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Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Kindergarten: First Time for Everything

Kindergarten Child

Over the past few years there has been lots of chatter about Kindergarteners and Transitional Kindergarteners.

The view of the first year of elementary school has changed drastically in the past 30 years let alone the inception. Back when Fredrick Froebel first started Kindergarten in 1837 it was seen as a way to nurture children like you would a garden, teachers providing a fertile ground based on play and practical skills so the young minds could grow and flourish. Since then Kindergarten has moved towards aligning itself with the school day (i.e. sitting at tables or desks and even taking bubble tests). What happened to the program where you learned how to tie your shoe or make friends?

This is where before and after school programs become important.

We have the unique opportunity to bring back the basic elements of Kindergarten in the programs we offer our youngest participants. What is it that Kindergarteners need? How do we determine quality for this unique age group?

It has been our job over this past year to take a long hard look at what services we provide Kindergarteners in before and after school programs. How do before and after school programs best support their development while still meeting the needs of our school partners? Over the past year we have conducted many Appreciative Inquiry meetings, held focus groups, and worked towards developing best practices and resources to support the work.

We have found that quality Kindergarten before and after school programs include five basic elements, schedule, activities or curriculum, program space, staff, and partnerships. These elements can look different, based on the need of program and community, but are the underlining keys to providing Kindergarteners and their families the services they need.

  • Schedule: Is your Kindergarten program wrap around care for AM/PM Kindergarten? Do you provide care to full day Kindergarten children? Is your school/ district supporting TK implementation? These are just a few questions to ask yourself when assessing your daily schedule. Consider the space your where your program operates, is there more than one room for your program? If you have to mix age groups together are you mixing K – 1st grade or K – 5th grade? Are you able to rotate groups of children inside and outside to balance their daily experiences?

  • Activities: Once you have a structure for your program day, the schedule, think about the content for each component. Are you planning a balance of child initiated and adult led activities? Is there time for them to recreate as well as practice developing new skills? Is there a balance of active and quite time? Are you linking your curriculum to school day learning?

  • Program Space: Take a moment to think about the space program’s physical space. Is there a place for Kindergarten children to relax, be active, engage in dramatic or fine art, build and make? Are materials easy to access? Does the space provide opportunities for sharing, collaboration, creativity? Does the space represent the children and families you serve?

  • Staff: Are your staff energetic, nurturing, curious? Do they enjoy exploring an endless stream of questions, thoughts and ideas? Are they open to not knowing the answer and willing to take a journey to find one?

  • Partnerships: How well do you know your neighborhood school? Are you on a first name basis with the principal and/or office staff? Do you have email addresses for the teachers who work with your children during the school day? Are you happy to support and attend school events? Are you seen as an integral part of the school community?

By focusing attention on Kindergarteners, before and after school programs can hope to provide a high quality service that meets the needs of the children, families, and our school partners. This focused attention should also help bolster program enrollment and build connections to families that will last throughout their child’s elementary school experience.

By creating experiences for Kindergarteners that are unique for them, meeting their developmental, social, and academic needs we can hopefully bring back some of the original benefits of Kindergarten.

This entry is written in collaboration between ElizaBeth Parker Phillips (@eppispeppy), Program Development Director for Child Development Inc, and Regan Bynder, Program Projects Manager for Child Development Inc.

This morning, ElizaBeth had peanut butter toast with grape jelly and a glass of chocolate milk.
This morning Regan had an English muffin, coffee, orange juice, a hardboiled egg and two pieces of sausage.

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