By Kath Courter
There are numerous Kindergarten options available for children and parents. Today, more than ever, parents carefully examine their many choices: open enroll or neighborhood, public or private, full day or part day, morning or afternoon, academic or play-based…
So what should a parent look for in a Kindergarten program?
Consider the atmosphere of the school and classroom. Are you greeted warmly when you visit the school? Do the children seem happy, excited to learn, and eager to be there? Teachers and administrators must create and support a love of learning and excitement about school that will help propel students through many more years of learning.
Small class size is critical. Small class size helps to ensure that your child’s Kindergarten teacher truly knows your child. Small class size coupled with in-depth knowledge of your child means that teachers are better able to tailor curriculum to meet the needs and learning style of your child. Many educators talk about the need for differentiating instruction (i.e. tailoring teaching for individual students). However, reality often does not provide the time or resources for this to happen in classrooms with large numbers of students. When class size grows, even the best teachers are forced to teach to the median learning level of the students.
Teachers support and nurture students as they learn to navigate socially. Academics are important, but strong social skills are critical to success in today’s world. Whether a person is five-years-old and knocking over another child’s block tower, or is 50-years-old and irritating co-workers at the copy machine – it is the same thing. Social skills, and the life lessons that accompany learning what works and what does not, are a cornerstone of success today. Look for a curriculum that focuses on supporting development of the whole child and is committed to teaching character development.
Teachers have support. Does the lead classroom teacher have the support of resource teachers to help ensure that student needs are met? Do teachers have time to collaborate with one another? Do teachers work as a team and share ideas? Do students have opportunities to work one-on-one time and/or in small group time with a resource teacher? All of the above help teachers to ensure that they meet every child’s needs.
Every child matters. No child should ever fall through the cracks… Instruction in core subjects such as math and language arts and literacy must be balanced. If your child is a wiz at in a particular subject area, the teacher should challenge him further. On the other side of the coin, if your child struggles he should be supported using a variety of teaching methods and materials to ensure that he not only learns but – truly understands – the concepts.
The curriculum and schedule is balanced. Just about every adult can recall the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher (Wa-wa, Wa-wa-wa…) and the image of students being sucked into a void of boredom. Kindergarten is about learning academics – but it should also be exciting! Look for a balance in the daily routine. Ideally, students should experience a blend of teacher directed and child initiated activities; activities for the large group, small group, and time to work individually or one-on-one with a teacher; time indoors and time outdoors; time to be focused and put pencil to paper and time to just play and have fun. A balanced Kindergarten program will offer challenging academics and variety of enrichment classes (i.e. “specials”) such as art, computer, music, choir, foreign language, physical education, and science lab.
Consider the length of the program. Many public schools are forced by budget restrictions to offer a part-day program for Kindergarten students. For many parents, a part-day program may feel as though it is best. However, parents also need to recognize that it is very hard for teachers to accomplish curriculum goals and help students meet objectives if they are only at school for 2 ½ hours per day. The reality of a part day Kindergarten daily schedule is that everything is crammed into a fast-paced block of time that often does not honor the true nature and needs of young children. In addition, the cost of extended care either before or after a part day Kindergarten program is often significant.
When considering the choice of a part-day or full-day program, parents need to do what is best for their child. However, they must also need to consider the benefits a full-day program provides: more time and opportunity to “play” with language and literacy concepts as well as to explore subjects in depth; a more flexible, individualized learning environment; and more individual and small-group interaction with the teacher than is possible in most half-day classrooms.
The school has an organized after school program. If you know that you will need to use a school’s before or after school program (also commonly known as Extended Day, Y-Care, or KinderCare), check out the program. Does the program seem organized? Are classes held afterschool that might interest your child? Is the program easily accessible to families and easy to use? Can you have your child drop-in on an as-needed basis or is a reservation required?
Trust your instinct when you visit. One of the most important factors to consider is the feel of the classroom and the sense that the children are actively engaged. It is critical that teachers create this foundation through joy, enthusiasm, and a nurturing passion that reminds us all of our most nostalgic memories and positive experiences in elementary school.
Kath Courter, M.Ed.
BCD Preschool, Extended Day and Summer Programs Director