Choosing a Kindergarten - 08/08/05

THE AGE Newspaper Article of Monday April 25th 2005

Question:  I am about to start looking for a kindergarten for my four-year-old in 2006. How do I know what to look for, and what exactly do kindergartens provide?

Answer:

Kindergarten is often undervalued and misunderstood. International research indicates the importance of children attending a kindergarten program the year before starting school The kindergarten year is a rich and stimulating experience that provides a range of important opportunities that not only prepare children for school but for life.
Kindergarten may be, underestimated due in part to the confusion over what kindergarten is, that it is not compulsory and that some centres advertise having a kindergarten program when they may not have a qualified teacher:
A kindergarten must have a qualified teacher in early childhood, except in some exceptional circumstances. This qualification is important as research shows that the quality of the program is in part reflected by the qualification of the teacher: A teaching qualification in kindergarten is equivalent to that of a primary teacher; which reflects a high level of expertise in learning strategies, curriculum implementation, knowledge of child development and teaching.
A kindergarten teacher has expertise in understanding how children learn in their preschool years and in working alongside parents to ensure that children are acquiring skills and understanding.

In Victoria, kindergartens usually are stand-alone models that provide about 10-12 hours of program each week. These models either have a number of half-day sessions during the week, or provide longer-day, extended programs, which may go through lunch times or later into the afternoon.

However, kindergarten programs are also now in some child<are centres and independent schools.
Regardless of where the kindergarten is situated - either stand-alone, within childcare or an independent school- if a qualified kindergarten teacher is employed, the State Government provides a part subsidy fur the kindergarten year for each child.

Kindergarten employs a playbased curriculum that emphasises learning through active exploration, investigation and opportunities to practise problem-solving, thinking skills such as creativity and lateral thinking. perspective-taking, and a range of life and academic learning.
Life skills include the ability to tolerate working and playing alongside others in diverse situations; being able to deal with conflict; to express feelings and needs appropriately, to try out new experiences; to participate in, learning; and to communicate and interact effectively with others.

Academic skills include early literacy and numeracy, which doesn't mean worksheets and rote learning but rich experiences in language, songs, puppetry, storytelling, building with blocks and dramatic play such as pretend restaurants and post offices. Each kindergarten may reflect slightly different approaches to how they implement the play-based curriculum and particular philosophies have different strategies that they emphasise.
Some kindergartens are known as Steiner, Montessori or Reggio Emilia-based. Other kindergartens may simply be known as play-based.

Regardless of which philosophy is the basis for the program there are some key indicators of quality:

  • The qualifications of the teacher.
  • The emphasis upon play and creativity as the basis fur learning.
  • An emphasis upon meaningful relationships between staff and children and families.
  • An inclusive approach to parents as an integral part of the child's learning.
  • Effective communication between staff and parents.
  • Articulation of learning through play in the documents and information provided to parents.

While the skills and learning acquired in the kindergarten year are important in helping children make a successful transition to school the kindergarten year is not simply a training run for school Sometimes parents expect that the kindergarten teacher will give children lots of worksheets, formal reading, and practice in lining up and sitting still for school That is not what kindergarten is about, nor is it what many schools are now about, either:
When looking fur a kindergarten, ensure that the philosophy fits comfortably with your own, that the teacher is qualified, that the emphasis is upon play-based curriculum and that staff reflect professionalism, warmth and openness to children and parents.

Copyright © Kathy Walker 2005

Kathy Walker is an educational consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years, and a former lecturer at RMIT University