The head start classroom I am in seems like an ordinary head start program. The room is set up perfectly for play. The children learn through play all day long, especially dramatic playing. They have a kitchen, tons of books to look through and lots of play dough to experiment with. The teachers in the room promote racial diversity, and there is a wide range of students that attend the program. The one thought that perplexes me though is, are the students on track in their learning?
Staying on Track
The students at the head start classroom I am doing my field placement at, are 3-5 years old and very smart. They can hold full conversations and they are very curious about everything, so they are always asking questions. But, all they do all day is play with very little learning instruction. Are they really getting everything they need to move on to kindergarten?
First, we need to know what a head start program is and what it does for the children enrolled in it. “Head Start is a Federal program that promotes the school readiness of children from birth to age five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children’s growth in many areas such as language, literacy, and social and emotional development (Benefits.Gov, 2020)”.
So, is What They’re Learning Useful?
According to ECLKC, in a head start program, it is required that all agencies establish school readiness goals. They are defined as “the expectations of children’s status and progress across domains of language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches to learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social and emotional development that will improve readiness for kindergarten goals”
According to Reading Rockets, being ready for kindergarten means having well-developed preschool skills, and being academically, socially, and physically ready for the transition. These are the signs that your child will be ready for kindergarten:
Academically (pre-reading skills)
- Can retell a simple story
- Speaks in complete sentences of 5-6 words
- Writes name or recognizes letters in their name
- Has good reading conventions such as how to hold a book, reading left to right, knows where the cover is, etc.
- Counts to ten
- Feels comfortable in a group
- Asks for help when needed
- Knows personal information like their name, age, and gender
- Follows simple instruction
- Recognizes authority
- Can share with others
- Exhibits fine motor skills such as; holding a pencil, tracing shapes, buttoning a shirt, etc.
- Exhibits motor coordination like riding a bike with training wheels, hops, skips
- Manages bathroom needs
So, is my head start classroom having the students do all of these things?
The answer is, yes. The teachers that work with the students do a wonderful job of preparing them for kindergarten. The school-age students demonstrate a complete understanding of social skills. They are comfortable in a group, ask for help when they need it and they can share well with others. As for fine and gross motor skills, they have had ample time to practice those. The teachers provide many crafts and activities for developing their fine motor skills. They cut out paper for projects in their small groups and they can hold and use a pencil the correct way. Gross motor skills in these children have developed well too. The students do a gross motor activity every single day. They go out to the playground and run around and do a specific instructed activity before they’re allowed to run and play.
Academically, the students are thriving as well! When asked about a story they read, the students are able to recall the information fairly well. They can speak in full sentences, most times even more than 5 words per sentence. I have seen good reading conventions from the students as well. Also, they know how to count past 10. Most of them can count to 20 because there are about 17 students in their class. Each day they count the number of students they have by answering a question posed by the lead teacher, and they answer by writing their name on their name cards and putting it under their answer choice. Then, the whole group discusses the answers and counts how many students answered which choice.
Overall, I think that a head start program is a great choice for children. They learn mostly through play, but there is instruction built into their day. Children need to experience playing and learning with others at a very young age, so they can have a better chance at success in kindergarten and on. Enrolling your child in a head start program is very easy! The link for an application in the Lancaster Pa area is here!