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Eight ways kindergarten holds the key to 21st-century instruction

Here are eight important pillars of a 21st-century education that can be found in most kindergarten classrooms every day.

I was recently giving a workshop at a local elementary school. While walking around and speaking to teachers and children, it suddenly dawned on me that several of the “revolutionary” educational changes we’ve been calling for have actually been around for quite a while—just talk a stroll down to the kindergarten classes.

If only the rest of school looked a little more like those classrooms. In fact, eight important pillars of a 21st-century education can be found in most kindergarten classrooms every day of the week:

1. Play

The first rule of kindergarten is to have fun. Our youngest students love coming to school, and if any child doesn’t seem happy, then we make it a high priority to find and remedy the problem. Play is a highly effective method of informal learning that requires imagination and creativity. Happy, playful children are not daydreaming and clock watching—they are engaged and absorbed in their activities.

As children get older, however, play starts taking a back seat to “academics” … which are usually priorities determined by people in offices far away from the students’ actual classroom environment.

2. Create

Creativity is becoming lost in the shuffle of the current “back to basics” school movement. While certainly required in any artistic endeavor, creativity is also a highly essential coping skill for our rapidly changing lives in the 21st century—not to mention a highly coveted skill among 21st-century employers.

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Comments:

  1. spider78

    July 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Amen, brother! Until we get out from under these oppressive state and federal mandates to test, test, test we are destined to be a nation of conformists instead of a nation that actively promotes creative risk-taking and innovation. It will require nothing short of revolution, but the education establishment doesn’t have the stomach for it? And where is the media on this topic?

  2. stanjeff

    July 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Great article. Couldn’t agree more. One thing as educators we do need to be careful about though is to make sure we are celebrating the change that has taken place. Statements like “in upper grades, our entire world is expressed through text” imply this is the case in all classrooms. There are many teachers going to great lengths to use several forms of media and sometimes we forget the progress that has been made. It helps feed the outdated stereotype of the teacher standing at a blackboard reciting information. While it still happens, it has diminished considerably as new teachers are hired with innovative new techniques.

  3. peteysmith

    July 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Having been a kindergarten teacher for almost 20 years I look back with nostalgia as I remember what kindergarten looked like. Today we too have been overloaded with teaching content with direct instruction methods touted as the best way to teach. Play is rare and in some schools recess has been eliminated. For the first time, my students had to be assigned a specific seat in which to work jand centers were discouraged. I was surprised by the mention of a pet in the class, this has been outlawed for years. Students socialization is now very scripted with cooperative learning protocols. I am hoping that common core will bring some balance back to the instructional setting, but there are varied interpretation and views of good practice to reach these goals. I am reminded daily that I teach 4,5 and 6 year olds, but I think those that decide what good teaching looks like forget what is developmentally appropriate and healthy. With class sizes also rising above thirty, they also do not consider what is feasible. My district administrators would not promote the kindergarten described in the article, though I wish my class was encouraged to look more like the one described.

  4. janettaplanetta

    July 5, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    It seems so simple to me. We teach in Kindergarten the way everyone learns, and then we squeeze it out of them, diminish the environment, year after year, until school becomes awful. Why?

  5. rackerly

    July 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Excellent outline of what needs to change for schooling to be an education. In each section: paragraph 1 defines education, the last paragraph defines mere schooling. I wish everyone knew the distinction and didn’t confuse the two.
    Good job!!!

  6. froebelusa

    July 7, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Kindergarten is shadow of what it was 175yrs ago, but it changed the world in ways too numerous to count. Mitchel Resnick called it “Europe’s greatest invention.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDPssJedOJ4 Take a look at what was originally, it informs the discussion of how the US got where we are. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1335652536/inventing-kindergarten

  7. jimshaeffer

    July 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Unfortunately, from what I hear from teachers in elementary schools, kindergaten is no longer like the kindergatten described here. It’s all about academic readiness for 1st grade.