Expectations are being pushed to the lower grades. In many professional development sessions I attend, the presenter usually do not have materials specifically for pre-k. They use kindergarten material and assume that our students can handle what they have to offer in a dumbed down version. Even materials, photos, and work from an actual pre-k classroom do not look like a pre-k classroom. There’s no evidence of real free play. The classroom is filled with charts and displayed work isn’t child initiated.
My second grade group for after school consists of 12 students. My after school session is focused on allowing them to have an authentic free play experience that my pre-k kids have on a daily basis. The goal is to create a comfortable, stress free environment where they can enjoy themselves and socialize. They do not get it enough. For them, a regular school day is all work and almost no play.
I’ve had private talks with both of the younger siblings about being confident in their answers. I make it clear that they are very bright but they have to open up more and not be obsessed about getting the right answer. This has been brought up in parent teacher conferences for both kids. The little sister has opened up much more and is doing very well in kindergarten. The brother has also become more vocal in my class but still has a long way to go.
When I learned that I would be getting the older sister in my after school, I was intrigued by how she would be compared to her younger brother and sister. Right away, her quietness and passiveness in discussions reminded me instantly of her younger siblings. I asked her 2nd grade teacher how she is in her classroom, and she confirmed what I had suspected. I hoped that in a stress free environment, she would become more open and take a more active role.
When we received our LEGO Mindstorm robotics kit, I allowed my after school group to get their hands on building it first. My pre-k kids are still too young to follow the complex instructions of building the robot, but I will allow them to command it once it is complete. Still, the kit is intended for ages 10+. I have high expectations for my 8 year old after school kids, and I am very confident they will have no issues completing it.
Still, they were very unorganized when it came to putting everything together. Too many Rick Grimes calling shots and not enough Glens making scavenging runs for the group. There needed to be a leader delegating work, and it was obvious that A.L. was most qualified. But was she up for the challenge? I explained that I needed a leader to be in charge that everyone would follow. Someone who would be telling others what to do so we could get this robot up and running. I asked A.L to step up and take the challenge. She accepted and did an absolutely wonderful job. The other children willingly accepted her as the leader and listened to her instructions.
Their morning teacher passed by our door, getting ready to leave. I invited her in to take a look at what they were doing in after school. You could tell they looked up to their teacher by how eager they were to show her what they were doing. She told me that they were benefiting greatly from being in this comfortable, stress free environment. Many of them were taking more risks in class and were very willing to participate in discussions. It was the exact thing I wanted to bring out in them.
Play is vital in child development. Its benefits do not cease after pre-k. There needs to be a balance of work and play in the school setting. So much focus is placed on how well kids do on standardized tests and assessments, that we neglect the fact that they are still kids. What good does passing a test do? Does it really prove that they will do well in college? There are many other things we need to focus on in education and their emphasis needs to be placed ahead of a child’s score on a test.