Did you know that today’s kindergartens look like yesterday’s first grades? A kinder garten is supposed to be a “child’s garden,” which means that a kindergarten curriculum centers on child development rather than gulping chunks of academics. Education policy makers and politicians started pushing this change years ago, with the result that everything is now driven by standardized test scores.
The case is made that children must do more, earlier, and that we must get on with delivering content. In many districts, if your kindergarten child isn’t reading by October, you can expect your child to receive endless assessments until he learns to read.
I call for the return of kindergarten to the social, emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of children, learned through play. Skills for children to develop should center on the following:
Learn to listen. Wait your turn. Be kind. Do your work. Help others. Share. Take turns. Don’t hurt people. Play well with others. Speak nicely to all.
Children with a solid grounding in these skills will help to make the world a better place, because these skills matter in life. Can you think of any relationship or career that doesn’t benefit from these strengths?
When I teach science, I look for opportunities to integrate the arts because the arts are means of expression for everyone. To me, it doesn’t matter if you know much about classical music. It’s more important to use music and help others to enjoy it by making direct connections with other disciplines.
You can do this, too.
For example, The Planets, composed in 1914-1915 by British composer Gustav Holst, is a suite of pieces inspired by his understanding of astronomy and astrology. My favorite piece is “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” because its musical themes are recognizable to many.
After learning about the solar system, I’ve asked children to listen to “Jupiter,” had them evaluate what they hear in the piece, and then determine if it expands or deepens their understanding of the planet. This is quite sophisticated for children of any age, but I’ve been astonished at the insights of even young students.
You can follow the lead by listening to the great Leonard Bernstein speak about The Planets. “Jupiter” begins at about 24:58.
What makes a science field trip a Do Now for your students? When two ravens are hatching eggs in a few days at Wellesley College.
Go to the Ravencam and leave your computer screen on all day to follow the nesting habits of Pauline and Henry. You’ve just created a field trip in your classroom. The pleasure of doing this will remind everyone you teach that science is part of every day. The raven sounds alone fill me with awe.
Use the following ideas, for all ages, singly or in combination:
Observe these birds and notice how calm and focused you become. Then show students how to immerse themselves in watching and listening. This is active, not passive, learning and embodies all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Give your students the gift of time so they can experience what learning feels like when their bodies and minds relax.
After a period of observation, ask students to write down observations in their science journals. Ask students to turn their statements into questions and choose one or more questions to guide data collecting and research. It’s a perfect short-term inquiry project to travel back and forth from home to school.
Create focused discussion opportunities for student brainstorming. What kind of math skills will help them understand these ravens, and why? What kind of data collection–either qualitative or quantitative–leads to the answers they need?
Many of us remember Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” (1845). Follow this link to the Poetry Foundation to get a copy. After reading the poem aloud and learning more about Poe, have students perform readings of “The Raven” that reveal their own understanding of the poem. Encourage alternative versions. For example, does a joyful version of “The Raven” change its meaning?
While writing this, it hasn’t been just the ravens’ croaks and calls that fill me with awe. Pauline does, too, as she shifts position on her huge twiggy nest to reposition her eggs.
This is what a celebration of learning feels like, doesn’t it?
Diligence. Patience. Perseverance. Every teacher and parent wants children to develop these qualities. Aside from urging students to complete their work, just how is it done?
Consider parent William Mitchell, a father of ten. He loved astronomy and expected his children to assist him—as part of their education—as he observed the sky at night. He showed them how to use a telescope to sweep the sky, observe, take notes, and record measurements. As a result, two of his children, Maria and Henry, developed interests in science. Henry went on to a career as a hydrographer and helped found the National Geographic Society.
And Maria? She discovered a comet at age twenty-nine, became the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, and is acknowledged as the first professional woman astronomer in the United States.
Maria Mitchell thrived in a home in which parents prized learning. It took years of diligent study of math and patient observation of the sky until she discovered Comet Mitchell. Later in life, she wrote that she never forgot the one-on-one time with her father on the roof walk as they observed the sky together.
Children thrive when their parents share their interests, spend time with them, and teach them. Parents don’t need to have all the answers, either; for example, when William Mitchell had taught Maria all the math that he could, he found her a more advanced teacher.
We don’t need to be experts in astronomy to learn from the sky, nor must we expect our children to make fantastic discoveries. But observing the night sky often is a terrific, family-friendly field trip. It teaches our children that there are infinite worlds for exploration and discovery.
Want to know the best way to involve parents? Send home good news about their child before the first week is out.
And there’s no better way than to have students write it themselves. With writing now taught across the curriculum, every teacher can do it. Even if you only have fifteen minutes, it’s time well spent:
- 3 min. Create a writing rubric. What do your students think matters in a quality letter home? Find out what they know and evaluate what they need to know. Keep it simple–it doesn’t need to be a forever rubric.
- 2 min. Speed-brainstorm 2 lists of topics. What new learning did students accomplish? Looking forward, what goals do they want to work on? Keep new learning and goals specific.
- 10 min. Students write. Make copies to keep on file OR ask parents to sign and return them.
Afterward, send an email home to let parents know that good news is on its way!
The benefits? Your first message home is student-generated, positive and specific. Parents become involved in the conversation about their child. Also, this lesson is naturally differentiated. Students practice using rubrics, noting what they do well, and setting goals. You wind up with the best kind of writing assessment piece–one that is organic and personal.
For students’ inspiration or reward, listen to Sam Cooke’s fabulous song Ain’t That Good News on American Bandstand in 1964. The song is about two and a half minutes; in the interview afterwards, he tells Dick Clark that he uses “observation…to observe what’s going on…to write something that people will understand.”
It worked for his songs and it’ll work for your students.