Most American children attend kindergarten, and many participate in all-day kindergarten programs. While recent reform efforts have focused on extending the kindergarten day, research suggests that how kindergartners spend their time may be more critical than the amount of time children spend in class. In other words, longer kindergarten days in unsuitable activities yield no educational advantages over the traditional half-day kindergarten program.
What Are Appropriate Teaching And Curriculum Approaches For Kindergartners?
Early childhood and kindergarten specialists have long emphasized the central role of play in young children’s learning. In the course of day-to-day experience with young children, it is easy for teachers to see that spontaneous play is a natural way of learning; observations of children’s play reveal that play provides a wide range and real depth of learning in all domains of development: physical, emotional, social, and intellectual.
However, it is just as natural for young children to learn through spontaneous investigation (close observation, experimentation, and inquiry) as through spontaneous play. Many observers have noted that young children are natural scientists and anthropologists. They devote substantial portions of their seemingly endless energy to learning all aspects of the culture they are born into: they learn its language, stories, music, and literature; they investigate with all their senses and emerging skills what people mean, when things are appropriate and when they are not, where things come from, what they are for, how they are made, and how adults and peers respond to them. They try to make sense of common objects by prying into them, taking them apart, and manipulating them in a variety of ways. Appropriate curriculum and teaching methods include activities and encouragement for kindergartners in these quests and feature the importance of individual children’s feelings and emotions in group settings.
The Kindergarten Curriculum
The developmental characteristics of children of kindergarten age call for a curriculum that involves a variety and balance of activities that can be provided in the context of project work (Katz and Chard, 1989). For example, kindergarten children can undertake projects in which they investigate a real event or object. In the course of such projects, the children will strengthen emerging literacy and numeracy skills and their speaking and listening skills and acquire new words as they share their findings with others.
A Good Curriculum Provides Activities That Include:
- Integrated topic studies, rather than whole-group instruction in isolated skills;
- Opportunities for children to learn by observing and experimenting with real objects;
- A balance of child- and teacher-initiated activities;
- Opportunities for spontaneous play and teacher-facilitated activities;
- Group projects in which cooperation can occur naturally;
- A range of activities requiring the use of large and small muscles;
- Exposure to good literature and music of the children’s own cultures and of other cultures represented in the class;
- Authentic assessment of each child’s developmental progress;
- Opportunities for children with diverse backgrounds and developmental levels to participate in whole-group activities; and
- Time for individuals or small groups of children to meet with the teacher for specific help in acquiring basic reading, writing, mathematical, and other skills as needed.
A major challenge for schools concerned with the best use of children’s time in kindergarten is the provision of meaningful teaching and learning activities. The wide range of physical, social, and intellectual characteristics represented in a group of contemporary beginning kindergartners makes an informal, flexible approach to the kindergarten curriculum necessary.
Written by Lilian G. Katz, Director, ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.