By: Rhian Evans Allvin
Over the past few weeks, I’ve followed the news about the more than 200 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped in April, and participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on my personal social media account. I've reflected on what this event means to early childhood educators and NAEYC.
At its core, the work NAEYC does is about promoting and supporting developmentally appropriate, intentional early learning experiences for all young children. All young children should have access to safe, quality learning environments. It’s what our association and our members work so hard to do - give the children learning experiences that will help them grow and thrive.
NAEYC created an international department in 2013 to meet a growing interest worldwide in NAEYC membership, conferences, standards frameworks, publications and resources. It’s been humbling to have countries from across the globe interested in working with us to promote developmentally appropriate early learning and teacher preparation worldwide. We’ve been encouraged that so many countries are investing energy and resources in early learning.
And yet as the crisis in Nigeria underscores, so many children face a childhood with incredible barriers to a safe, quality education.
Our goal in our international work is to engage with the global early childhood development community to strengthen international early childhood systems as a strategy to improve early care and education for all children.
As we embark on our international work we hold in mind two guiding principles: We must be sensitive to the nuances of varying contexts as we collaborate with our international partners to ensure that our global reach is culturally appropriate. At the same time we must also maintain the integrity of NAEYC’s core principles - that all young children should have access to safe, developmentally appropriate learning environments.
It is our intention that the work we're doing at NAEYC will have a positive impact long term on children, families, and society. It is our deep hope that the current international efforts focused on these girls will have an immediate impact and bring these girls home and make it safe for them to go to school. #BringBackOurGirls
Recent Analysis Downplaying the Importance of Family Engagement Doesn’t Consider Early Childhood
By Kyle Snow and Susan Friedman
In a recent New York Times article, researchers Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris put forth that, “Parental Involvement is Overrated.” They base their conclusion on analyses of data related to parent involvement among families with children in kindergarten through high school.
The authors note, parent involvement (or, as it’s more commonly called in early childhood, family engagement) is thought to be a critical aspect of children’s success and also a possible means of closing the achievement gap. They argue that it’s not.
In early childhood, family engagement is generally seen as a central element of high quality programs, and important in supporting child development and learning. So is family engagement as important as we early childhood educators think it is? The answer is Yes! Family Engagement is still important and here’s why.
The researchers did not focus on early childhood
A scan of the sources of data on which the authors base their conclusion reveals that the data they refer to primarily involves families with children above 3rd grade. The authors do not source studies involving families with children in grades below kindergarten, and even kindergartenthrough 3rd grade is not deeply represented. Most of the research data they look at is about older children.
'Parent involvement' has many meanings
From the data they analyze, the authors found that most forms of “ traditional” parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, being involved with the PTA, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework - do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.
They find that the above-mentioned types of parental involvement bring about no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of the families’ racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.
When involvement did benefit kids academically it was difficult to categorize, as it was very dependent on the specifics of the child’s grade, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background of the family, and the academic outcome. This shouldn’t be a surprise - the kinds of involvement that would benefit any individual child must reflect the child's need, and his social and cultural context.
Demonstrating effects of family involvement is complicated
Measuring family involvement is not straightforward, and looking across numerous studies it is possible to find dozens of definitions and variables being used. For example: PTA participation is only relevant where there is a PTA program. “Helping with homework” is defined differently by researchers, schools, and families alike.
Another complication is that we assume that if families are involved, then students do better. But some families become involved specifically because their children are not doing well in school and in these cases, involvement would not be related to doing well in school.
In other cases, engaging families as partners – helping them to understand what a child is learning, and what activities can support that learning in the home, is clearly related to improved child learning. In this case, there would be a positive relationship between involvement and learning.
There are differences in how families are involved with young and older children
In the authors' work on the downfalls of helping with homework highlighted in the Atlantic article, "Don’t Help Your Kids with Their Homework," the focus is on the pitfalls of helping older children with assignments like advanced math in high school. This is NOT the same thing as counting apples as a way to expose children to numbers in the early years, reading aloud every day and the many other ways early childhood educators suggest families support their children’s early learning.
Family involvement is very different for families of young children than for families of high school children. Engaging families as partners – helping them to understand what a child is learning, and what activities at home can support that learning (like reading aloud), is clearly related to improving child learning.
What can we learn from this?
The authors make two points about the nature of family involvement.
First, one type of typical involvement – participating in PTA, visiting classes, and so on - does not appear to have much effect on student achievement. Rather, valuing education, discussing the child’s activities in school, and requesting specific teachers, seem to have greater effects.
An analysis of Head Start data reported in 2011 came to a similar conclusion – children who benefited from Head Start maintained their advantage most when families were active participants in their child’s learning and experiences in school – and not when more traditional forms of involvement – like sitting on parent boards and observing classes – were considered.
Second the authors suggest that schools need to find ways of involving families that are not limited to the conventional model – join the PTA, chaperone a field trip, and so on. These roles may have value to the schools, families, and communities, but not necessarily the child. Schools (and teachers) can find ways of bringing families into their child’s learning in more authentic and dynamic ways. This is where early educators can provide examples and possibly leadership.
- NAEYC’s Engaging Diverse Families tool-kit contains lots of ideas for family engagement beyond joining the PTA
- Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education – a blog post from NAEYC that highlights other recent research on family engagement
- Family Involvement Makes a Difference, a report from the Harvard Family research project
- Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature - summarizes research on family engagement in early childhood
- Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework - Head Start Approach to School Readiness is an important element of the Strengthening Families model used in many early childhood programs
- The NAEYC For Families website offers ideas and tips to help families supporting children's learning at home
By: Dara Madigan
As a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA scholarship program, I work collaboratively with the higher education system in our state as well as our statewide early childhood professional development system.
When my supervisor suggested I apply for a Building a Lasting Legacy Scholarship to attend the National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, I wondered if I would be a good candidate. I had previously attended the NAEYC Annual Conference once several years ago, and assumed that the Institute would be a similar event. But as I researched a little more about it, I came to realize that Institute was a good fit for me and aligned greatly with the work that I do.
As I poured over the Institute sessions online, reading every session description, I was pleased to see the variety of sessions offered and how closely they mirrored the work I had been doing on our statewide committees. It turned out that the Institute is a place to learn about examples of specific statewide work as well as a wonderful resource to learn about national best practices.
States Learning From Each Other
Some of the state-specific sessions I attended highlighted examples from and information about California’s Competencies Integration Project, Wisconsin’s credential programs offered through The Registry, and Wisconsin’s credit for prior learning options. Much of this information was very timely for me, especially as I had been working with our Early Learning Professional Development Team here in Iowa to develop resources related to our newly developed competencies and explored options for credentialing.
Best Practices at the National Level
I also attended sessions highlighting best practices at the national level. On the first day of the institute I attended a session called “Why the Field of Early Childhood Education Must Transform Professional Development,” which was presented by some very influential leaders in our field like Sue Bredekamp and Valora Washington. All of us in attendance were certainly revved up for the rest of the Institute. As a graduate student at the time I also got a little giddy about attending several sessions with big name researchers such as Marcy Whitebook, Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, and Virginia Buysse, who have been a part of some major early childhood studies. All in all this emphasized for me the high-level of knowledge being shared at this Institute. In fact I imagine that some of the new ideas shared at Institute will very well turn out to be the research and themes the early childhood field focuses on well into the future. Having received the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award to attend the Institute (all expenses paid) I was ecstatic for the opportunity to attend this wonderful professional event.
Some Thoughts on Logistics
I found it was important to pace myself and take breaks throughout this multi-day event. My advice for first-time attendees would be to plan ahead and do your research on the sessions you plan to attend. Some sessions may turn out to be something different than you expected, but a quick online search ahead of time about the presenters or the topic can often provide some insight and details. It’s also important to have a back-up session or two in case of overcrowding. Taking lots of notes was very important to me as well, because after a day or two my brain was on overload from all the new information. Being able to go back and review my notes after the Institute and look at some other related resources and websites was very helpful. I’d also recommend asking presenters for their contact information if they don’t share it during the presentation. This is helpful in getting more resources and information later on.
Institute is a Unique Conference
Overall, I am very thankful for this opportunity and the Institute was a great experience that helped reaffirm for me that I am in the right line of work. I am glad that I took full advantage of the Institute and attended sessions that were meaningful to my everyday work. For me, the best part of the experience was learning about what is going on nationally and making connections with those from other states in similar positions. I also appreciated the opportunity I was given to spend some one-on-one time with Diane Trister Dodge, and enjoyed that she was able to have a lunch out with myself and some of my colleagues from Iowa.
I highly recommend that those who serve the early childhood workforce in some type of professional development role attend this event if they have not in the past. It is a very different experience than the Annual Conference.
Dara Madigan is a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA and Child Care WAGE$® IOWA programs at Iowa AEYC. She was the 2013 recipient of the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award.
By: Peter Pizzolongo and Dorinda Williams
Early childhood educators address the mental health of young children and their families every day—whether we label our activities as ‘addressing mental health issues’ or ‘strategies for effective teaching and supporting families.’ Mental health—as well as physical health and other aspects of development—affect the ways that children and their parents think, feel, and act. Mental health affects our abilities to succeed at school, at work, and in society.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, a program of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health. Positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth. This year, Awareness Day focuses on the unique needs of young adults, ages 16–25, with mental health challenges, and the value of peer support in helping young adults build resilience in their lives. Early childhood educators can play an important role by focusing on the mental health needs of young parents and their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Young children develop in the context of relationships. In this respect, young children’s emotional health is inextricably linked to the emotional health of their parents.
What is the connection between parents’ and children’s mental health?
Many young adults are raising very young children. In a recent report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the live birth rate for women aged 15-19 years is 31.3 per 1,000 women. This means that even though the number of teen births has dropped in recent years, there are over 300,000 babies born to young parents each year. We do know that better parent mental health is key to better parenting. Mothers’ mental health affects children’s language , social and emotional development. While less research focuses on young fathers’ mental health, we do know that fathers’ psychological health may be equally important, and that psychological distress may inhibit their involvement in their children’s lives. We also know that a parent’s mental illness can put stress on a marriage and affect the couple’s parenting capacity, which in turn can harm the child. Moreover, mental health issues are exacerbated for families living in poverty.
What is the role of early childhood educators in addressing young parents’ mental health?
In our field many roads lead to developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). Establishing reciprocal relationships with families is one of the five DAP Guidelines. Understanding the social and cultural context within each child lives is one of the DAP Core Considerations that teachers use when making decisions about what and how to teach each child. Teachers should be very aware of family situations for the children in their groups, as well as the strengths of each child’s family and the challenges they face—including the mental health needs of parents.
Through informal daily conversations as well as periodic parent-teacher conferences, early childhood educators can become familiar with the challenges faced by families as well as provide support to young parents. Early childhood programs often serve as an extended support system for families, particularly when young parents are not receiving ongoing support from other family members due to geography or other factors. Therefore, it is important for early childhood professionals to establish and maintain strong partnerships with parents. Other ways in which early childhood professionals can support young parents include:
- Be alert to signs of stress, both in young children and their parents; use your center or school’s e systems for family support and link families to support services and community resources.
- Provide opportunities for parents to become involved with the early childhood program, which is especially important for young parents who feel isolated and have not established relationships with other adults due to mental health issues or other challenges.
- Communicate regularly with parents about their children’s progress, taking opportunities to address young parents’ concerns about their children’s ‘challenging behaviors,’ which might add to young parents’ feelings of stress.
- Recognize and acknowledge parents’ everyday efforts to care for and support their young children.
How can early childhood educators support National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day?
Communities around the country participate in Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day by holding events, focusing on the national theme and adapting the theme to the populations they serve. The early childhood education community’s focus on the mental health needs of young parents will do much to add to the national focus on young adults’ mental health needs. Suggestions for planning and participating events can be found on the SAMHSA Website, including general information, suggestions for activities and tip sheets to aid in planning, and resources to aid in planning.
For additional information regarding mental health issues and parenting, resources include:
American Psychological Association—Children’s mental health
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry—information regarding children of parents with mental illness
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services / Administration for Children & Families / Child Welfare Information Gateway—information regarding strategies for supporting parents
The authors, Peter Pizzolongo and Dorinda Williams represent NAEYC and Zero to Three, respectively, on the Executive Planning Committee for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, which is a program of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
By: Susan Friedman
Digital storytelling for dual language learners; deep diving on a virtual Titanic; and more innovative uses of technology for early learning.
Computers, tablets, smartphones, apps, and other digital tools are part of our everyday lives. When used appropriately, technology can help children explore their world, express and make sense of what they know, and interact with other children. Technology tools can also assist families as they support their children’s at-home learning.
So, how can early childhood educators choose appropriate technology tools to enhance and support children’s learning?
NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center created the position statement, Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 as a guide for early childhood educators as they make decisions about how and when to incorporate technology into their programs.
In a recent NAEYC survey, educators were asked about their use of the technology position statement. Respondents describe referring to the joint position statement as they plan university courses, develop curriculum, explain developmentally appropriate uses of technology to other teachers, administration, and families, and make decisions about when to incorporate technology into their own classrooms.
Teachers also asked for more examples of developmentally appropriate uses of technology in early childhood settings. Following are three examples of educators integrating technology into their work with young children in ways that are developmentally appropriate. We hope you will share the technology position statement and these examples with colleagues. Then let us know how you are using the technology position statement and integrating technology tools into your work with young children.
Three examples of technology that supports early learning:
A 5-year-old child fascinated with the Titanic is given a book and interactive CD-ROM with a large screen desktop computer. The transmedia materials allow him to explore and express his interests, and develop his small motor and social skills.
Parent educators in Maine integrate iPads into a curriculum that provides parents of migrant preschoolers with early literacy and math activities to help their children get ready for school.
Also to read and share:
Adapted from an online Author Q&A with Heather Biggar Tomlinson, contributing author of Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on Preschoolers.
Q: What are some general guidelines we can follow as we think about DAP?
A: There’s not one answer to the question - is something developmentally appropriate or not. It depends on the child’s personality, abilities, culture, and family, as well as the purpose of activities and the context of the class. Keeping in mind the five guidelines for effective teaching the following could be the starting point for a teacher checklist, to be adapted for specific programs and children:
1. Did I know everything I needed to know about each child today? Did I notice each child’s mood, apparent health, and general sense of well-being and engagement?
2. Have I checked in with each child’s family lately, either through drop-off conversations, written notes, or emails, to provide updates and receive updates? Are there any cultural issues I should address with a particular family, such asking about upcoming holidays or activities?
3. Did I feel like I had a good relationship with each child today? Did I show warmth and appreciation for each child’s presence and efforts today? Did I acknowledge their comments and behaviors in positive ways?
4. Is there any child I need to have special time with or help in any unique way tomorrow, based on my observations, other teachers’ observations, child comments, or parent updates?
5. Do I know the objectives for children’s learning for today/this week/this unit?
___ For physical development (fine motor and gross motor)
___ For social and emotional development
___ For approaches to learning, including enthusiasm, attention, persistence, and flexibility
___ For advances in knowledge content and mastery of concepts
6. Do the objectives for today/this week build on what we did previously? Do I need to make any connections for the children?
7. Does the classroom environment match the objectives? Does it look cheerful, tidy, and interesting for the children? Do I need to change any of the materials, centers, or wall displays to keep things fresh?
8. Have I been using a wide range of teaching strategies this week, including:
___ modeling problem solving
___ sharing my thought processes out loud
___ encouraging children and acknowledging good work
___ providing new information such as facts and new vocabulary
___ demonstrating correct ways to do something and giving direct instruction
___ giving specific feedback on areas for improvement
___ giving assistance and asking questions to advance each child’s level
___ adjusting the level of challenge (simplifying or adding complexity) to meet each child’s level
9. Have I been using various learning formats, including:
___ large groups (whole class together)
___ small groups
___ play/learning centers and outdoor time when the child can do what he/she wants
___ daily routines (taking advantage of arrivals and departures, snack times, transitions)
10. Have I thoughtfully considered based on children's level of engagement whether to move on or allow more time on this unit/theme/skill? Am I sure the amount of time allotted is sufficient for every child?
11. Have I taken stock of each child’s progress and mastery related to the objectives?
12. Have I made records of each child’s progress through notes from observations, interviews, and conversation; photos; and/or portfolios?
13. Have I observed the child in different contexts and settings?
14. Have I asked the family for information in relevant areas?
15. Have I checked in with other teachers/aides about each child’s well-being and success toward their goals?
16. Have I considered whether language and/or home culture is influencing children’s performance in each area? Do I need to reassess any child in any area or get help from someone else to accurately understand any child’s performance and well-being?
17. Do I need to adjust the teaching plans based on what I know from the assessments?
18. Is there any aspect of my schedule, environment, plans, materials, or interactions with children, parents, or colleagues that I feel stuck on or unsure about? Is there any child I’m worried about for any reason? Have I asked for help yet (from supervisors, colleagues, family members, specialists, or online communities)?
19. Do I feel like I made a positive difference in someone’s life today? Did I smile, laugh, and enjoy the day?
20. If not, what one step can I take to make things better tomorrow?
What would you add to this list?
By: Kyle Snow, Ph.D.
While early educators continue to be concerned about threats to play in early childhood, (see Crisis in the Kindergarten, for example) there is growing evidence that play is not a distraction from children’s learning, and may actually be a catalyst for it. This argument is not new – it was made in the book A Mandate for Playful Learning, among others. A recent piece in the Atlantic, “5-year-olds Can Learn Calculus", sounds like a further push-down of academics into early childhood. But it is less about increased academic pressure in early childhood and more a summary of the ways play supports children’s learning of mathematics. The article considers how play can be used to support children’s understanding of patterns and geometry – areas of mathematics that may sound intimidating, but are engaging for young children.
The relationship between play and mathematics development was also the theme of a recent blog by Doug Clements and Julie Sarama, “Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies,” posted as part of a National Institute for Early Education Research forum “Reflections on Play.” Drs. Clements and Sarama argue that academic learning and play are not incompatible – that it is not an either/or choice for teachers of young children – but are mutually reinforcing. While the argument that play and learning is a false dichotomy has been made before (including this blog post by NAEYC), Clements and Sarama underscore the need to move past the “pernicious false dichotomy that harms the children.” They argue that “Combining free play with intentional teaching, and promoting play with mathematical objects and mathematical ideas is pedagogically powerful.”
This approach to integrating play and mathematics is not new – it is incorporated into the NAEYC position statement on early childhood mathematics, and part of holistic views of early childhood mathematics education (The brief Mathematics Education for Young Children:What It is and How to Promote It and National Academies book Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood provide good overviews of the holistic approach to early mathematics). Still, research, like the study by Lee and Ginsburg, Early Childhood Teachers' Misconceptions About Mathematics Education for Young Children in the United States shows that teachers of young children may struggle with how to effectively teach mathematics. Clements and Sarama give several examples of how teachers can use young children’s play with math in this post, as well as a blog specifically for teachers. More ideas for supporting young children in developing math skills can be found in The Young Child and Mathematics and Supporting Early Math Learning for Infants and Toddlers.
NAEYC Math Resources:
Here are the four strategies:
1. First, align quality and access by addressing the inequities that are a result of historical distinctions between child care and early education.The growth in publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs is enormously important, but these programs will only partially support seamless experiences for children as long as serious gaps in quality and access remain for infants, toddlers, 3-year-olds, and children in before and after school care. Financing mechanisms must simultaneously address family needs for child care and family support and children’s needs for high quality learning experiences.
2. Second, address the different expectations for professional preparation, professional development, and compensation across settings and sectors. Children deserve skilled teachers and caregivers regardless of how their program is funded—whether child care, Head Start, state preK or school funding formula.
We recommend the NAEYC Early Childhood Professional Preparation Standards as a unifying framework. These evidence-based standards specify what all those working with young children birth through age 8 should know and be able to do. They start with a focus on child development, within the context of culture and community, and address family engagement, effective curriculum, intentional teaching, appropriate assessment and professionalism. The same standards apply across associate, baccalaureate and advanced degrees. When NAEYC implements these standards through accreditation, practicum experience is required in two of the three age groups—infant/toddler, preschool, and kindergarten/primary, critical to promoting a seamless continuum.
A common knowledge base is critically important, but children will not experience seamlessness without ensuring compensation parity for those with comparable responsibilities across settings. Until we have seamless opportunities for professional preparation and career advancement across the birth to 8 continuum, we cannot expect seamlessness for children.
3. Third, integrate early care and education practice with Kindergarten through third grade practice. Educational quality and outcomes would improve substantially if elementary teachers incorporated the best of preschool’s practices (for example, attention to the whole child; integrated, meaningful learning; and parent engagement) and if preschool teachers made more use of elementary school practices that are equally valuable, such as robust content and attention to learning progressions in curriculum and teaching.
4. Finally, and perhaps most important, ensure that teachers and administrators across the birth to 8 continuum reflect the diversity of children they serve and have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help all children achieve their full potential.
TYC contributor Laura Colker answered this question in an online Q&A* about the value of creating a construction focused learning center in a primary classroom, and how to explain its importance to an administrator.
The key to approaching an administrator who may question how Legos, blocks, and other building materials fit into the curriculum is providing clear examples of the ways a construction learning center can inspire and enhance academic learning. To do this, focus on the clear link between construction and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning. It is generally agreed that to be competitive in our global economy children need to develop learning and skills in science, technology,engineering, and mathematics. Building with blocks, Legos, and other building materials can connect to STEM learning in many ways.
*Adapted from a January 2013 Q&A with Laura Colker on Learning Centers.
By: Kyle Snow and Peter Pizzolongo
In late January 2014, researchers at the University of Virginia released a working paper with the provocative title “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" The paper amplifies concerns provided by other reports like “Crisis in the Kindergarten” and “What Happened to Kindergarten?” Critically, this paper uses data to describe changes in kindergarten that took place during the early years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
This report compares kindergarten teacher responses to surveys conducted in 1998 and 2006. The analyses validate what we have been hearing for a while now - that academic content and focus has become more prominent in kindergarten. The amount of time spent in literacy activities has dramatically increased over time, with a more modest increase in mathematics and drop in time spent on the arts and physical education. In addition, teachers in 2006 report spending more time on activities that were only briefly taught, or not yet introduced, in kindergarten in 1998.
In this study, approaches to instruction are captured using a couple of broad indicators – the percentage of classrooms that use 3 or more hours per day of large group, teacher-led instruction, and the percentage of classrooms that provide children 1 or more hours per day of child-directed activities. They report that nearly one-third (29 percent) of kindergarten classrooms spend 3 or more hours per day in teacher-directed, large group activities, and less than half (43 percent in the report) of classrooms provide child-directed activity one or more hours per day.
These findings lead the authors to conclude that “today’s kindergarten classrooms focus on more advanced academic content, are more literacy-focused, and rely more heavily on teacher-directed whole group instruction.“ Other findings they report about physical education and use of standardized assessment, suggest kindergartners in 2006 have less PE and more testing than 1st graders in 1998. So, they conclude, “kindergarten in 2006 looks quite distinct from both kindergarten and first grade classrooms in the late nineties.”
What can we learn from these findings?
What is clear is that the academic content, and approaches to delivering that content, changed in dramatic ways between 1998 and 2006. What should we take away from these findings?
Academic content should be welcome in kindergarten but how it is delivered should be examined
Time spent on academic content, and even time spent on increasingly challenging academic content should not automatically be seen as a threat to kindergarten. Children learn from birth, so kindergarten should provide children with opportunities and supports appropriate for where they are. Early childhood education has always embraced the (academic and social and emotional) content that young children need to learn. Kindergartners (and all young children!) can learn academic content that is appropriate to where they are developmentally. However, large group, teacher directed instruction is not the only way for children to learn academic content. Hands-on investigative activities and small group instruction need to be a bigger part of how children take in academic content. Our expectations for young learners are built from many years of research and theory, as well as teachers’ knowledge of each child’s prior learning. As more children participate in early educational programs, it is not surprising that they come to kindergarten with different learning and developmental needs than when children did not regularly participate in such programs.
Maintaining Developmentally Appropriate Practice
Seeing a focus on academic content tells us what children are being taught, but it does not dictate how children should be taught. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) provides the best frame for how to teach young children. Young children learn best when taught using a variety of learning formats, including large and small group work, as well as instruction and play. Some content can be introduced to the whole group of children during a circle time or class meeting. Children can further investigate the content and learn it more deeply via small group experiences in which they play an active role in the investigation, through exploratory play alone and with other children, through one-on-one activities with a teacher, during routines such as setting a table for snack. Some content can be memorized for current and later use (e.g., the names of the letters of the alphabet and their sounds, the numerals that represent numbers). Even here, singing and moving to songs that emphasize letter sounds or involve counting may be more effective than a worksheet or rote activity. The goal is to provide a variety of learning opportunities, not to become reliant on a single approach. There is plenty of room within DAP to include academic content in kindergarten (See NAEYC’s latest book on DAP and kindergarten).
Social and emotional skills are important, but are they built into the classroom?
It is important to note that while teachers’ ratings of the importance of academic skills increased from 1998 to 2006, at both times they rated social and regulatory skills as being more critical for school readiness. This view is increasingly being voiced by educators and researchers alike. Unfortunately, the time teachers spend on building these skills is not captured by the data in this report. If the increased focus on literacy and math is partially driven by standards, then should social and emotional skills be written in to K-12 standards like they are in preschool standards? Experts from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a review of state standards in 2013. They found that 49 states have specific standards for social and emotional development in preschool, while only 3 have specific standards in K-12). While many state K-12 standards include some standards for social and emotional learning within content areas, the report warns, “when [social and emotional learning] standards are integrated into other standards they are often scattered and lacking in comprehensiveness. Typically they are not systematically and developmentally sequenced across grade levels.”
The findings from this most recent analysis of data from the early Childhood Longitudinal studies may be the first to quantify changes in kindergarten over the past decade. But these data provide only a broad picture of the differences, and do not provide ready explanation for them. But understanding ways that kindergarten changed under NCLB is critical as states move to implement the Common Core State Standards. As critics have noted, the Common Core focuses only on English Language Arts and Mathematics, two areas that saw increased focus under NCLB. As a result, without concerted effort, the trends reported here are likely to become more, rather than less, pronounced, further driving kindergarten away from early childhood. NAEYC’s report on Common Core provides a framework for connecting Common Core to children’s development and ensuring high quality educational experiences for all children. NAEYC’s report on Kindergarten and Common Core outlines considerations to connect common core to better quality and more equitable kindergarten experiences for all children.
Helpful DAP Resources
DAP: Focus on Kindergartners (NAEYC book)
5 Guidelines for Effective Teaching (infographic)
10 Suggested Teaching Strategies (infographic)