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Preschool Curriculum Creator Extends Reach to Kindergarten

CreativeCurriculumforKindergarten.pngEarly-childhood advocates have been concerned for some time that the academic expectations of elementary school are filtering down to kindergarten

Now, there's a bit of pressure from the other direction. Teaching Strategies, the Bethesda, Md.-based creator of a project-based preschool curriculum called The Creative Curriculum, has created a kindergarten course of study that it says will bring back the play, hands-on activities and center-based work that has started to disappear from some classrooms.

The Creative Curriculum for Kindergarten was piloted in fall 2016 in more than 50 public and private kindergarten classrooms in Alabama, Alaska, New York City, and Washington state and is now available for other schools. Like the preschool curriculum, which is used by more than 2 million children each year, the kindergarten curriculum focuses on child-driven social studies and science topics that integrate math and literacy skills.

"We know that young children learn best by doing. And we know that young children are capable of directing some of their learning," said Kai-Leé Berke, the chief executive officer of Teaching Strategies. The topics that the children are exploring are those they are already innately interested in, she said, such as music, nature, and sports. 

"For many teachers this was a brand new way of teaching, that content can be integrated," Berke said. "You don't only have to think about language arts and literacy during your hour of language block." 

Barbara Willer, who oversees strategic efforts for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said that while she's not familiar with the new Creative Curriculum program, the organization supports learning approaches that infuse kindergarten with some of the strengths of a preschool approach. Willer said another initiative with similar goals is Tools of the Mind, which weaves math, reading, writing, and critical thinking instruction into structured play.

"Elementary curricula tend to be more focused on subject area, rather than taking a whole-child approach, and preschool tends to be more focused on the whole child," Willer said. "Looking at ways to blend that would absolutely be an important strategy." 

Teacher Experience with New Kindergarten Curriculum

Kindergarten teacher Mallory Campbell, who teachs at Zion Chapel Elementary School, a public school in Jack, Ala., piloted the Creative Curriculum for Kindergarten this school year.

Previously, Campbell said, her students' school day was strictly scheduled: 90 minutes of reading time, 60 minutes of math, then a small-group reading lesson. Only 30 to 45 minutes each day was set aside for science or social studies. 

"It was very much direct instruction, very much teacher-led," Campbell said. "We dictated when they learned, how they learned, what they learned—we spoon fed them everything we wanted them to know." It was a stressful environment for children and for teachers, she said. 

Alabama is one of nine states that are using another product of Teaching Strategies, called Teaching Strategies Gold, to identify kindergarten readiness. Kindergarten entry assessments are intended to help teachers understand what their students know, in order to guide their instruction over the course of the school year.

But the learning domains that Gold measures, such as social-emotional skills and cognitive development, didn't match the way students were being taught, Campbell said. That disconnnect prompted the school's interest in changing its kindergarten curriculum. 

The classrooms now have different centers for children to explore topics on their own, Campbell said. She now has a dramatic play area, and sand and water tables. Campbell supports math and literacy through these project explorations, she said—and it's much more fun.

"We have playful learning," she said. 

Photo: A discovery center in a kindergarten classroom at Zion Chapel Elementary School in Jack, Ala. that is piloting The Creative Curriculum for Kindergarten.—Courtesy Teaching Strategies.


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