The Escalated Curriculum
You may be amazed at how kindergartens are changing. After visiting kindergarten programs, you may be thinking, “Wow, a lot of what they’re doing in kindergarten I did in first grade!” Many early childhood professionals would agree. More is expected of kindergarten children today than ever before, and this trend will continue.
A number of reasons account for the escalated curriculum. First, beginning in the 1990s, there has been a decided emphasis on academics in U.S. education, particularly early childhood education. Second, some parents believe an academic approach to learning is the best way for their children to succeed in school and the work world. And third, the standards, testing, and high-quality education reform movement encourages greater emphasis on academics.
These higher expectations for kindergarten children are not necessarily bad. However, achieving them in a developmentally appropriate way is one of the major challenges facing early childhood professionals.
Alternative Kindergarten Programs
Given the changing kindergarten curriculum and the prevalence of a variety of abilities and disabilities, it is not surprising that some children are not ready for many of the demands placed on them. As a result, teachers and schools have developed alternative kinds of kindergarten programs.
The developmental kindergarten (DK) is a prekindergarten for kindergarten-age children who are developmentally or behaviorally delayed; it is viewed as one means of helping them succeed in school. School districts have specific criteria for placing children in developmental kindergartens; some of their placement approaches are identified here:
- Kindergarten-eligible children are given a kindergarten screening test to identify children who have special learning or behavioral needs. Some states, such as Massachusetts, require that all children take a screening test prior to kindergarten enrollment.
- Pre-kindergarten children are given a kindergarten readiness test, such as the Kindergarten Readiness Test (KRT) (Scholastic Testing Service, 2005), to help determine children’s readiness for regular kindergarten.
- Parents and preschool teachers who believe that children are not ready for kindergarten consult about the placement of individual children. After the DK year, teachers, parents, and administrators confer to decide whether the child should be placed in kindergarten or first grade.
A transition kindergarten is designed to give children the time they need to achieve what is required for entry into first grade. These children are really getting two years to achieve what others would normally achieve in one. A transition class is different from a nongraded program in that the transition class consists of children of the same age, whereas the nongraded classroom has multiage children.
The concept of transition classes implies, and practice should involve, linear progression. Children are placed in a transition kindergarten so they can continue to progress at their own pace. The curriculum, materials, and teaching practices should be appropriate for each child’s developmental age or level.
Proponents of transitional programs believe they offer the following advantages:
- Promote success, whereas retention is a regressive practice that promotes failure
- Provide for children’s developmental abilities
- Allow children to be with other children of the same developmental age
- Provide an appropriate learning environment
- Put children’s needs ahead of the desire to place them in a particular grade
- Provide time for children to integrate learning—often referred to as the gift of time
Not all early childhood professionals agree that DK and transitional classes are a good idea. You can read “Still Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement” by the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAEYC, 2000).
Mixed-age grouping provides another approach to meeting the individual and collective needs of children. In a multiage group, there is a diversity of abilities, at least a two-year span in children’s ages, and the same teacher. The context of multiage groups provides a number of benefits and functions:
- Provides materials and activities for a wider range of children’s abilities
- Creates a feeling of community and belonging; most mixed-age groups have a feeling of family because children spend at least two years in the group
- Supports children’s social development by providing a broader range of children to associate with; children have more and less socially and academically advanced peers to interact with; older children act as teachers, tutors, and mentors; younger children are able to model the academic and social skills of their older class members
- Provides sustained and close relationships among children and teachers; teachers encourage and support cross-age academic and social interactions
- Supports the scaffolding of learning
- Provides for a continuous progression of learning
Looping occurs when a teacher spends two or more years with the same group of same-age children. In other words, a teacher involved in looping would begin teaching a group in kindergarten and would then teach the same group as first graders and perhaps as second graders. Another teacher might do the same with second, third, and fourth graders. The advantages of looping include the following:
- Provides the freedom to expand the curriculum vertically and horizontally over a two-year period
- Gives the teacher the opportunity to monitor a child’s progress more closely over a two-year period
- Fosters a family-like atmosphere in the classroom
- Allows teachers to get into the curriculum earlier in the school year because the children know what is expected of them
- Allows for individualized instruction because teachers are more familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each child
- Provides children with stability
- Grants teachers an opportunity to stay fresh and grow professionally by changing their grade-level assignments every year (Bellis, 1999)
Along with the benefits of early education and universal kindergarten come political issues as well. One of these is the issue of retention. Children who are retained, instead of participating in kindergarten graduation ceremonies with their classmates, are destined to spend another year in kindergarten. Many of these children are retained, or failed, because teachers judge them to be immature, or they fail to measure up to the district’s or teacher’s standards for promotion to first grade. Children are usually retained in the elementary years because of low academic achievement or low IQ, or both.
But do children do better the second time around? Despite our intuitive feelings that children who are retained will do better, research evidence is unequivocally contrary to that notion: children do not do better the second time around. In addition, parents report that retained children have a more pessimistic attitude toward school, with a resulting negative impact on their social-emotional development (Mantzicopoulos & Morrison, 1992).
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