ERIC Identifier: ED293630 Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Egertson, Harriet A. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
The Shifting Kindergarten Curriculum.
This digest reviews factors influencing kindergarten curriculum, and
contrasts characteristics of skill-based and developmentally oriented programs.
CURRENT INFLUENCES ON THE CURRICULUM
Few would argue that
what is now taught and expected to be learned in many kindergartens is
profoundly different from what it was two decades ago. The shift from play- and
group adjustment-oriented settings to kindergarten classrooms characterized by
direct teaching of discrete skills and specific expectations for achievement is
being reinforced by recent calls for reform of public education (Elkind, 1986).
Critics of the trend toward skill-based kindergartens are not advocating a
return to outmoded educational practices of the past. However, much new research
about children's learning confirms some historical beliefs about effective
educational practices. Unfortunately, this well-known and respected body of
research information is often ignored in the formulation of curriculum for
today's kindergarten (Spodek, 1986).
Most children entering kindergarten today have much wider experience outside
the home than children of the past. As a result, many teachers, administrators,
and parents believe than more advanced content is necessary. Others are
concerned that younger five-year-olds may find it difficult to be successful if
the kindergarten curriculum is too advanced. Some parents delay their child's
entrance to kindergarten for a year to give the child the advantage of being the
oldest in the class.
Many preschools and child care centers try to teach content identified by
kindergarten teachers as prerequisite to kindergarten success. It is not
uncommon now to find child care and preschool settings in which children spend
prolonged periods sitting at tables trying to complete pencil and paper tasks
which would be inappropriate even for substantially older children. Parents
often shop for the program that promises the most in terms of promoting
These practices have led to the widespread use of screening and readiness
tests prior to kindergarten entrance to determine whether children are likely to
be successful in school (Egertson, 1987). There is wide agreement, however, that
such measures are often poorly constructed, inappropriately used, and likely to
screen out those children most likely to benefit (NAECS/SDE, 1987).
A rigid lock-step curriculum is less responsive than others to the new wider
age- and ability-ranged groups. Hence, schools have increasingly resorted to
retention and extra-year programs for children who have difficulty with the
expectations of regular kindergarten. Transition placements usually occur either
the year before or the year after kindergarten. However well-intentioned those
who organize these classes may be, "transition class" is simply a more palatable
term for "retention."
Since teachers tend to direct instruction to older and more able children,
more of the younger children tend to be held out or placed in extra-year
classes. As a result, curricular expectations tend to be raised. Research
provides little evidence that children placed in transition classes achieve any
more than their nonretained or nontransitioned counterparts in either cognitive
or social-emotional domains (Smith and Shepard, 1987).
CONTRASTS IN KINDERGARTEN PRACTICE
It is common to hear the
curricular polarity in kindergarten described as "academic" versus
"child-centered." Unfortunately, neither term is explicit and use of the terms
without sufficient elaboration often contributes to further lack of
understanding and defensiveness.
An "academic" kindergarten is usually characterized by the direct teaching of
specific discrete skills, particularly in reading and math, which children are
expected to master before going to first grade. The daily schedule is usually
broken into many small segments, often because it is believed that children do
not have a sufficient attention span to enable them to work longer at a task.
The majority of the instructional materials used in these classes are the
kindergarten level of major series in reading and math. Often teachers use
additional workbooks for phonics.
If interest centers are used, they are designed primarily to teach specific
skills. Time for active exploration in the arts, science, or social studies is
limited. Other common characteristics of skill-based programs include: (1)
limited availability of, or independent use of, concrete materials; (2) much
pencil-and-paper-oriented independent work; (3) little opportunity for
conversation among children and between children and adults.
Kindergarten programs derived from a child development orientation may
exhibit some of the characteristics of skill-based kindergartens. They are,
however, driven by an entirely different philosophical viewpoint. The
child-centered kindergarten does not base activities on the learning of discrete
skills, but rather follows the mission of moving each child as far forward in
his or her development as possible. Goals emphasize maintenance and development
of dispositions to go on learning (Katz and others, 1987).
The child-centered kindergarten offers experiences to children in a physical
setting which has been carefully designed to increase the likelihood that these
experiences will occur. Linguistic competence is a primary goal, and language
experiences appropriate for each child's stage of literacy development underlie
the entire curriculum. Conversations among children and between children and
adults are viewed as important to the development of linguistic competence.
Independence and responsibility are promoted by child-initiated activities and
expanded blocks of time which allow children to finish projects. Materials are
logically organized, usually into several interest areas containing many options
from which children self-select activities. The complexity of the material
ranges from easy to difficult, so that a wide range of abilities is
The forces which have led to the development of
skill-based programs are reactive and largely ignore the early childhood
research base. Redefinition of the kindergarten-primary curriculum from a
developmental perspective is more beneficial for children than the use of
retention and extra-year placement. Advocates of developmental kindergarten
programs should emphasize the effectiveness of an active learning setting for
advancing children's growth and development.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S. Editor. DEVELOPMENTALLY
APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN PROGRAMS SERVING CHILDREN BIRTH THROUGH AGE EIGHT.
Expanded Edition. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of
Young Children, 1987.
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