Recently, I had the opportunity to observe both the reading and math times in a Kindergarten class. I was amazed at what I saw! I can’t believe how far these kindergartners come in the short time from the end of preschool (when we are hoping they can recognize up to 40 letters) to December, when all are working on sight words, and some are reading.
When I first got there, the kindergartners were just coming in to start their day. There was a sight word on a white board that they all had to write. There were activities set up for them to do on their tables while classmates were coming in, and the teacher was getting ready to start the day. The activity that was laid out for them to do was a combination literacy and math activity. The page was set up similar to a Bingo page. Children had to roll a die, whatever number came up, there was a sight word that corresponded to that number. Kindergartners had to write the sight word that correlated to the number that they rolled. What a great idea!
What really impressed me about this beginning of the day ritual, was how independent the kindergartners were. It also made me a little worried. When I think of some of my preschoolers, I wonder, are they going to be ready for that level of independence and responsibility in just a few months?
Notes about the class
The teacher I observed, Mrs. M, was fantastic with her group! I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time chatting with her. She told me that she has a Special Ed Cluster, and the lowest class over all, from a reading/math score standpoint. She really seemed to know her kids. She had all sorts of tips and tricks that seemed to be what worked best for them.
Mrs. M told me some things that other kindergarten classes are doing, and about the modifications she has made to ensure the success of all the students in her classroom. One example would be, instead of completely open free choice time, she gives them choices within their center areas. She said doing it this way with her class maintains a bit of structure that her children need, but also allows them to choose for themselves what they are going to do during that time. While I was there, almost all children remained on task within their different areas.
Mrs. M also continues to have a 15 minute rest/reading time after lunch. She commented that math time, which is towards the end of the day, falls apart if they don’t take that mental break. She still has some children who fall asleep during that time. While I have a feeling that it’s not the norm, I hope all Kindergarten teachers realize that a little down time can make a big difference in how children will function at the end of the day.
In this kindergarten class, as in any class, there are a few children who rarely ever talk. Mrs. M told me she will always call on these children in group time. She said she doesn’t expect they will actually answer, but she wants to make sure they always have the opportunity to do so. I thought that was pretty brave, as our tendency as teachers might be to not call on them, because we don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. This tactic must be working, because one of the children who she had previously pointed out to me, actually answered when she called on her!
One thing I saw the teacher do a few times that really impressed me was whenever she gave a direction that meant a major transition between activities, she counted to 10. When she got to 10, she said, “All of Kindergarten should be at their working spots.” Children hustled to get to the next activity, and got right to work. It was a great reminder of what a little bit of “training” can accomplish. I’m sure it did not go so smoothly at the beginning of the year!
Is Preschool Helpful?
The class I observed is at an elementary school that has many children from a lower income population. Many of these children qualified for our district’s Kindergarten Readiness (KR) program. This is a 4 day/week program which buses children to school, and includes a meal. It is more intensive than the 2 day/week program I teach in, but our goals are basically the same. Last year, one of the KR classes was in this same school. Mrs. M told me she could tell which children had had preschool before. Some skills she specifically stated they knew how to do at the beginning of the year that other children didn’t, included:
- walking in the hall
- sitting at the carpet for group time
- they knew many letters and how to write their names
- they were familiar with numbers, and could make them on their fingers.
I asked her what skills she wished her children had had more practice/exposure to before coming to Kindergarten. She said, “cutting”. I was a bit surprised, as I feel we do quite a bit of cutting, at least in my class, and the one I had subbed in a few years ago. She also said, “directed drawing.” She said that right at the beginning of the year, they are doing activities where the teacher will ask the children to draw something, and then cut it out. She said most children weren’t familiar with the concept of drawing something specific that someone asked them to. Interestingly, this is something that I used to do in my classes, but quit doing, because I questioned the value of the activity with preschoolers. Now I know I need to add that back into small group activities.
Next year, every school in MN is making the transition to all day, every day kindergarten. This class already follows that model (our district currently has the options of every day K or every other day K). I know some children will do fine with this major change. What worries me, is not just that it’s going to be all day, every day, but also that it’s so academic. The children in this class seemed to handle it ok, at least at this point in the year. I have to point out again, that they are also getting a 15 minute rest period. I know this is not the case in all classes.
The visit also reminds me of our responsibility of helping those children in our classes be as ready for what is to come as is possible in 5 hours/week. I got some ideas of things to spend more time doing in our classroom (like continuing to work on writing letters, recognizing numbers, etc). It was also reassuring that even the simple things, like sitting in group time, are helpful in preparing them for Kindergarten. Much of the redirection, and wording we use while talking with children in preschool matched what they were doing in Kindergarten too. I resolve to continue to keep the fun in preschool, while preparing children for the academic rigor that will become their life in the next year.
It was a great experience to observe a kindergarten class at this point in the year. Next year, I am hoping to observe a kindergarten class by the end of September. I would encourage all preschool teachers to spend a day, or even a portion of the day in a K class! A lot can be learned by seeing first hand what is in our children’s not-so-distant futures.