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By now, you’ve probably heard the scary rumor: Kindergarten is nothing like the good old days. Back then, you probably went to school for just half a day. You learned to sit at rug-time, take turns at playtime, and handle blocks. In fact, you probably had a lot of fun.
Now, newspapers and magazines across the country are reporting that kindergarten is the new first grade—full of pressure and short on play. Is your five-year-old headed for some kind of academic lockup?
Not at all, say educators. In fact, the main goal of kindergarten is the same as ever: to build lifelong good feelings about learning and school. Chances are, you can expect to see familiar craft projects, painting, and little seeds in cups—and most likely, you will see your child bloom, too, with new friends and self-confidence.
But it's also true that with the arrival of NCLB and standards-based education, kindergarten classrooms across the country now include new challenges that probably go beyond what you remember from your own school years. Specific curriculum varies somewhat, of course, so be sure you check your state’s academic standards on its Department of Education website. But the general trend is that kindergarten now includes some basics of early literacy and math which used to be covered in first grade. In some districts, kinders may even, like first graders, attend for a full day.
So what will your child do in school? In kindergarten, students begin very basic curriculum in all subjects, including science, social studies, and the arts; but the most important academic topics will be literacy (reading and writing) and math, which underly everything else to come.
This doesn't mean you should expect your child to recite Chekhov and solve multiplication problems by the end of the year! At this stage, teachers want kids to explore all the building blocks that, in first grade, will make them versatile, fluent readers and mathematical problem-solvers.
What to Expect in Reading and Writing: Kindergarten curriculum starts by building familiarity with a wide number of aspects of the written and spoken word. Does your child understand "concepts of print," for example--the look and feel of books and text? Can your child identify virtually every letter and make its correct sound, then identify the sound in the beginning or end of a word? Look for alphabet letters and letter-sound activities throughout the year, along with early-leveled readers and simple reading groups. Plan to support your child in learning to write the full alphabet, often with both capital and lower case letters. Your child will also begin writing full words using correct pencil grip, though expect that spelling will be largely phonetic and “invented.”
Another beloved feature of kindergarten classrooms is full-class "story time." Although this may look like a simple "cozy" activity, look again: increasingly over the year, teachers will ask students to predict what comes next; evaluate character's thoughts; and retell the story afterward in sequence. These are all critical skills for reading comprehension, and great ones to reinforce at home.
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