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Penn College’s Early Childhood Experts Address Parents’ Kindergarten Questions

Is my child ready for kindergarten? What’s the ideal age for a child to enter, and is attending kindergarten even necessary in a youngster’s development?

What type of instruction is offered in kindergarten programs? What’s a good teacher-to-child ratio, and are full-day programs better than those featuring a half-day schedule? Who provides for transportation, and what does Pennsylvania law have to say about kindergarten?

The questions that parents must ponder before sending a child to kindergarten can seem daunting. And it doesn’t help that there are conflicting schools of thought among the educational researchers who have studied various aspects of the matter.

To demystify the kindergarten experience, experts from the Children’s Learning Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology recently held an informational session for parents, and two more parent-information workshops on other topics have been scheduled for later in the semester. The first session was led by Children’s Learning Center Director Karen Woland Payne and Group Leader Barbara J. Albert.

The one-hour workshop featured a lively dialogue among the presenters and the parents – mostly Penn College students, staff and faculty.

Payne explained that the kindergarten operated by the Children’s Learning Center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which emphasizes “developmentally appropriate practice.”

“We do things according to the development of the child,” she said.

The NAEYC’s position, Payne said, is that, because kindergarten deals with 5-year-old children, it should be run more like “a good preschool” than an elementary school class. But she acknowledged there are those who argue that kindergarten-age children should get an early start on academics and structure – “pushing down the curriculum,” as it has become known.

The kindergarten at the Children’s Learning Center affords children opportunities for learning in reading and writing, math, science, social studies, gross motor development, art and music, with an emphasis on the use of hands-on materials and children’s literature.

Pennsylvania law doesn’t require a child to begin formal schooling until age 8, and public school districts are not obligated to offer kindergarten programs, Payne said, though nearly all of them do. Those that operate kindergarten programs can set their own cutoff dates for when children may enter. In addition, Payne noted school districts are not required to provide transportation for their kindergarten students.

While some school districts conduct developmental screening or testing of children before kindergarten, no child can be rejected on the basis of the results, Payne said. Districts can make recommendations, but parents are not obligated to heed the advice. The NAEYC’s position is that educational testing isn’t valid until age 8, Payne said.

The recent trend has been toward having children start kindergarten at older ages than in the past, Payne said. To be eligible for the kindergarten offered at the Children’s Learning Center, a child must be 5 by September 30 of the year they plan to enter. September 1 is a popular cutoff date for many school districts in this area, Payne added.

Albert addressed ways in which parents can tell whether a child is ready to start kindergarten. It isn’t simply a matter of assessing learning skills, she emphasized, noting the importance of social and emotional development, too.

“You can know a lot about the alphabet, but if you can’t comply with the routine of a classroom, you’re not going to be successful,” she said.

It’s not always easy imparting that message to parents, who worry that their child’s learning will lag others in the same age group.

“Try not to think of readiness as `how smart my child is,'” Albert urged the group.

Some criteria for kindergarten readiness, Albert said, include being able to use words to express feelings, asking for help or solve problems; following through with directions; using implements like scissors; identifying colors; and speaking in complete sentences, among others.

“It’s real basic, the things you need to know,” she said.

Because of differences in programs, children may be ready for one kindergarten but not another, Payne and Albert said. They recommend the Web sitefor its kindergarten-readiness quiz and additional tips for parents.

The kindergarten at the Children’s Learning Center issues report cards twice a year, Albert said, with children earning the designations “P” (for proficient), “M” (for making progress) and “N” (for needs improvement). The report cards measure performance in areas such as work skills, math and social interaction. There are two parent-teacher conferences; in the final session, the child’s readiness for first grade is discussed, Albert said.

The kindergarten at the Children’s Learning Center, which has a capacity for 16 children, always has two supervising adults present. It runs from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with “wrap-around” child-care available from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

On March 14, the Children’s Learning Center will hold its second parent-information session, featuring Karen Rush of the BlaST Intermediate Unit, who will discuss developmental milestones.

In the third session, to be held March 11, Billie A. Coffman, associate professor of Early Childhood Education at Penn College, will address the topic of discipline. Both sessions will be held at 3:30 p.m. in Room 151 of the Bush Campus Center.

For more information about the Children’s Learning Center, call (570) 320-8026.

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