Yesterday a teacher/mentor from the early childhood department came out to my class to observe Deer, so that she could advise me on referring Deer for possible special ed assessment. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, Deer was having a pretty good, on-target sort of day, so the teacher at first didn’t think she needed to be referred. As the conversation progressed, and I shared my observations, and noted that Deer used to receive special ed services until she was exited at age 3, she started to understand and support my concerns.
Anyway, early on in our conversation, she said something that got me thinking.
“You’re really teaching what used to be kindergarten here, and don’t get me wrong, it seems like most of the class is enjoying it, but maybe it’s a little much for some kids.”
I went home and thought about if I am teaching kindergarten in preschool, and if so, if I am doing the wrong thing for my students. I thought about it long and hard, and here’s what I finally concluded.
I think that I actually am teaching preschool. I’m just teaching a content-rich preschool of the sort that college-educated, middle and upper-middle class parents give to their children. Any of you know any four year olds who are fascinated by dinosaurs and can remember and pronounce tons of names like Pacycephalosaurus and Parasaurolophus? Four year olds who know about the Caldecott Medal and have favorite authors they can rattle off by name? Four year olds who are articulate and knowledgeable and interested and interesting? My sons were like that, and so were their friends. (Of course, when they were four my sons were also interested in things like bouncy castles and matchbox cars and chicken nuggets; it wasn’t all intellectual at my house!) And back when I was the mother of four year olds, I wondered why my students didn’t know as much as my sons did, and resolved to do what I could about it.
I am deliberately exposing my students to ideas and facts and experiences and conversations and words and books that they wouldn’t have exposure to otherwise. We are learning about Under the Sea right now, and are at the stage where we are learning words like walrus, manta ray, and seahorse — words that most of them didn’t know last week, but that most preschoolers with professional parents have known for quite some time. Pretty soon we will be talking about mammals and not-mammals, and what makes a mammal a mammal. We will also talk about oviparous animals (hatched from eggs) and viviparous animals (born alive). We’ll talk about the animals in the sea that are hatched from eggs (seahorses, some sharks, etc.), and the sea animals that are born alive (walruses, dolphins, etc.). We continue to learn place value along with counting how many days we have been in school, and we are learning about letters, words, and sentences, and how letter sounds can help us read or write words, and we are learning how to ask why, and how to explain our thinking.
The kids seem to love it, and I think that by having high expectations for them, they rise up to the occasion, and they learn more than they would if I just took things easy on them and taught them only simple things.
They might be poor, but don’t they deserve the best, just like your children, and mine?