Laura Rosentrater, director of Faith Lutheran Preschool watches students clean up.
Are pre-school readiness standards pressuring educators to harm children in some preschools? A director of a local preschool and a writer for a national magazine are saying the answer is yes. Erika Christakis recommends different approaches in the article “The New Preschool is Crushing Kids,” published in a recent issue of Atlantic Monthly.
The article cites a nationwide survey that found 80 percent of kindergarten teachers in 2010 expected kindergarten graduates to read, compared to 30 percent in 1998.
Consequently 3- to 4-year olds are spending more time on paper and pencil vocabulary learning despite having less developed motor skills and shorter attention spans than 5- to 6-year olds.
Ominously, tests on reading and memory skills indicate paper and pencil skill building isn’t improving the skills of second-graders.
An evaluation was published in 2015 about attendees in publicly-funded preschools in Tennessee. They had higher readiness skills in kindergarten than non-attendees but lower literacy, language and math scores in second grade.
Christakis said, “Researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly-structured pedagogy were likely culprits.”
Other reports troubled Christakis. “Thirteen early-childhood literacy programs ‘failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.’ ”
The author said many preschools aren’t following research consensus on four characteristics for successful childhood development. One is substantial teacher-student conversations. “We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding,” she said.
School readiness goals should include social, emotional and active learning skills. Parents should be involved.
Finally, knowledgeable and qualified teachers are crucial. Christakis said, “Preschool teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary in informal classroom settings predicted their students’ reading comprehension and word knowledge in fourth grade.”
Christakis visited Finland’s acclaimed educational system, whose teachers initiate formal reading at age 7. She summarized the teachers’ message: “The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listen. They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed things with them, they have asked questions and received answers.”
Laura Rosentrater, director of Faith Lutheran Preschool in East Wenatchee, agrees with Christakis’ article.
Rosentrater studied the article and tapped the author’s summarizing quote. “This is what we do,” she said.
Rosentrater’s description indicated her teachers are often in face-to-face conversations with their friends, as their children are called. Each age group of 16 friends always has one teacher with an aide, plus Rosentrater when she’s available.
About 50 percent of the walls are covered with posters, prepared jointly by friends and parents. Parents accompany their children to the preschool and engage with them at arrival activity tables before leaving.
The preschool has an open classroom with areas for a variety of school readiness skills and integrated learning. Rosentrater said after the arrival activities and free choice time, the teacher forms a learning circle for large group learning for students. Next, friends work in center groups of four or five in teacher-led or self-directed learning in literacy, math, dramatic play and exploration, followed by a snack, recess, Bible stories and music. Throughout the day, staff are always engaged with the students.
When asked about test results, Rosentrater said the preschool is a structured, play-based, academic program and progress and assessments are not gaged by paper and pencil test, but rather through observation, play, and one-on-one interaction. Parent/teacher conferences are held twice a year.
Some of Faith Lutheran Preschool’s learning goals include students recognizing their name in print form and being able to write it, forming letters in standard patterns, basic math concepts, understanding cause-and-effect, exhibiting effective behavioral skills in group participation and work habits.
Their program has operated for seven years. Current and previous families may enroll two weeks prior to new families. Rosentrater said this year alone, they have 11 siblings that started in the 3-year-old classes. Otherwise, applicants are served on a first-come first-served basis, with the rest placed on a waiting list.
They use national scholastic curricula and a Lutheran Bible curriculum.
Staff get feedback from Eastmont School District officials and kindergarten teachers. The preschool was invited a few years ago to participate in Operation Kinder Readiness, a collaborative program between Robert E. Lee Elementary kindergarten teachers and area preschools. One teacher told Rosentrater that students from Faith Lutheran were already meeting benchmark for kindergarten readiness. “The common goal is working together making all children successful in preparing for kindergarten and later learning,” Rosentrater said.
Rosentrater said parents have asked about student readiness for preschool common core standards, which she believes other preschools have promoted. Rosentrater said, “There are no common core standards for preschool. We’re a play-based school.”