doing “kindergarten” in preschool?

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?


26 thoughts on “doing “kindergarten” in preschool?

    • Thanks, and I didn’t let her get me down. Quite the opposite, actually. She is someone I respect, and I liked the way what she said made me think.

  1. I love this. I get so frustrated because the movement where I live right now is to emphasize play (not that play is bad!) and yet in the same breath they tell us to assume our students are capable of learning. At an early childhood ed conference I attended this fall, I was shocked to hear the presenter say that instead of challenging our children, they are actually considering moving back the expectation of certain milestones from pre-K to grade one! No wonder our kids are struggling as they get older. My husband and I are passionate about literacy, and I try to do all I can to get my preschoolers to love it, too. Good job!

    • I think if children aren’t being challenged the right amount, they won’t be learning, and they might not even be having any fun. Learning cool stuff IS fun! Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. I agree! However, we are teaching what used to be kindergarten because kindergarten teachers are now teaching what used to be first grade material. I believe that we can teach those skills just as you are by doing them in developmentally appropriate ways. I know of a school that requires their 4 years to sit at tables doing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet and copying from the ELMO all day long. They totally believe that there is no other way to assess 4 year olds other than doing worksheets. How sad for those students. (just saying…I teach a prekindergarten class that includes special needs students ranging from age 3 through age 6). It’s all in exposing the students to new things and doing things with them that are developmentally appropriate and within their limitations.

  3. You go girl! Keep pushing them!! And if they need more time – they’ll get what they need! Expect excellence and they will acheive excellently! Expect mediocrity and they will flounder. Keep up the amazing work!

  4. I love this post! I agree, kids rise to your expectations. And every child deserves the best education they can receive no matter what their economic situation is.

  5. I am also a 4K teacher that actually taught Kindergarten 13 years ago. It IS the same stuff!

    Well said and a very valid point!

  6. I think this mentality of teaching Kindergarten in Pre-K is coming down the pike… my principal keeps telling us that we should be doing x,y,z because that is what is expected of them in kindergarten, which I understand. However, in the process we are loosing focus on getting these children ready for kindergarten, ready for reading, ready for addition and subtraction, ready for getting more in depth in the scientific process. Now, don’t get my wrong, I am already doing these things in my classroom, just not the same way a kindergarten teacher would teach them. We learn through play, and the kids can tell you that this conglomerate of thissle blocks is an airplane, or an Autobot (from Transformers), or that they gave 1/2 of their playdoh cookie to a friend, or that the box in housekeeping says, “Cheez-Its” or before we begin our morning meeting, I have kids coming up and asking me if the morning message says what they think it says. It is amazing at what these kids are capable of doing – but I don’t think the focus should be on what is going on in Kindergarten. It is definitely a conversation that is starting to happen.

  7. Well said. I would take her comment as a compliment. By following the children’s interests the sky is the limit in their learning – why restrict them?

  8. This is sure a topic of hot discussion! I am worried that many early childhood classrooms are teaching “kindergarten”. It has become increasingly difficult to name exactly what curriculum and experiences are both developmentally appropriate for preschoolers and most important for them to learn because 4 year olds are such capable learners.
    Sometimes I read things on your blog about your classroom and I question the appropriateness for preschoolers. Other times I applaud your ambition and efforts to expose these young children to the world around them.
    I guess my concern is that if we – trained early childhood educators – don’t work side-by-side with our primary counterparts to discern exactly what should be happening in preschool, then more and more will be pushed down into our classrooms because the requirements in our system today are unrelenting.
    I feel that we really must work define what is best, not just match up to our primary counterparts because it is expedient to do so.

  9. Just one more comment – as a friend of mine so often asks “why do we talk so much about kindergarten readiness?The only requirement for attending kindergarten in our schools today is that a child is 5 years old.”
    We have become so caught up in naming readiness when our system really has only 1 – one – I’ll say it again – one requirement – a birthday.

  10. Kiri, I do the same thing in my preschool. I have been told it is not developmentally appropriate, but I am preparing these children for kindergarten – they are learning things that should have been learned at home: curiosity, investigation, etc. Yes, what I expose them to may be too high for some children, but they are exposed to it – how bad can that be? It’s not like I’ll be testing them on it! As long as the lower children are not frustrated, why not?

  11. Hot topic! I guess my problem isn’t with the names of the dinosaurs and the vocabulary building, it’s with the formal letter and number teaching that you are doing. Just because some children can do it and enjoy it doesn’t mean everyone should be expected to. And what is more worrisome is the consideration on what these kids are not getting. Early Childhood teachers should be manning the barricades, demanding that the whole pushed down curriculum movement be stopped. Instead, we have given in to unreal expectations imposed by people with no understanding of young children. Preschool shouldn’t be about preparing children for bad kindergartens. It should be about preparing them to be eager learners, comfortable with themselves and the world around them.

    • This is the tough one. I could stop teaching letters and numbers formally and explicitly. But then, my kids would go to kindergarten far behind the middle class kids who will arrive at K knowing letters and sounds from all the ABC and 123 books their parents read to them, not to mention the letter and number magnets on their refrigerators, and the alphabet and number puzzles in their rooms, and all the experiences they had at home, counting spoons or cars or steps and looking for letters they know on signs…….

      So I read ABC and 123 books to my students. I give them ABC and 123 puzzles to play with. We count dinosaurs and jumps and claps and kids, and we look for letters we know on signs. And I also tell them clearly what the letters are, and what sounds they make. I know that some of them will learn all the letters and sounds, and some will learn just a few, and that’s okay. I just want to give my little ones a chance, so they aren’t already behind right from the start. BUT — thank you for sharing your opinion and standing up for what you think is right! And thanks for participating in the conversation.

  12. Here! Here!

    Extremely well put… Finding joy in learning is the first step, I believe, to ending the cycle of poverty, to creating educated adults. Because, after all, isn’t the goal of raising children (educators and parents alike) to have adults that can problem solve and think intuitively?

  13. I think there’s got to be a middle ground. We introduce some of the higher order thinking through counting the days we’ve been at school at morning meeting, having daily questions for voting (which promotes name writing and more/less comparisons) and science journals and experiments at our discovery center. However, we also have 2 hours and 20 minutes of free choice play, with playdough, fingerpainting, block building, dramatic play, sand and water, and music and movement as included centers. The children that are ready for bigger challenges choose them (to go to discovery, or to work on difficult reasoning tasks at the manipulatives center) while the children who are not comfortable with those challenges are allowed to progress at their own pace in blocks, dramatic play, and playdough. Scaffolding is always going to be inherently a little difficult for young children- just enough to push them to learn a new skill or concept, while not so difficult they get exasperated and give up! The process and experiences of early childhood are important, but without the product- better prepared kindergartners- most of our programs wouldn’t exist. By referring to developmentally appropriate practice all the time, we sometimes give the impression that all four year old deserve the same level of practice, which is NOT true. We all know intuitively (as well as from years of practice) that the developmental progression children proceed at can differ dramatically from child to child. So why not apply that intuitive knowledge to this discussion, and acknowledge the place for both “kindergarten-oriented” planning, and DAP?

    • Right on, Sarah. And you’ve probably read my blog long enough to know that my kids have choice time every day, and get to choose to spend time in blocks, or housekeeping, or art, at the water table, etc. to their hearts’ content. I love what you have to say about how we use what we know about each child to help them progress, as well as what you said about both kindergarten readiness and DAP. Thank you!

  14. Very well said. As a Pre-K teacher in a poor area, I agree that some kids just aren’t ready for the “kindergarten” type material we are expected to teach more and more. I used to get very frustrated when only the top 4 or 5 students in my class could really understand the material. Now, I realize that while some of them are not quite ready for it, the exposure to that material is still beneficial. So we work at it, practice it and try to break it down and make it as easy and DAP as possible. I feel like my job is done when I have opened up a whole new world to my kids who would otherwise never hear those great stories, or learn those new vocabulary terms, or get the hands-on experiences we provide. I love the look of excitement they get when we venture into a new topic. They soak it in and internalize it whether they can use it today or down the road. And even our ‘special’ kids benefit from that exposure. They often times surprise me and remind me not to underestimate them!

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