By Cole Lester, Head of the Early Childhood School
Kindergarten is an escalating, interdisciplinary learning process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas (using blocks, finger paint, or other materials), play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, and reflect on their experiences—all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects.
As kindergarten teachers consider learning expectations (“the what”) and plan for their students (“the how”), they infuse each day with developmentally-appropriate practices. They use a wide variety of teaching strategies, such as asking questions, fostering dialogue, offering choices, linking the new to the familiar, and using rich vocabulary. They individualize student learning, providing the least amount of support that each child needs to achieve a learning goal. They use a variety of teaching styles, thinking carefully about which learning context or format is best for helping children achieve a desired outcome. They incorporate countless assessment strategies in an effort to get to know each child and his or her current and changing abilities, needs, interests, and unique learning styles.
There is something undeniably compelling about this cognitive description- the learning world it describes is so arranged and linear, such a clear case of inputs here leading to outputs there. However, educators know that success does not depend primarily on cognitive skills, the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ and achievement tests.
If we want children to truly learn, to process and internalize information, we have to let them play. Through play-based learning and creativity, young children learn non-cognitive skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, higher-level thinking, character- persistence, self-control, curiosity, and self- confidence.
That is why, embedded in our curriculum, you will see these equally (arguably more) important learning expectations for kindergarteners:
- Learn by example to follow school and classroom rules and to act in an honest and responsible manner
- Engage in purposeful play and directed discovery
- Develop a sense of integrity and core values
- Understand the consequences of actions
- Build self-esteem by facing challenges and experiencing success individually and with the help of others
Globally, kindergarten is undergoing a dramatic change. In some kindergartens today, children are spending more and more time filling out worksheets, drilling flash cards, focusing on rote memorization, and having their learning assessed in a standardized manner. In short, kindergarten is becoming more like the rest of school.
If you walk down the kindergarten hallways at Episcopal Collegiate School, you would agree that the opposite needs to happen: We should make the rest of school (and life) more like kindergarten. Let them play.