The first time I walked into a public school kindergarten classroom as an adult I was horrified.

child drawing with crayons in developmentally appropriate kindergartenI was so shocked I actually asked the teacher if I was in the right place. “Is this kindergarten or first grade?” I asked.  No, this is kindergarten.  I looked around, stunned.  There were no toys, no play areas, no sand table or class pets.  There were rows of desks, some cabinets to hold supplies, and a small area to the side for circle time with a calendar.  As an occupational therapist, I had hoped to be able to guide the child I was there to see, through some solid play that would help them develop skills in their classroom. Instead, I took the child out of class each week to play games to develop fine motor skills, attention span, and direction following. These are skills that are essential to a child’s well being and development for life. Children used to get them through play, not therapy.  Where had the developmentally appropriate kindergarten gone?

The Evolution Of Kindergarten

When kindergarten was invented in Germany, over 100 years ago, it was designed with purposeful play.  The word “kindergartner” meant teacher, not the children.  The teachers were “gardening” the children, helping them bloom and grow.  The children in kindergarten were a range of ages in classrooms full of toys, songs, and games.  The idea traveled to America, where “educational reform” changed it over and over again. 

The classroom I walked into in 2007, was part of the No Child Left Behind program. This initiative was aimed at helping children and schools succeed. But it was flawed and did not take into account the logic and reason of how children actually learn.  Common Core has taken this problem and made it ever so much worse.  

cereal vs. apple developmentally appropriate kindergarten

Common Core Kindergarten is to Developmentally Appropriate Kindergarten as sugar cereal is to apples.  One helps your child develop into a healthy person, the other is just faking it.

Giving this generation of children Common Core kindergarten is like giving them sugar cereal and saying it is wonderful because it is fortified with vitamins.  But the truth is children need vitamins from real sources, like fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs.  Getting those complex foods into a child is a lot of work, but it does a lot of things on the inside of the child, that you can’t see.  The cereal sounds like a great replacement, full of vitamins and minerals, but it lacks fiber, protein, amino-acids and complex carbohydrates that children need to be healthy.   

Getting Back to the Foundation

Developmentally appropriate kindergarten is much like a feeding a child healthy, whole food. Yes, it helps them today but the long-term goal is that the child will be stronger and healthier for life.  Common Core is short-sighted, like the mom giving her kid sugar cereal every day. Yes, they ate, but the long-term consequences to their health are being ignored. 

building a foundation developmentally appropriate kindergartenIn a developmentally appropriate kindergarten, children build foundational skills. They build social skills for life, through playing dress-up, house, and building with blocks together.  Children develop fine motor skills needed for writing through painting, stacking blocks, dressing dolls and making crafts. They develop the foundation for complex thought by learning to sing and skip at the same time. Playing games teaches children to follow directions. And learning stories, songs, and nursery rhymes foster a relationship with language.  In all these ways, children build a foundation that will support their education for a lifetime. 

Common Core kindergarten skips the foundation and goes straight to the upper-level skills of reading, writing, and math.  This is just like building a house without a foundation. Eventually, the house is going to crack and shift. In our children, we see problems like bullying because the kids never learned social skills. We see older kids with horrible handwriting because they didn’t get time to develop the fine motor skills they needed. We see kids who are struggling, stressed and burned out on school in elementary school because they didn’t get time to learn the foundation. 

Play is the Work of Childhood

Reading and writing require a very high level of integration between the brain and body. The eyes must discern minute differences in lines and curves to know the difference between “h” and “n”, for example. How do we develop that skill? By just starting to read?  No. We develop it by using our eyes to look around while we run, jump, swing, make crafts and play games. Our eyes practice focusing over and over while we do those things, strengthening tiny muscles we don’t even know are there. When those muscles are strong enough, a child can easily look at letter after letter, and tell them apart. Then they can start learning how to read.

The play of childhood looks useless to adults. But it is play that creates a foundation for our children to learn and grow and bloom, which is what kindergarten should be about. playing developmentally appropriate kindergarten

Lately, I’ve been sad to see the Common Core ideas that don’t give kids foundational skills slipping into the homeschool community.  The original kindergarten teachers had the training to know how to help their children blossom, I realized.  Parents need a guide to help them build a good foundation with their child.  So, I wrote Five Senses Literature Lessons, Orange Level,  a guide to having a fun, interesting and developmentally appropriate kindergarten year.  Beyond the list of suggested books and activities, just add some dolls, blocks, and playdates to help your child build a wonderful foundation. 

Want to see what developmentally appropriate kindergarten looks like?

Download our free sample lesson from the Level Orange: Full-Year and see for yourself how different kindergarten can be when it is working with your child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

Laura Sowdon, OTR #5SLL #5sensesLL #occupationaltherapy #homeschoolmom

11 thoughts on “What Kindergarten Should Be”

  1. […] you start your school day, have your child eat a good breakfast and go out to play. If you have a neighborhood playground where they can climb, swing and run, that is ideal. Your […]

  2. […] In our Level Orange: Full-Year curriculum, you get the chance to play lots of hands-on games with your child while learning about weather, the North Pole, the South Pole, Penguins and Polar Bears!   After reading some great books, you can help your child act out what they learn. You and your child will explore the topics through suggested sensory play activities. […]

  3. […] a set of lessons teaching letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. All with my unique perspective on childhood development and techniques that work for a wide range of learning […]

  4. […] like these used to be in every kindergarten classroom. But the push for advanced academics and reduced funding means less time for kids to play with […]

  5. […] their 5-year-olds aren’t reading books, writing paragraphs and doing higher order math, when none of that is something a 5-year-old SHOULD be doing. Five-year-olds need to get messy, use their hands and bodies to explore the world. They need to […]

  6. […] agree to meet at each other’s homes and take turns teaching their kids as a group. When my oldest was in kindergarten, I set up one of these. It was a perfect solution to give us regular play dates and friends to […]

  7. […] education has almost ruined math for more kids than we can count. Kids today are pushed to do math skills that their brains aren’t ready to do. So they think that they are bad at math […]

  8. […] your child ready to learn to write letters? This is a question that not enough daycares, preschools and kindergarten classes are asking. Instead, they are jumping into teaching letter writing to younger and younger kids. But […]

  9. […] to working with kids with learning challenges.  This year I got to speak about my passion for developmentally appropriate education and what that really means for young children.  Connecting with the audience about how […]

  10. […] you ask homeschooling friends what to do for homeschooling kindergarten, you may feel you have only two options: An academic year full of curriculum, or unschooling, where […]

  11. […] developmentally-appropriate kindergarten, or play-based kindergarten, is not just leaving your kids to play all they want.  This type of […]

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