Recently, I had a conversation with a few kindergarten teachers. I was curious by an initial comment that was made by one of them. They were frustrated. One of them said, “I feel like I am teaching first grade instead of kindergarten.” They said that they feel like preschool has become “the new kindergarten.” Naturally, I was curious and wanted to know a little more about what they meant. Being a National Board Certified Early Childhood Generalist with a masters degree in early childhood, I have a vested interest in sweet little kindergartners.
They used the word “fluff” quite a bit while we talked. Apparently, dramatic play, science exploration, puppet theaters, and singing songs are referred to as “fluff” in their school district. Wait a second…you mean…. kindergartners are expected to sit in desks with a paper and pencil and expected to be at the highest cognition level???? My mouth dropped and my heart began to ache. This is not right. Is this reality? Is kindergarten the new first grade? I tried to remember my kindergarten experience. Its hard to remember, but something I will never forget is how one of my favorite things as a child was playing house and playing school.
Dramatic play provides young children the opportunity to express themselves and engage in critical social learning. Learning experiences that involve using senses such as exploring seashells, rocks, fabric, plants, paint, etc. provide students with the opportunity to compare, classify, describe, and explore. Reading, phonics, and phonemic awareness are important. What kind of educator would I be if I didn’t value literacy as a crucial part of young children’s academic experiences…? But not at the expense of critical learning experiences that promote social development.
I feel like some district and state policy makers should maybe consider the work of historical giants and theorists who have provided a framework for best practices in education and development, for example, Lev Vygotsky, a Russian theorist who theories are based on the importance of social interaction and the cognitive development of young children, The National Association for the Education of Young Children has also developed a set of developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Its too bad that the people who are obsessed with test scores and put too much pressure on kindergartner teachers to get their 5 year old students to read at a 3rd grade reading level, don’t stop and do a little research on what is developmentally appropriate. Kindergartners absolutely need a little “fluff…” a puppet show, a song, and definitely a play kitchen.