Kindergarten is an exciting and unique milestone in a child’s life. It allows our young children an opportunity to develop many skills that will help them succeed throughout school and life. Young children will expand and practice their love of learning, develop social and emotional skills, and advance their cognitive abilities. Because pre-kindergarten education is not readily available in Idaho, kindergarten is often a child’s first experience in a classroom setting.
For some parents, choosing a high-quality kindergarten class can be a daunting and overwhelming task. Many school districts do not have the ability to offer full-day kindergarten due to the lack of state funding and parents often choose their kindergarten classroom based on the availability of a full-day program. We understand that many working parents don’t have the flexibility to choose a half-day program because of difficulties finding child care and transportation. While these are very real challenges for working families, it is important that parents recognize that their child’s first experience in K-12 will have a tremendous impact on their child’s future.
When choosing a kindergarten program, there are several important factors to consider ensuring the best fit for the child. Many kindergarten classrooms might look and feel different, but high quality classrooms have certain characteristics. Five-year olds need positive, individualized interactions with their teachers to develop and learn. Young children need a classroom that provides an opportunity for teacher-guided learning which supports one-on-one or small group activities. This is an important time that teachers can build on what a child already knows and help them reach goals that are just right, based on the child’s individual abilities. To meet the needs of each child’s unique stage of development, kindergarten classroom size matters. Having too many children in a kindergarten classroom can be unwieldy, unsafe, and may inhibit the child’s ability to grow and develop.
There are several benefits to children, as well as teachers, when classrooms have fewer children. Because a child’s behavior affects their ability to learn, children who are in classrooms with fewer children are more cooperative and have a greater sense of social competence. They often feel more emotionally secure, which allows them to engage and have better positive social interactions with their teachers and other students. Five-year old children learn through experiences and need the physical space and flexibility that encourage and influence learning. For teachers, smaller class sizes allow them to provide more individualized attention to their students and are better suited to developmentally appropriate classroom activities.
Some schools have addressed this by adding a teacher’s aide in the classroom. But simply placing an untrained professional that does not have a deep knowledge in early childhood development in a crowded classroom does not offer the individualized attention students deserve and need. The fact is that smaller kindergarten classes taught by well-trained professional teachers provide the optimal environment for kindergarten students.
In addition to class size and the environment of the classroom, other factors to consider when choosing a kindergarten program include: developmentally appropriate curriculum, teaching style, opportunities for family engagement, age appropriate assessments, cultural awareness and the ability for the teacher to meet the child where they are and help them grow and learn in a way that is unique to their individual abilities.
Kindergarten can be a fun, positive and incredible time for young children and their families. Choosing the best fit for a child’s first experience in kindergarten will lay the foundation for their success in the K-12 continuum of growing and learning.
Written by Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association of the Education of Young Children and trustee for the Boise School District, and Dr. Don Coberly, superintendent of the Boise School District.