“Too few Americans are aware of the radical changes in kindergarten practice in the last ten to twenty years. Children now spend far more time being instructed and tested in literacy and math than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations.” (Miller & Almon, 2009). As a Kindergarten teacher for the last 20 years, I have seen the curriculum and the structure of Kindergarten change dramatically. I remember the days when my students had access to a dramatic play center, an art center, blocks, a science center, and many other appropriate options. Now, I am confined to have “stations” that only have an obvious link to literacy or math. If I include blocks in my classroom, they have to be used to spell out sight words or create letters of the alphabet. Dramatic play could no longer just be a home center, there would have to be some kind of reading or writing component that is addressed in the center.
The ideas of Thomas and Brown in A New Culture of Learning reaffirm the idea that I have had that what we are doing to children in the Kindergarten classroom is not preparing them for the future. By taking “play” away, we are not engaging their passion, imagination, or constraints of play to create learners who are getting the information that they need easily and naturally. We are not using enough peer learning and collaboration to help children become “collective” learners.
I have started to bring back some of the elements of play in my classroom over the last few years. But many have had to be concealed as “literacy stations” so that I am following the guidelines that I am given. I am using technology as one way to reintroduce “play” in my classroom. By using such tools as online resources that resemble games, the students are more engaged in their learning. I have also added my sensory bin back into the classroom. Yes, I had to drop some foam letters in it to validate having it in my classroom, but watching the discovery that is going on with the materials is very rewarding.
The challenges of the current system feel insurmountable at times. I am given a timeline of what to teach, in what order and for how many days, in all of my subject areas. There are teams coming out from the district level observing our reading groups and writing time and giving feedback that is often developmentally inappropriate for young children. I am still trying to figure out how to deal with the challenges on a daily basis. As a veteran teacher, I am dealing with the idea that I remember what Kindergarten used to be. Many new teachers don’t have that idea and that is scary to me.
By taking my classroom back to a student centered environment, I feel that my school will be affected by the students from my classroom going in to first grade with a more diverse background. Using technology in my classroom, in connection with more play, will allow the first grade teachers the ability to take them further and create learners that are already questioning the “what ifs” and looking at various sources of information to get their answers. I am the first person to tell my children that I don’t know an answer and then I show them all the ways that I can find out information to help me come up with an answer. I feel like that is teaching them context more than content. By being a role model of learning to the youngest of our learners, I think that they are shown that there is more information out there to look at.
It can be a daunting task to get people to think more holistically about learning environments. I think it is a bit easier in the earlier grades because we are less confined by teaching to the tests as the upper grades are. I really think to see a change in learning environments really occur, though, we have to see a change from the top down in our schools. The districts really have to step down a bit from micromanaging our every move, and let us do what is right for the learners that we have today. I am proud to say in the realm of technology, our district is allowing and even providing tools for students as young as fifth grade to begin seeing all the information that is out there for them to absorb. I would still like to see much more of this, at younger ages, to really impact our learning environments.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. S.l.: Createspace.
Miller, E., & Almon, J. (n.d.). Crisis in the Kindergarten. Retrieved from http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/sites/allianceforchildhood.org/files/file/kindergarten_report.pdf