Sending Your Child to Kindergarten

Sending your first child to kindergarten can be an exciting and nerve wracking experience. It’s new for both of you, and as a parent, you want to make sure your child has a good year and that he/she is nurtured and valued for his/her individual strengths. You want your child to be taught according to his/her unique needs and encouraged to grow in a way that will strengthen him/her, not only academically, but socially, morally, and emotionally as well. So how to you find a kindergarten teacher who can do all these things for your child? Here are some things to look for:

A Kindergarten Science Center
--Are their obvious defined areas of learning (i.e. learning centers)? Your child needs to be taught in a way that allows him/her the opportunity to grow and develop through play; the way children learn best. There should be areas in the classroom dedicated to science, social studies, writing, building, dramatic play, technological skills, math play, and reading. All of these areas should show evidence of hands-on learning materials, as young children learn best from participating with academia, they do not learn from hands-off lecture or rote style worksheet learning.

--Do you immediately see discovery based learning materials? When entering the classroom you should see things like puzzles, magnets, magnifying glasses, and manipulatives. Young children learn best through hands on learning where they can make discoveries about the world around them. 

--Does the classroom have areas that promote play? Research shows that play is the work of children. Academic performance is improved when learning tasks are presented through playful situations. For example, children can understand the elements of a story better (characters, setting, etc) if they are asked to dramatize the story. There should be a playhouse or a play area in your child’s classroom as well as a block center and a sensory table. Areas like this show that the teacher is dedicated to teaching in a research based, age appropriate way.

--Are there areas that create artistic expression? Is there an area for painting, cutting, gluing and creating? Art strengthens spatial awareness, motor skills, problem solving, and persistence. Think of the child who has to work out how to cut up pieces of paper and glue them together in a way that makes a picture, not only is that child building the strength of his/her hands, he also needs to learn patience in completing the task--a skill that he can transfer to other academic areas.

--Are there areas to display student work? Seeing his/her own work in the classroom shows a child that he/she is valued and that his/her accomplishments are worthwhile. It gives him/her ownership of the classroom and ownership over his/her own learning.

--Is the classroom littered with print? Children need vast exposure to print in order to learn to read. Your child’s classroom should have evidence of literacy everywhere. There should be words everywhere in the classroom as a friendly invitation to reading.

So what if you can’t find such a teacher or a classroom? First off, remember that public education is public because it belongs to you! Your local elementary school belongs to you and your neighbors and you can make a difference in the quality of the education there. Here are some ideas that can help improve the quality of your child’s kindergarten:

--Volunteer in the classroom and get to know the teacher. Teachers feel overwhelmed by the academic pressures that become ever greater each year. This leads many to think that they need to remove anything from the day that isn’t strictly academic. This is faulty thinking, by the way, research into the way young children learn shows that they will actually do better academically when taught in a way that reflects their need to play, experiment, and create. Teaching to the whole child actually leads to better results, but we live in a world of stressful academic pressures, and some teachers bow to it out of fear of poor test results. If you feel like the needs of your child as a whole are not being met, volunteer to spend time in the classroom filling in some of the holes. Do painting and art projects or play academic games with the students while the teacher works with small groups. Bring in experiments for the class to try. Your child’s teacher will be grateful for the help and the children will benefit from the added experiences.