This State-Of-The-Art Preschool Looks Like The One You Probably Went To. Why Is It Unusual Now?

If you're over 25 and went to preschool, you probably spent that time in the blocks corner or with the dress-up box. You learned to follow directions, share stuff, and wait your turn. There was probably a snack and a nap, and then you went home. If you walked into a 21st-century preschool, you might not recognize it. Preschool has changed, and if you don't have little kids, you might be totally unaware. Free play makes up less of each day every year, and kids spend lots of time working on numbers and letters — stuff previous generations saved for kindergarten.

This new "academic" preschool misses the point, and study after study shows that. Kids who go to "high-quality" preschools do better in life than those who don't, but we need to understand what "high quality" means. It's not ABCs and 123s. The opposite, actually.

Here's a teacher who's got it down. Take a minute to learn from her. Oh, and check out "sharing time" halfway through. That was always my favorite part of preschool, and it's just as awesome now as it ever was.

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My eyes are facing forward, I'm standing straight and tall. My hands are behind my back, I'm ready for the hall. Five, four, three, two, one, zero, zip.

This is their first experience in school, for the most part. A lot of them have been in daycare or some sort of childcare setting, but when they come to public school, it's just different.

Can you take me to a party?

Sure. Can you drive?

Yes.

In my classroom, I use a project approach to learning and I let the kids guide the curriculum. What do you think of that idea?

Good.

I think that it's more important for the children to determine what the curriculum is, so that they stay engaged. If they're not engaged then I spend my day managing behavior, versus letting them be able to discover and explore and construct their own knowledge of something.

How do I put this paint shirt on?

We spend a lot of time learning what patience is and waiting because life is full of waiting. And so I draw their stick with their name on it and then I ask them to tell me where they're going to play. Sean, where would you like to play?

I don't know. Did you draw my stick?

Where would you like to play? With these? OK. That holds them accountable. That is them saying, "I'm going to go play in the dough." So they know they're going to go to the sensory table and play in the dough that, like, they've claimed that spot. They're going there, they've claimed their play.

This is a big wedding cake.

Yeah.

It's almost ready.

The materials I bring in are mostly natural materials. They're open-ended, in the fact that they're not task-oriented because I want them to be able to explore those materials and use them for as long as possible, instead of just having a specific task set to it, like a puzzle. Once the puzzle's done, nothing to do, move on. Those tools that they use in everyday life automatically give them a sense of responsibility and trust and respect. So they can see that I respect them enough to use adult tools. We have safety procedures to use them safely, so if they're going to get out hammers and things like that then they need to have their safety glasses on. I'm going to pass around this owl and if you have the owl, you can share. Share time, we do it at least two times a day. That gives me an idea of who's following who. I get to see a lot in classroom dynamics and relationships during those little times like that.

And if anybody has the owl, only they can talk.

That's right, because that helps us remember that we need to be respectful and listen to people share their story, right?

Six or five weeks from now, my mammy's going to open up her pool and we can go... me and my brother and Daddy and Katy and Charlie can go swim in it.

My sister fell off the slide when she was a baby.

My daddy, he got hit by lightning when he was a little boy.

Really?

No, not yet.

I try to take an alternate activity outside. I just kind of looked on the playground at the students who weren't really engaged. They see me over there, they know that I'm doing something, so if they want to come over, they know they can. But most will choose to play. It's just different on different days. And also it depends what the activity is.

I'm done.

I'm going to squirt a cloud on top. Do you want a big cloud?

Yes.

I'm going to try not to get it in my coffee.

I want a big cloud.

This is sort of my way of doing an assessment. And so instead of sitting down or clicking on bubbles on the computer screen to answer questions, I do my assessments like this. What's the job of a cloud?

He makes it rain.

I was kind of looking for oral language, what they could tell me, what words they were using. We had just started talking about clouds, so this was all very new, but I wanted to see if they were using any weather vocabulary that we had talked about. Because what?

Because God wants it to rain so the flowers can grow.

OK. All right, so here's what we're going to do. I wanted to see if they were gathering any information and using those context clues to kind of make a different analysis of what happened with a cloud and water. How many drops do you think you'll put in before it rains? Five? The level of learning is so much deeper if they construct their knowledge with that. It's time to start cleaning up our centers.We hope that the things we're doing build their self-confidence and get them those social-emotional skills that they need to go on and collaborate and work together in kindergarten.

Hip, hip, hooray.

Thank you.

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Video by NPR. Found on their education blog.

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