When I was teaching preschool, I would fight tooth and nail to keep my classroom developmentally appropriate. We played and played and played. It was all guided play; I was right there with my students asking questions and providing them with the best materials, but the students, of course, only knew it as playing. I lost students because of it. There were parents who simply didn't understand why I wasn't sending home worksheets and crafts. Without these (completely useless, in my opinion) things, their parents didn't think they were learning. Of course, I did my best to communicate with parents. I invited them into my classroom on an almost monthly basis, I sent home newsletters describing what we were learning and how we were learning it, and I held conferences twice a year. Through it all, I did what I knew to be best practices in keeping preschool developmentally appropriate.
Now I'm in kindergarten, and I'm starting to question how appropriate my classroom is. Sure, we play. We have real play centers that we do for at least 30 minutes a day, and we have recess for 45 minutes a day. (The jury's still out on whether this is enough play.) What about the rest of my classroom though? To really analyze this, I have to ask myself what the definition of developmentally appropriate is. I believe the best way to define it is asking students "to do school" in a manner that meets their developmental levels; it means not asking them to move to something academically that they are not ready for, and it means recognizing the fact that play is still very important to my young students. In my interview for my position, I talked about the balance of play and meeting standards. There are so many standards for my young kiddos, but am I meeting them in an appropriate way?
As I was discussing this with my mentor, she said she was initially concerned when our district was looking at the Jolly Phonics program. She questioned whether it was appropriate to throw one letter sound a day at her kindergartners. I completely understand her concerns; going from teaching about a letter a week and spending a month on each short vowel sound to teaching 42 letter sounds in the first 42 days of school is a huge change. It would definitely seem like asking a lot of the students. Here's where I struggle though: I understand her argument, but my students (most of hers too, actually) have been able to do it. I never felt like I was dragging my students through a confusing puddle of letter sounds. They jumped right in, parents got on board, and they've learned the sounds. Of my 20 students, 18 or so have all 42 letter sounds down; the two that haven't gotten there yet are very close. With these numbers, did I ask too much of my students?
Along the same line, what about those kiddos who come to kindergarten already knowing the letters and letter sounds? Is it appropriate to ask them to relearn them throughout the course of an entire year? Developmentally, they are beyond that. Why would it be okay for me to keep asking them to learn something they already know?
I have spent most of this weekend reflecting on my Daily 5 block of time. Is it too much for me to ask my kiddos to spend an hour to an hour and a half on literacy? I think about what I'm asking them to do, and I feel like it's okay. We're reading to ourselves and to others (in preschool, we had a library center in which students would do just that), we're writing (there was writing all over my play-based preschool classroom), and we're playing with letters and words (with materials that were used often in my preschool classroom). I am able to differentiate what I ask of my students to meet their individual needs, and the element of choice is present as they choose which Daily 5 they do each cycle. Once again, my students are doing it. We've been successfully "Daily-5ing" for months now, and I can see the improvement in their reading and writing abilities. Is it appropriate for me to expect them to read and write at this point, though?
I don't know if there really is a clear-cut description of what a completely developmentally appropriate kindergarten looks like. (If you know of one, please let me know!) After a weekend (plus two annoying snow days) of reflection, I feel okay about my classroom. I made a few changes to my plans (including the addition of Fun Friday, which I'm excited about) and really thought about what I was asking my students to do. If taking my students where they are when they come to me each day defines developmentally appropriate, then I think I'm doing okay. My sticking point is in the question, "Did I force my students into something (reading or writing) that is not developmentally appropriate?"