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?