(photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - Wildly colored numbers, letters and words cover every inch of wall space. Games and books are piled high in the corners. Hands-on activity areas are placed strategically throughout the classroom, awaiting eager little hands.
There's no such thing as idle time in today's kindergarten classroom. The young pupils are expected to know a lot more than they used to.
By the end of the year kindergarten students are expected to know letters, sounds, words, counting and number recognition. They should be able to count sets of numbers, work independently and get along with other children, as well as know how to read very simple books, write a short story and understand the concepts of addition and subtraction.
Too much too soon? Not everyone thinks so.
"Our society, parents and educational institutions expect more," explained Vera Glueck, principal at Sikeston Kindergarten Center. "Technology provides greater opportunities for learning and the media promotes the idea of 'raising the bar.' Competition, to not only succeed but be the best, is ever present."
Mattie Trum, a kindergarten teacher at Morehouse Elementary, describes kindergarten as more of a learning environment than it was 10 years ago. For one thing, she said, kindergarten doesn't involve as much socializing as in the past.
"Twenty years ago kindergarten was a more socializing process, although learning did take place and we did have reading curriculums and series that we taught out of," Trum said. "Today it is much more intense and has guidelines that each child must know before going to first grade."
A kindergarten teacher for the past 27 years, Melissa Eakins added kindergarten has also changed from a half day to a full day.
"We try and build the foundation and start preparing them for testing later on," said Eakins, a teacher at Sikeston Kindergarten Center. "Many parents wanted more for their children. Kids were coming to school already knowing letters and sounds so in order to meet their needs, we expanded the curriculum."
There are pros and cons. Eakins said some children lack the background and skills, making it more difficult for them. "But they do a great job, our kindergarten teachers work really hard and do so much to help the students. It makes teaching kindergarten more challenging. Teachers are constantly coming up with new ideas, methods, etc."
Glueck said it is important for teachers and parents to look at each child as an individual and decide what that child is ready for.
"We really can't 'push too much,'" Glueck said. "Children shut down, they won't allow anyone or anything to really push them. But they can become frustrated when adults do not notice the signs of 'shut down'. We must be very sensitive to these concepts. We want to challenge our students and yet we must not be unrealistic.
"We have great expectations for our students but realize not all students will meet these expectations at the same time," said Glueck. "We want each child to develop mentally, academically, socially and physically to his or her full potential. We want them to be curious about the world around them and to enjoy the learning process. We want them to develop a positive attitude toward learning and school."
Some things haven't changed, like nap time and playground. At Sikeston Kindergarten Center, students have a morning, noon and afternoon break.
Playground activity is important, all three educators agreed, as it teaches rules and being able to socialize. And as Eakins pointed out, the physical activity also stimulates the brain.
Playground activity teaches children to get along with others, added Trum, who said the R-6 School District works hard to improve and teach good character and to have a fight-free school. The playground, she said, is where youngsters learn to solve their own problems and to become their own person.
"Kindergarten is the most important time in the school career," Glueck said. "It sets the attitude toward learning, develops their self-concept in relationship to the academic world and it can ignite or extinguish their natural curiosity."