Q:

I am in the process of choosing a kindergarten for my child. What are the key elements I should look for? Also, do you believe that education is coming full circle and reverting back to workbooks and pencils with less hands-on activities in kindergarten? I'm hearing from one school that this is the new trend, and I'm not sold on this philosophy of education.

How early in the kindergarten year should writing begin, and when should children begin learning sight words? Finally, should there be a lot of print in the classrooms such as a word wall, labeling of objects and various other words? - Searching

A:

There is a definite trend toward a more academic kindergarten experience for children. State academic standards are now more rigorous, and as a result of the federal "No Child Left Behind" program, schools begin testing children in third grade or even sooner. For students to learn what they need to know to meet these higher standards, schools must begin instruction in academics earlier than in the past.

It's important for you to understand that it is not necessarily bad to have more academics in kindergarten. What is bad is the way academics are being introduced to young children. Too many kindergarten programs have children spending way too much time doing worksheet, workbook and teacher-directed activities. This approach even turns off many first- and second-graders.

Young children truly learn best from hands-on experiences. Search for a kindergarten that introduces children to the 3 R's through developmentally appropriate activities. For example, young children will learn more about adding 2+1 through handling objects than by dealing only with abstract symbols on a worksheet. Kindergartners can deal with academics better if they are presented in ways that are meaningful to them. And this definitely is not a steady diet of seatwork.

When parents have a choice of kindergartens, they should visit a school and find out how academics are being introduced. If possible, they should visit an actual classroom to see if they think the approach is right for their child.

As far as writing goes, it is appropriate for kindergarten children to try to attempt written communication from scribbles, pictures and invented spelling beginning the day they enter school. They also can learn sight words as needed. Labeling objects is helpful as it reinforces the idea that print has meaning.