You probably already know that your child will leave his or her first year of kindergarten having gained proficiency in certain rudimentary skills, such as reciting ABCs and 123s. However, kindergarten has evolved significantly in recent years, and many children are finishing their first year with higher levels of basic academic knowledge than their counterparts of the past. In fact, the kindergarten setting that you experienced as a child may be vastly different from the one that's awaiting your child or children. Choosing the right kindergarten can be challenging if you let yourself become overwhelmed by the sheer variety of choices, but there are certain basics that all good kindergartens have. Following are three things that modern parents need to know when selecting the right kindergarten for their child.
The Importance of Play
Today's emphasis on academics sometimes puts play on the back burner in many kindergarten environments, and this is unfortunate. Besides basic socialization, organized play promotes reasoning abilities in children, helps them make sense of the world around them, helps them learn to draw their own conclusions through experimentation, and familiarizes them with the building blocks of the numerical and language systems. Classroom play such as word games and puzzles is important, but so is unstructured physical activity, because it provides children with the opportunity to use their imaginations, preventing them from becoming overly dependent on external stimuli such as video games, television, and DVDs for entertainment. Physical play also helps children develop muscles and motor skills, leading to better overall health. By helping connections between the nerves and the brain develop, physical activity also improves creativity, problem-solving skills, and healthy emotional relations with peers. Although some parents may view play as wasted time and prefer a kindergarten environment for their children that emphasizes academics over physical activity, it's clear that children are better off when allowed to engage in imaginative play on a regular basis.
Half-Day Kindergartens May Produce Better Students
Studies have shown that children who attend preschool and then half-day kindergarten may fare better academically than their counterparts who attend full-time kindergarten only. For instance, third graders who attended preschools and half-day kindergartens developed significantly better reading skills than their peers who had attended full-time kindergarten alone. Students attending full-time kindergarten programs have also been found to have gained no real benefits over those who only went half days. Comparisons between the scores of children in full-time kindergarten programs show little, if any, gain in math and reading by the time they reach the first grade. However, you may be tempted to choose a full-time kindergarten program because of employment responsibilities. If you decide to go this route, make sure the school you pick offers a developmentally appropriate program and offers plenty of outdoor physical playtime when weather permits, field trips, and music and art programs rather than simply focusing on academic basics throughout the day.
Kindergarten Environments Vary Wildly
After you've narrowed down your selection to a few schools, you should take the opportunity to visit the schools in order to determine your final choice. Virtually all schools host open houses where parents and prospective students can get a feel for what they offer, but you also may be able to visit during times when class is in session provided you clear it with the teacher first. One sign of a classroom where children are happy and engaged is walls that are decorated by artwork created by the students. You should also take student/teacher ratio into consideration. Smaller classroom sizes mean that teachers are able to give children more individualized attention. The majority of teachers in a recent study in Minnesota agreed that the optimal teacher/student ratio is 17 students per each teacher.
Keep in mind that the home environment also has a substantial impact on student success and can go a long way toward remedying the effects of a substandard kindergarten situation.