Are We Preparing Kids?

Over the 10 different years that I’ve taught Kindergarten — with three different program documents — one discussion point constantly resurfaces: are we preparing kids for Grade 1? I’ve usually responded in a similar way to this question, always commenting on “providing the best possible program for students this year” and mentioning that “maybe the environment needs to change in response to the students that are coming up to it.” The question lingers on if we’re doing a disservice to students by not preparing them to sit in desks, complete worksheets, sit and listen on the carpet, and adapt to a program that is far more “academically-focused” than Kindergarten. There always seems to be this underlying belief that “play is not enough.” This was the very discussion that I was having with someone yesterday on a drive into Toronto. During the conversation though, I realized that my answer to the “preparation question” could really be different than how I’ve answered in the past. In retrospect, my answer is yes.

  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to think and problem solve simple and more complex problems on their own. We’re helping them see the value in perseverance. We’re showing them that we believe in them and what they’re able to do on their own and with support from their classmates.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to socialize with each other: how to listen to what others have to say, respect different opinions, take turns during conversations, and solve some social problems on their own. We’re showing them the value in building positive relationships.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to self-regulate. We are helping them become more aware of when they’re too up-regulated or down-regulated, and what works for them to get to “calm.” We’re being supportive of diverse self-regulation strategies, and watching students move from co-regulation (with our support) to self-regulation (and the ability to independently recognize and choose what works for them).
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to develop their literacy skills. We’re providing numerous opportunities for them to speak, listen, read, and write in meaningful contexts, and recognize letters and sounds in ways that work for them. We’re watching students develop along a continuum and providing mini-lessons that target their specific needs when they need them. 
  • Yes, we are preparing students in developing their mathematical skills. Students are recognizing numerals and counting through various play opportunities (e.g., talking about the number that they’re dialing on the telephone in dramatic play or counting the number of blocks in both piles to ensure that they’ve split them equally with their friend). They are developing their spatial skills and measurement abilities as they create mini-worlds in our shelves and reorganize the blocks to fit within the desired area. They are learning about shapes as they create Picasso-inspired art pieces, build structures with different blocks (and explore the properties of the 3-D figures), and create different art work with playdough and plasticine (discussing how their 3-D figures compare to the 2-D shapes). We are helping them label these math skills and start to bring math talk into their play.
  • Yes, we are preparing students on how to work with us and with others in small groups, for it’s in these smaller groups that we can really target instruction the most to meet individual needs. 

This is all of the background knowledge and skills that students need to be successful in Grade 1, and as a teaching team, my partner and I make these areas our priority. We are not preparing students to sit at a desk, complete worksheets, or engage in long carpet times, as these are not curriculum expectations and ultimately do not meet the developmental needs of our children. We’re not alone in this, and in fact, our finalized Kindergarten Program Document instructs us to use a play-based and inquiry-based approach that limits full-class instruction. So then what happens to students when they move past Kindergarten? Will they be ready for their future education? It’s then that I look at the blog posts from an educator such as Rhonda Urfey: a Grade 3 teacher in our Board. Have a look at what her students have done thanks to a growing interest in “water bottles” and the “environment,” and see what play-based and inquiry-based learning looks like past Kindergarten.

Rhonda is not the only educator beyond a Kindergarten one that’s embracing this type of learning environment, and just like us in Kindergarten, she’s preparing her students for what they need in the next grade. Maybe we need to question more, what is it that students need? What are we preparing them for? This is an uncomfortable conversation that I think needs to continue to happen if we want to see a real change in education. What do you think?

Aviva

6 thoughts on “Are We Preparing Kids?

  1. Hello Aviva, although I haven’t commented on your posts in a while, I have enjoyed reading them and continue learning from your reflections. This one certainly resonates with me and your rethinking in how you answer that question shows the proactive mindset that will benefit all. I wrote this two years ago if you have time to read.
    It’s Not About Preparing; It’s About The Now

    • Thanks for the comment, Faige, and for sharing your post! I just commented on it as well. I think that we need to really re-think what this question is asking us and maybe have some good conversations with colleagues about what students need to be prepared for. I wonder about others that have tried this already and how it’s gone. From your post, it seems as though this was something that was happening at your school. This certainly seems to be a question that’s not going away, so maybe it’s how we answer it that needs to change.

      Aviva

  2. And I like how you “phrased and worded” your answer. I often worry that when it becomes about preparation we take away some of the joy of the “now” the “discovery” that propels kids to learn. You bring up valid concerns and points.

    • Thanks Faige! I think that there are certain skills that we need to address in each grade to prepare for the next grade — almost like the Big Ideas in the curriculum documents — but maybe we need to be more open to how these skills are taught. Then, each year, it’s up to us to respond to the students in front of us versus worrying about “preparation,” as each year, the needs and interests of the group are likely to change.

      Aviva

  3. Hi Aviva,
    Your post inspired me to repsond – something I don’t often do! – because I hear the same thing over and over again. I am a grade one teacher with a play-based program and a question I frequently get is “do you think your kids will be ready for grade 2?” This is not a question that is unique to Kindergarten but happens across the grade spectrum – Grade 7 and 8 teachers feeling pressure to “prepare” students for high school, Grade 12 teachers feeling pressure to “prepare” students for University and so on. Unfortunately, what I think often happens is that our preconceptions of the next grade or the next level of schooling is what informs our practice, rather than the reality. As you identified in your post, we are supporting our students to be creative thinkers who can make sense of the world through mathematics, language and art. I just finished parent-teacher interviews and I had a parent who was concerned about her daughter’s spelling. She asked if I was going to start having spelling tests. I was able to be quite definitive in my response. No, we will not be having spelling tests but that is not because I don’t value spelling. That is because I know spelling tests are an ineffective way to teach spelling. And I went on to explain how we will be developing spelling strategies. While the vehicles through which we meet our education goals are evolving our goals remain the same and we can answer, yes – we are preparing our students for whatever comes next.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kim! You make an excellent point here that many different grades and teachers hear the same questions. I think it’s so important to consider what we are preparing students for, and really knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing. Your answer to this parent makes these points so very clear. I think that this topic is so much about “reframing what preparation looks like.”

      Aviva

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