What Should Be Learned in Kindergarten?

Most American children attend kindergarten and many participate in all-day kindergarten programs. While recent reform efforts have focused on extending the kindergarten day, research suggests that how kindergartners spend their time may be more critical than the amount of time children spend in class. In other words, longer kindergarten days in unsuitable activities yield no educational advantages over the traditional half-day kindergarten program.

What Are Appropriate Teaching and Curriculum Approaches for Kindergartners?

Early childhood and kindergarten specialists have long emphasized the central role of play in young children's learning. In the course of day-to-day experience with young children, it is easy for teachers to see that spontaneous play is a natural way of learning; observations of children's play reveal that play provides a wide range and real depth of learning in all domains of development: physical, emotional, social, and intellectual.

However, it is just as natural for young children to learn through spontaneous investigation (close observation, experimentation, and inquiry) as through spontaneous play. Many observers have noted that young children are natural scientists and anthropologists. They devote substantial portions of their seemingly endless energy to learning all aspects of the culture they are born into: they learn its language, stories, music and literature; they investigate with all their senses and emerging skills what people mean, when things are appropriate and when they are not, where things come from, what they are for, how they are made and how adults and peers respond to them. They try to make sense of common objects by prying into them, taking them apart, and manipulating them in a variety of ways. Appropriate curriculum and teaching methods include activities and encouragement for kindergartners in these quests and feature the importance of individual children's feelings and emotions in group settings.

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