To the Editor:
As professors of early-childhood education, researchers, and, most importantly, former kindergarten, preschool, and 1st grade teachers, we would like to respond to several points raised in the article “Teachers of Kindergartners Adapt to Full Days” (Jan. 26, 2005). We are concerned that some administrators and policymakers who are not familiar with developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood will come away with misconceptions based on some of the content of the article.
The first paragraph describes a kindergarten class with students “seated at their desks” participating in a whole-group, teacher-directed math lesson about shapes. A kindergarten classroom should not have a desk for each child, but, rather, tables where four to six children can work cooperatively and independently on a variety of activities. These tables should be placed in learning centers where children move about to interact with materials and peers, in a print-rich environment. Lessons should be integrated throughout the content areas (instead of isolated to one discipline), and should be rooted in children’s experiences in the real world.
So a typical lesson in a developmentally appropriate classroom might begin with children discussing the previous night’s snowstorm in a whole-group meeting with their teacher. Then they could bring in some snow, and a few students could conduct various experiments in the water table while others measured the depth of the snow and added this to a graph that they began following during an earlier snowstorm. Still others might be writing or drawing in their journals about the challenges and joys of the snowstorm. If the teacher wanted to support their learning about shapes, they could be forming various shapes with snow while playing outside. In the art area, the teacher also could put lots of stencils of shapes for children to use with other art materials to make various designs, or maybe a mural or collage, and put out picture books with shapes as additional literacy tools.
Full-day kindergarten classrooms should not be used as a vehicle to water down a 1st grade curriculum. They should be instituted to provide continuity of care and education for children and to provide children with extended opportunities to be engaged in learning.
Children are motivated to learn when they are actively engaged, working independently and with others, and able to make decisions and choices. Literacy, math, and science activities in carefully planned learning centers should promote purposeful learning and provide children with interesting problems to solve. The tasks expected in centers are open-ended in ways that are responsive to different levels of learners. The teacher’s role is to scaffold on children’s interests, facilitate learning by adding materials and posing open-ended questions, and to differentiate their interactions based on children’s strengths, needs, and individual learning styles.
Although we agree, emphatically, that full-day kindergarten provides a wealth of opportunities and is beneficial for children, the program must meet children’s needs. In response to the teacher in your story who said that two children fell asleep during a lesson, all kindergarten children should have a brief rest time after lunch. Some may nap, others look at books while quiet music plays in the background.
In response to the teacher who said that in the half-day kindergarten program she didn’t have time to read a book to the children, we wonder if she realizes that the single activity that best supports children’s growth into readers and writers is being read to. So even though time is an issue in half-day kindergartens, this is the one thing that should never be eliminated. Teachers also should read to children throughout the day, individually and in small groups.
A comprehensive two-year study by James Elicker and Sangeeta Mathur (“What Do They Do All Day? Comprehensive Evaluation of a Full-Day Kindergarten,” 1997) examines the differences between half-day and full-day kindergarten. We refer readers to it for an in-depth look at this issue from the perspective of teachers, parents, and children. According to the study, parents and teachers found that there was more time for child-initiated, in-depth creative activities, less stress, and less frustration in the full-day program. Children showed more readiness for 1st grade, had more time for individualized work, and spent less time in teacher-directed large-group activities in the full-day program, as well.
College of Education
William Paterson University
A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Full-Day Kindergarten