtful about the actions they take, and they direct their pedagogy toward the outcomes the program is trying to help children reach."

Duck and cover...

Yes, I am saying that our preschool teachers need to be knowledgeable in child development (babysitting when you were 12 doesn't count) and need to be trained in developmentally appropriate practice. What is your child's preschool teacher doing to stay current in developmentally appropriate practice? If your child's preschool doesn't have licensed teachers, then please make sure that they have a lot of experience before you pay the big bucks to send your child to their program. The crafts may be cute, but I can guarantee that they can make cute stuff at home.

Yes, we are talking about preschoolers here and not 4th graders. I know that you're thinking that I'm nuts and expecting too much from a 3-5 year old. Think it now, because when that child is in 1st grade and struggling to read it's too late. We can plow ahead but we can never go back and setting our children up for success is too important. Literacy is the foundation for every other academic area your child will experience during his educational career. If he can't read, he'll struggle in math, science, art, social studies, and the list goes on.

Just remember that preschool is only a few hours a few days a week - you're not signing your child's life away, so make those few hours during those few days as meaningful and fruitful for your child as possible. As you plan for the fall and start to think about preschool, please consider the costs...and I don't mean tuition.