Glen Urquhart offers two full kindergarten days (8:00–3:00) and three half days (8:00–12:00). The kindergarten afterschool component on the shorter days is taught by one of the kindergarten teachers. On the two long days, both kindergarten teachers are in the classroom for the full day. Glen Urquhart also offers a kindergarten to grade five afterschool program from 3:00 until 5:30 and an early morning drop off at 7:30.
Why do you have two full days and three half days of kindergarten?
In the last ten years, many public and independent schools have moved to five full kindergarten days. Our kindergarten teachers and education committee explored this idea to learn whether there was a compelling reason for Glen Urquhart to extend every kindergarten day to a full day. Our research revealed that there is no academic advantage to a full day kindergarten program, but that gains can be made in social and emotional areas when children spend more time as part of a group practicing social “give and take.” Little if any academic growth was tracked.
We feel that our combination of full and half days, with an optional afternoon available on three days for extending the day to 3:00 (the lower school dismissal time), offers a very healthy program for five and six year olds. The half-day enables some of our children to go home three days per week and enjoy a home-based afternoon, pursuing outside interests in a leisurely way and reserving energy for their longer kindergarten days. Those who stay in kindergarten on these three afternoons interact with a smaller group of children, making the environment relaxed and conducive to practicing social skills. They have extra time in the kindergarten room to self-select play and work activities, as well as more outside time to use the play structures and walk on the nature trail. An additional extended day component until 5:30 supports families who need to tailor the kindergarten schedule to meet work and other family requirements.
What happens during a kindergarten day?
The kindergarten day begins with a number of routines. Children “sign in” by hanging up their picture on the board. Teachers and children greet each other and share news. Next, it’s time for morning meeting. The teacher and children read the morning message, which contains the plans for the day. There is also time for morning routines, such as reciting the date, discussing weather and temperature graphs, and counting the number of days they have been in school. Much of this work develops early learning of important math concepts. The children celebrate the “person of the day,” who leads the line when they travel out of the classroom and performs extra classroom jobs. During the morning meeting there is also a story and a short lesson, often related to a current theme. As morning meeting comes to an end, the morning activities are described and children are reminded about the special subjects that will occur that day, such as dance, music, physical education (PE), art, library, computer, or Spanish.
During the morning, the children work and learn in small teacher-directed and independent groups. Sometimes the groups rotate so that each child experiences multiple activities. Sometimes the children work simultaneously in small literacy or math groups. The children interact with carefully selected materials and each other. Teachers work with these small groups, expanding and guiding children’s thinking. The tone in the kindergarten is busy, purposeful, and enthused.
For our theme study (science and social studies) the children focus on the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. The class explores the multi-stepped processes (such as planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing) that satisfy these needs. In our clothing unit children spin, weave, knit, and sew. Each child makes a winter hat to bring home and expands our collection of fairytale costumes by helping to design and sew a new one. In the spring, children build a doll-sized model house in multiple steps, after exploring shelter here and around the world.
Children work in literacy skills groups each day, focusing on the multiple strands involved in learning to read and write. Math skills are taught in half and whole group lessons that build on previous learning. Math and literacy are continually integrated into theme studies to bring skills to life situations in which they play an important role.
Visitors to the kindergarten will see a range of activities on different days and at different times of year. Children might be cooking a class snack, playing a letter sounds game, writing in their journals, weaving a rug, building in the block area, or working out math problems with small collections of objects. They might also be painting a still life, exploring a sequencing program on the class computer, excitedly playing a cooperative theme-related board game, reading quietly in the library corner or to a teacher, or playing in the housekeeping corner, which has turned into a store, a castle, or a post office.
Small group times allow more reticent children to have a voice and allow teachers to assess how children are progressing in all areas. Mid-morning, children come together to hear a story before snack time. Weather permitting; the class goes outside each day to play on the playground.
On full days, children eat lunch together, have a quiet time, and then begin the afternoon schedule of activities. On these longer days, children have science, computer, and dance classes. They finish morning work and engage in lengthy or messy projects, such as acting out stories with child-made props or painting posters to go with the theme.
What special subjects do children have in kindergarten?
Our kindergarten students participate in the same schedule of specialists that all of our students enjoy. Many of those classes occur in half groups, allowing the other half of the class to spend time with the two classroom teachers in academic groups. Kindergarten children enjoy music, Spanish, library, and dance once a week in half groups. They attend art classes twice a week in half groups. PE, which they have twice a week, is the only class they have as a full group.
What does our language arts program look like?
The kindergarten environment is rich in intentional literacy opportunities. In addition, literacy skills are taught in small group lessons. Two days of the week are devoted to writing, with the goal of having the children write simple sentences and stories. The children learn about sounds in words and strengthen their skills in spelling and handwriting. The other days focus on the multiple strands involved in reading acquisition, which include phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, phonics, sight vocabulary, attention to reading strategies through very simple text, and comprehension.
How do we handle a wide range of skills in kindergarten?
In the first weeks of the kindergarten year, the teachers spend a great deal of time assessing the children’s reading, writing, and math skills. Small classes are formed so that each child is working at a “just right” level, not having to work hard to keep up, nor wait for others to catch up.
All special subjects but PE meet in half groups, allowing half of the class to work in the classroom with the two teachers and, often, a parent volunteer. During these times, the children work in small literacy, math or writing groups.
What is our approach to math?
Math is taught in both whole and small groups. Focus is divided equally on math concepts, procedures, and vocabulary. Children use concrete materials and problem-solving techniques to ensure understanding and develop number sense. Kindergarten math lays the foundation for math study in many areas, including patterns, geometry, measurement, and computation. Cuisenaire rods are a manipulative used by the math program at every grade level. In kindergarten, the rods introduce the children to numbers, place values, and computation.
How do you guide children’s behavior in the classroom?
The kindergarten program is designed so all the students can be successful. The daily schedule allows for a mixture of active learning and quiet listening time. Children engage in a variety of tasks at their tables, playing games, writing papers, completing projects, and learning concepts with manipulatives and hands-on activities. When a classroom offers a variety of activities and ample room to stretch and move, boys and girls can be successful learners.
At a time when children are learning to be a part of a group, to share and to take turns, teachers act as role models, providing guidance and offering positive reinforcement.
Building community and developing interpersonal skills are priorities in kindergarten. When children have difficulty working out social problems or disagreements, teachers provide them with problem-solving skills by encouraging the children to listen to each other and negotiate solutions, initially, with teacher guidance and, increasingly, independently. The children decide on the rules that will govern the class; these rules are revisited often and sometimes changed as the year progresses. Importantly, the teachers take time in the moment to sort out an issue, building each child’s individual ability to dialogue and find a positive solution. Having two teachers in the classroom affords us this opportunity to learn important social learning lessons as well as academic lessons.
We use Open Circle, a social and emotional curriculum designed at the Stone Center at Wellesley College, in all lower school classes. Weekly circles give children opportunities to talk about issues that are important to them with teacher guidance and support, and these sessions provide a common vocabulary that extends throughout the lower school.