There's a lot of talk about what kindergarten is like these days, and how the ‘good old days’ of learning how to play and interact with peers is the expectation for entering kindergarten, not the goal for the end of the year. So just what exactly does your child need to do to be on task, a phrase you will hear a lot this first year of school?
For starters, it will look different throughout the day depending on what the task is. Being on task while working with the blocks will look a lot different than being on task for circle time. Wondering what the teachers are really looking for when they talk about "on task behaviors"? Here are the top five goals for your five-year-old.
- Circle Time
You may not know it, but this one is a biggie. "Circle time" or "rug time" is sacred to kindergarten teachers and it is top on the list of important kindergarten behaviors, and one of the hardest, especially for active children who like to move. So, what exactly does your child need to be able to do during the all important circle or rug time? Kids should be able to sit “attentively" (translation: no squirming around and eyes on the teacher). Circle time usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes in September and up to 30 minutes by the end of the year. This is one of the few times in a kindergarten classroom when the teacher will give direct instruction to the whole group in reading, writing or math. It is often used to demonstrate a concept or activity that the students will be asked to do more independently later in the day. So being able to focus during this time generally leads to on task success later in the day, when children are working independently or in a small group.
- Lining Up
Your child will be asked to “line up” many times throughout the course of the day. And while that might seem like a simple enough task, it can be quite difficult. Many times in preschool children are allowed and even encouraged to hold hands to make a line and move about. Not in kindergarten. In fact, they will often be asked to put their hands behind their backs. At first that might seem a bit excessive, but it has a purpose. It helps kindergarteners resist the many tactile temptations around them, such as the person in front of them and behind them, and any other object that could become a distraction from the act of walking forward as a group, at more or less the same speed.
- Following Two-Step Directions
In a preschool, your child was probably in a program with a smaller teacher-to-child ratio he will find in kindergarten, which means much more guidance and one-on-one interaction. In kindergarten, children are expected to follow directions that are given to the whole class. Kids can often get into a “habit” of not listening when they are not being spoken to individually, and then asking what to do when they are ready to start the project. You can help by practicing at home with your child. Give your child two-step directions and see what happens, such as “Brush your teeth, and then put on your shoes.” Can she do both or does she come out of the bathroom forgetting what to do next? Being able to follow directions will help keep her on task.
- Good Listening Skills
This one might seem the most obvious of all, but it eludes many children. Being a good listener can be hard, especially with 20 or so other kids in the room with you. Again, unlike preschool, the larger ratio between teacher and students makes good listening a must. When your child is listening she will know what’s expected of her and what to do next. Back that up with following step-step directions, and it will keep her on task and of course learning new concepts and ideas.
- Working Independently
Kindergarteners will spend part of the day in whole group instruction, small group instruction with the teacher and independent activities. Some kids do great in whole group and small group work, but then get lost in the independent activities. Kindergarten teachers will give students time through out the day to choose an activity to be completed on their own. Children who can pick an activity, complete it and then move on to the next activity are considered on task. Some children have a hard time merely selecting an activity to start. If this is hard for your child you will want to help him at home, by giving your child different activity options, and asking him to choose one and complete it.
In general, all of these "on task behaviors" that teachers are looking for revolve around focus. And in a world of ever increasing sound bytes and news flashes it can be difficult for children to maintain focus. Sue Beaty, elementary school teacher and college professor, says you can build up a child’s focus over time. She suggests that parents begin to expand their child’s focus by engaging in activities together that the child enjoys. It can be helpful to use a timer set for 10 minutes of “special time together”. During this time it’s important to use positive, verbal comments that specifically praise his participation during the activity. If interest begins to decline, gently redirect the child until the task is complete. Afterwards, talk with him about how it feels to finish a task. Gradually, allow your child to take the lead in the activities you do together, building toward the time when the child works independently.
So do teachers expect that a five-year-old will always be on task for every minute of the day? Most likely not. The important thing is that your child can get back on task after a gentle reminder for the remainder of the activity. Just like the rest of us!