Beyond Numbers and Letters: The Need for a Balanced Approach to Prepare Students Pre-K and Up
The national conversation about K-12 education today seems to revolve around the holy grails of math and reading achievement. Schools are held accountable and graded by students’ test scores, and more and more classroom time is dedicated to drilling square roots and vocabulary, even as art and music programs fall by the wayside and recess is dismissed as unnecessary “play time.”
The pressures of academic achievement have even trickled down to early childhood — more parents are asking if their children should be reading by age 5, or if they need to “red shirt” children by holding them back a year to have more time to prepare for kindergarten.
In the midst of these pressures, cracks are starting to show: anxiety-related complaints and stress — problems that don’t normally appear until the teen years — are cropping up in young children, and rising incidences of school bullying and behavior problems have left parents and educators wondering if perhaps our educational system has missed something in its one-dimensional pursuit of academic excellence.
It’s true that pre-K has become more learning-focused, but it is not true that early childhood educators should focus exclusively, or even predominantly, on academics in order to prepare children for later success.
High quality early childhood education takes a broader perspective: the focus is on supporting and advancing the development of prepared, happy, confident, well-rounded children, which goes far beyond teaching and testing numbers and letters.
According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, “The early years lay the foundation for a wide range of later developmental outcomes that really matter – self-confidence and sound mental health, motivation to learn, achievement in school and later in life.” A report from the National Research Council, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, confirms that from birth to age five, development in all areas is rapid. Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child’s development during this crucial stage helps them acquire not only math and reading proficiency but also compassion, strength, independence, resilience, and a love of learning – qualities that are easy to take for granted but that need to be taught and encouraged for success beyond preschool.
Thus, a balanced approach to developing physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills is key to preparing young children for school and life:
As physical education classes get shorter and the risk of childhood obesity increases, the importance and value of movement is being increasingly recognized by early childhood educators. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has presented research that shows movement plays an important role not only in health, but in the future development of a child. During physical activities, children use multiple senses (touch, sight, smell, etc.), which create neural connections that wire the brain for future learning as well as improve the rate of learning and the development of executive functions (brain processes like planning and abstract thinking). In a practical example, Naperville School District 203 in Illinois provides a compelling case for the need for physical education: the district has limited educational funding, but its schools consistently rank among the top ten in the state. The only major difference is the district’s inclusion of daily exercise in its curriculum.
Social Emotional Development
While parents have always encouraged children to “get along with others,” a growing body of scientific work has documented the necessity of social and emotional development for future success. According to the Child Mental Health Foundations and Agencies Network, “Children who do not begin kindergarten socially and emotionally competent are often not successful in the early years of school — and can be plagued by behavioral, emotional, academic and social development problems that follow them into adulthood.” Noted psychologist Ross A. Thompson points out that early relationships are necessary to develop “healthy” brains, with healthy and supportive relationships shown to buffer stress in children. Parents and teachers who model appropriate social skills for children prepare them to not only “get along” in the world, but to be kind and respectful, show compassion, and care about others.
Often overlooked as “frills,” art and music programs that promote creative expression and development are nonetheless an important part of a balanced approach to early childhood education. Young children naturally engage in “art,” or spontaneous creative play, but when educators involve and encourage children in arts activities regularly from an early age, they lay the foundation for successful learning. Research conducted by Americans for the Arts shows that arts education plays a central role in preschoolers’ cognitive, motor, language and social-emotional development. Arts activities develop the imagination and critical thinking, strengthen problem-solving and goal-setting skills, build self-confidence and self-discipline for completing tasks, and nurture values like team-building and respecting different viewpoints. According to Edwin E. Gordon’s book Learning Sequences in Music, early exposure to music also sets the stage for enhanced brain development that increases neural connections, boosts IQ scores and improves musical aptitude.
Today’s academic standards have focused relentlessly on math and reading skills, but what we teach in our preschools should go beyond mere numbers and letters. Needed language skills encompass listening, speaking, reading and writing. Can the child articulate thoughts and ideas? Does he love books and appreciate the pleasure and knowledge they bring? Similarly, math and science skills should move beyond rote repetition to mastery of concepts. Can the child think mathematically — beyond facts — and have a true sense of numbers and concepts? Is she curious about the world, and can she think scientifically — observing, forming and testing hypotheses? In today’s technology-rich world, does the child have a grasp of the power of technology as a tool for creative expression and problem solving? Early childhood education should nurture a love of learning and support learning in multiple ways – through listening, seeing, hearing, touching and play. Preschool curricula should not train children to take tests and push them to academic extremes, but should include purposeful, engaging activities that are developmentally appropriate and support children’s natural curiosity to explore and learn about the world.
The benefits of a balanced approach to early childhood education are well documented.
Over 50 years of research from the Pew Center on the States shows that high-quality pre-K improves children’s cognitive, social and emotional skills, increases their educational attainment, closes the achievement gap, and enhances the quality and productivity of our nation’s workforce.
These results require a holistic teaching philosophy that incorporates the development of children’s physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills. Only when we start valuing these abilities and work toward finding valid ways to evaluate and track their development will we begin to truly prepare children to be happy and successful in life.
PCP Student Assessment Guide
©Peñasquitos Christian Preschool. All Rights Reserved. This document may not be reproduced or republished without permission.
Peñasquitos Christian Preschool’s uses early childhood student assessment to set group and individual goals, to determine student strength’s, identify children’s interest and needs, identify areas of opportunity and support the overall learning environment.
Uses of Results
The primary use of the result is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both respond to the information it provides. Assessment connects directly to curriculum as it is an ongoing process that arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning.
“Curriculum is an organized framework that outlines the content that children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the curricular goals, what teachers do to help students achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur.”
Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995
- Is NOT a collection of activities alone
- Is based on key outcomes for children
- Provides teachers with a useful framework for choosing learning experiences and materials
- Is written and addresses all areas of child development and learning
In High Quality in Programs:
- Teachers make the connection between curriculum and assessment
- Teachers use a variety of approaches and teaching strategies
- Teachers are trained to know how to integrate content while helping and supporting children to develop and learn new skills and expand existing skills
- Curriculum is used as a framework for decision-making
- Planning is based on developmentally appropriate practices which is rooted in research and standards not in individual experiences or subjective opinion
References Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2006). Basics of developmentally appropriate practice: An introduction for teachers of children 3-6. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. Bredekamp, S., & Rosegrant, T. (Eds.). (1995). Reaching potentials: Transforming early childhood curriculum and assessment (Vol. 2). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children Meisels, S. J., & Atkins-Burnett, S. (2005). Developmental screening in early childhood: A guide (5th ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. McAfee, O., Leong, D. J., & Bodrova, E. (2004). Basics of assessment: A primer for early childhood educators. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Upon enrollment, within the first 3 months of the start of the program students will be screened using a published instrument at the beginning of the school year, Peñasquitos Christian Preschool uses the Ages & Stages screening tool. Ages & Stages Questionnaires (ASQ) provides reliable, accurate developmental and social-emotional screening for children between birth and age 6. Drawing on parents’ expert knowledge, ASQ has been specifically designed to pinpoint developmental progress sand catch delays in young children- paving the way for meaningful next steps in learning, intervention and monitoring.
Students are formerly assessed twice per year in the fall semester and spring semester. Each semester is divided into four sections within each time period to allow for student success:
- Transition Period
- Collection Period
- Completion Period
- Conference Period
- Transition Period
- Collection Period
- Completion Period
- Conference Period
Transition Period: The time when students are given for transition to to the new school year and before/after school breaks. Typically, data is not collected for assessments.
Collection Period: The time in which data is collected for assessments that supports the development of curriculum and individual instruction.
Completion Period: The time that is set-aside for the writing and development of individual reports for the communication of student progress.
Conference Period: The time that is set-aside for parent-teacher conferences. This is a time to review student progress, make plans and set-goals. This is a collaborative time between teacher and parent. There are two formal set-aside times each school year for this meeting, however more than two can be scheduled on a case-by-case basis.
Student attendance as well as arriving to school on time is an important value to allow for teachers to be able to support students in meeting his/her learning goals.
Anecdotal Records are “snapshots” of your child’s experience at school. They include mostly texts and sometimes photos that highlight one particular goal they are achieving.
Peñasquitos Christian Preschool offers informal assessments as a part of the regular and extracurricular programs. The preschool uses informal methods for gathering data such as; observation, check-lists, rating-scales, screening tools and work sampling. Norm referenced, standardized assessments are not part of the program.
Peñasquitos Christian Preschool believes in well-rounded learning and teaching to the whole child. For our assessment purposes we focus on six main areas of development which include Physical Development/Self-Help Skills, Hand and Finger Skills, Language Milestones, Cognitive Milestones (which encompasses the areas of Academic Readiness), Social and Emotional Milestones and Approaches to Learning. Our curriculum is designed to give children the opportunity to practice important age-appropriate skills in each of these domains as they prepare for formal learning.
Indicators and Goals
Peñasquitos Christian Preschool supports student assessments for our three age groups; Beginners, Explorers and Kinder Readiness and are based upon goals found in state early learning and development standards. We use a combination of many state early learning standards that divide learning into developmental milestones; 24-36 months; 36-48 months and 48-60 months.
The reason that we have a cumulative report of several state standards is to ensure every area of development is adequately covered according to Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) in our curriculum. As an NAEYC Accredited program, we are also required to assess areas that are not combined into one assessment tool.
Within each domain are several goals. This is the overarching theme that we would like each child to achieve by the time they complete the school year.
Assessment of Goals
In order to give an indication of where a child is in the development of a particular goal we use the following ratings:
A (Age Appropriate)
This is the most commonly used rating and we expect that most children will be age appropriate. Age Appropriate means that the child typically is able to meet this goal consistently and with little help.
ND (Needs Development)
This means students are working on a skill but have not quite gotten the hang of it. Needs Development does not mean that a child is struggling rather that they need a little more support and time to develop a skill.
This rating is used to convey that a child needs significant support in developing this skill. Typically this used when a child doesn’t even attempt experiences that would allow practice of the skill or cannot complete an indicator even with great assistance.
This rating is used for children that are working above age level. This rating is rarely used.
NO (Not Observed)
This rating is used when a child has been away from school so often that we haven’t had the opportunity to observe the child experiencing curriculum or if the experience has not been provided due to class readiness.
Ratings are given for the Fall Semester and the Winter Semester. Below is an example of what a portion of the Assessment Checklist will look like. You will notice the Goal is given a rating of “A” under the Fall column. This denotes that the child is age appropriate in this goal.
Example: Language Milestones (48-60 months)
|Receptive Language Fall Spring|
|Listens and responds to topic in conversations and group discussions for an extended period||A||A|
|Listens to and follows multi-step directions||ND||A|
|Uses more complex gestures and actions to enhance verbal communication of needs and wants||ND||A|
|Communicates feelings using appropriate non-verbal gestures, body language||A||A|
|Uses spoken language that can be understood with ease||ND||ND|
This section of the assessment consolidates a lot of the teacher observations of a students’ progress and communicates with a parent their child’s interests and friendships, their areas of growth since the beginning of the assessment period, where the child needs some support, how parents can help them at home and what makes each child unique.
Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten Readiness Form
(Kinder Readiness Program Only)
This page was created to highlight the areas which are considered by Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten Teachers and Admissions Directors in public, private and charter programs to be the most valuable skills each child will need to be able to do upon entering kindergarten or TK and going through the kindergarten readiness process.
Signature Verification Page
This section is to be signed at the conclusion of your parent/teacher conference. Below is the text that is included on this page.
This signature verifies that I have been presented with my child’s Peñasquitos Christian Preschool Assessment. I have received an explanation of how this tool is used to assess the progress of my child and set specific goals for his/her development. I also acknowledge that I have received a copy of Peñasquitos Christian Preschool recommendation for placement in the coming year. (If applicable)
In order to foster and maintain effective partnerships with parents and families, Peñasquitos
Christian Preschool observes the following practices to protect the privacy of children and their families in our program:
- Individuals, agencies, or school districts may not receive any information about children without written permission from the parents or legal guardian.
- In cases of suspected neglect or abuse, Peñasquitos Christian Preschool is required by law to report those concerns to the proper authorities, whether or not parental permission is obtained.
- Observations and assessment reports are kept in the child’s file. This information will be disclosed when there is a specific concern or need and permission has been obtained from parents.
- At any time, parents may change their minds and revoke permission for the release of their child’s information.
- Information regarding children with disabilities, medication needs, therapy concerns, educational goals or family difficulties at home will remain private and confidential.