In the comments for my last post, jwg said:
I’m curious. Are there art materials available for the kids who don’t want to color in the lines? Are there other math materials in the math center or do they have to do the project? Is there sand or water play? Can they chose to write about something other than Under the Sea? Is there a Dramatic Play area where the kids choose the script? I think you see where I’m headed here. As you decribe your day it sounds as if the children have choices of where to go, but few choices of what to do when they get there. I hope I missed something.
Here’s my reply:
Point taken. You didn’t miss anything, because I missed some things. Here’s what was missing:
The art center has a specific activity about every other day, and on other days all the materials (large scraps, small scraps, ribbons, hole punches, stickers, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, etc.) are available for the children to do whatever kind of art they’d like. Some of the kids in my class are thrilled to color pictures, and I offer that kind of activity for them from time to time. The ones who want to draw when the art center is booked for something else usually go to the writing center, which is always open for free exploration, even if there is a specific activity being offered there. (The writing center has pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, envelopes, several different kinds of paper, and little blank booklets in addition to alphabet magnets and whiteboards.) They can write about whatever they’d like to, but usually are interested in the theme. We have a big pocket chart with word and picture cards for the theme, and the children like to use them to draw pictures and write words in their journals, or at the writing center during centers time. Today Pumpkin took a blank booklet and made a book with pictures of a princess, a whale, an octopus, and a tuna fish who was a bad guy, complete with pretend writing. It was awesome.
The house corner is always open, and is usually just a house, although sometimes I change it to go with the theme. (We’ve had a bear cave and a pizza restaurant, for example.) The sand table is always available, and blocks are almost always open. Sometimes instead of blocks we’ll have the train set or a big tub of Duplos in blocks instead of our wood blocks.
The math center is like the art center — it has a specific, directed activity (usually taken from the curriculum, but sometimes teacher-created) about every other day. On the alternate days, the kids can choose. We have two separate bookshelves full of math manipulatives. I find, however, that the kids like the math center better when there is something new or a special activity. They spent a lot of time doing free exploration of the manipulatives in September and October, and they’re kind of over it.
So there’s the missing information about our centers time. I will say this, however — I do not have a 100% child-centered classroom. That’s probably obvious by now to any regular reader. This is a conscious choice on my part: I think a completely child-centered classroom can be a terrific place for learning, but while it is possible to do it well, it’s also very difficult. The 100% child-centered classroom doesn’t fit my personality or my teaching style, and I think that there is some value in having some of the morning be teacher-directed. I’ve got more to say on that subject, but think I will save it for another post.
I feel better now. left to my own devices, I’m a High Scope kind of person, but I also recognize that the world has lost its collective mind and Kindergarten is now Grade 1. I teach Early Childhood folks and there is a constant struggle between being a purist and helping them prepare the kids for the awful reality that is Kindergarten in most places.
Thanks jwg for asking probing questions. It is a difficult landscape for Early Childhood folks these days, just as it was for our Kindergarten teachers 10 years back (or more) when the “push down” began. I’ve been a preschool teacher for over 25 years now and have seen the pendulum swing back and forth and go a bit topsy turvy. I feel that there can be a balance between the 100% child centered classroom that kiri8 references and the “between the lines, direct instruction, preK-with a capital K” type of program.
I teach in classrooms for at-risk children – we call our program one of intervention – and while we strive to provide opportunities for our children to explore rich classroom environments and practice their social skills in an arena supported gently by adults, the fact of the matter is that we also must – MUST – prepare our children for the expectations of the primary grades. Therefore our routines include lining up, eating in a cafeteria designed for 5th graders, and some skill and drill exercises.
I know that I do a good job of balancing these components in a structure that is 100% child friendly and developmentally appropriate. But that is because I’ve learned a lot over these 25 years. There are only a few colleges providing true Early Childhood degrees and so without significant mentoring or actual time in the classroom, many of those who are becoming preschool teachers do not have an understanding of the balance and feel only the pressure for “academics.”
This is the kind of conversation I find valuable in forums such as these. Thanks again.
The kids at our school spend three years in a mostly child-centered classroom, but if they don’t get some experience with teacher lead activities they’re going to struggle when they hit public school kindergarten.
For our oldest kids we have a special one-afternoon a week session where I run it like most of the kindergarten classes I’ve observed, with lots of scheduled group activities, more limited choices, and exciting challenges. I’ve never had a parent not tell me that this is their child’s favorite day of the week.
Interesting reading… I think this is a struggle that we all have . I consider my classroom about 98% child led. The journey to get there was LONG and hard. I still doubt myself at times. Am I truly getting the kids ” ready for kindergarten” and exactly what does that mean? I am in a private home setting ( though licensed and serving at risk children in a state funded program ) and always battle myself comparing my philosophy to other teachers. Even when I think I am ” doing it the right way”, I worry that other teachers will think I am not doing my job since I am not stressing the academics. My kids are happy. They leave me with tons of confidence and knowledge. I think they even test very well. But I still struggle…. I think it is my pride. I am pretty sure it is. It is like we can’t enjoy where they are today because we are so busy making sure they are ready for tomorrow. ECE right now.. is a mixture of philosophies and emotions…
My experience has taught me that preschoolers do need some teacher led experiences as well. Keeping a balance of teacher led and child led seems to work best for me.
Sounds a lot like my K classroom. Kids need choices… but limited choices. I always say, if I give my students too many choices (or unlimited, God forbid) there little heads would explode. 🙂