Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Simple Ideas for a Successful Junior Kindergarten Program

Lucky you! You get to teach Junior Kindergarten! Four year-olds are so much fun, and not that much different from five year-olds. If you are teaching a multi-age Junior and Senior Kindergarten program, you'll find that most four and five-year olds fit together beautifully.  I've taught Senior Kindergarten since 2008, and variations of stand-alone and combined Junior and Senior Kindergarten since 2010, and I absolutely love it. Here's what I've learned along the way about routines, resources, and activities to develop your program!
Four year-olds are so much fun!
Developing smooth arrival procedures makes everyone's day better. I photograph all the steps in arriving in the classroom and create a PowerPoint presentation which we review on a daily basis. As the different slides appear, students complete that task if they haven't done so. I also photograph all the students in the classroom and make a second PowerPoint where we practice our friends' names every morning. Within a couple of weeks, most students are secure in routines and know their friends' names.

To ease separation anxiety (which can be a reality for four year-olds), I recommend a fun and engaging activity at drop-off/arrival time. Encourage parents to say a quick goodbye, as lingering only delays the inevitable tears. I suggest starting your day (or afternoon) with free play in the classroom or discovery learning activities--that way your kiddos are immediately immersed in something they love.
Who can resist spray-painting snow?
How to Start the Day with Discovery Learning 
Begin by teaching the routine of hanging up coat and backpack, handing in clipboard/agenda, putting on indoor shoes, then going to a table to explore and interact with the materials. Discovery learning can target literacy, numeracy, art exploration, as well as science and social studies concepts. Some teachers try to have one tub/tray from each curricular area each week for a total of 4-5 tubs/trays. Discovery learning is play-based, hands on, and promotes inquiry. Learn more here and check out these fantastic ideas on Pinterest.

The start of the year is a great time to begin discovery learning with simple fine motor activities to strengthen the hand skills of your learners—very important for the increasing demands for printing we place on Grade 1 students. See this post to learn more about fine motor activities that are open-ended and encourage exploration. Make time to develop Junior Kindergarten students' fine motor skills--it's a priority at this age.   
Developing fine motor skills as well as an understanding of how secondary colours are created
Once a discovery learning routine is established, activities can become more complex. As a teacher, you can spend the time observing students, capturing evidence of learning through photographs and voice recordings, and taking anecdotal notes. You might choose to position yourself at one discovery tray or roam around the room. I highly recommend Microsoft OneNote to organize all that information—create a page for each student, and you’ll have a wealth of data by report card time. Microsoft OneNote is available across platforms (app and web-based). 

It is imperative that four and five year-olds have an uninterrupted block of free play.  In my classroom, we end the day with nearly 60 minutes of playtime (as recommended by the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada...check out this statement). It is everyone's favourite time of the day. The students and I co-create a variety of play activities based on their interests and I provide literacy and numeracy materials to support the play. Based on what I observe during play time, I teach relevant mini-lessons to move the play forward and develop important new skills. I often pick one student to observe during play, taking notes and capturing images. This yields a wealth of assessment data! Here's an example of what play-based learning might look like in Junior Kindergarten.
Simple materials such as these plastic cups are a popular activity during free play.
Curriculum and Program Development
Don't be alarmed, but there is no formal curriculum for Junior Kindergarten in Manitoba, as JK is not a provincially recognized program. Let me explain my way of thinking about teaching and learning in JK.
-I use the provincial Kindergarten curriculum to guide my instruction in JK with the idea that four year-olds have two years to become proficient in the outcomes
-the recent provincial Kindergarten support document, A Time for Learning, A Time for Joy, is an excellent resource to plan your program
-these documents are also great resources for guiding children's behavior and program development
-opportunities for play-based, inquiry-based, and project-based learning are vitally important and should focus on the students' interests. This has replaced teacher-developed themes in my classroom.
-Kindergarten students (JK/SK) should spend a very limited amount of time on worksheets/workbooks. I include a little bit in my program to strengthen hand skills and prepare them for Grade 1.
-since there are no provincial outcomes for JK students, I regard it as a year to "get what they can". The goal of my JK program is to develop early literacy, numeracy, social, and motor skills. If you are teaching a multi-age JK/SK program, all students participate in all whole-class learning experiences with different activities for learners depending on their level. We are one learning community.
-I work closely with my speech-language pathologist (co-teaching if we can) to strengthen phonological awareness--so important for early literacy!
-just like SK, children come to us at all different points, and it is our job to help them move forward on their learning journey. Some kids will leave Junior Kindergarten knowing all their letters and sounds, others will leave knowing just a few--and both cases are completely acceptable!
-however, that child with very emergent skills will certainly be on my radar very early in the year when he/she begins Senior Kindergarten. And, if I think there is a deeper issue, I will refer to clinical services as soon as possible in Junior Kindergarten.
Connecting with another classroom via Skype as part of a project-based learning experience  
Sample Schedule
8:20-8:25: arrival
8:25-8:45: breakfast snack and discovery learning materials are available, children eat at the circle if they are interested. Discovery learning activities focus on sensory and fine motor development at the start of the year and gradually include literacy, numeracy, and science.
8:45-9 am: morning meeting (reviewing routines and students' names/attendance, counting, songs/poems)
9-9:55 am: whole class learning time (inquiry or project-based, relevant mini-lessons based on play, etc).
-we spend 15 minutes doing Letterland or phonological awareness activities during this block.
-Handwriting Without Tears activities once a week
9:55-10:10: outdoor recess with entire school
10:10-10:30: story time and snack
10:30-11:20: free play, often with an art activity available for students who are interested
-if the gym is available, we might play in the gym for 15 minutes
-we might play outdoors, weather conditions permitting
11:20-11:30: clean up, goodbye song at circle, home time
Creating a menu for the classroom restaurant 
Assessing and Reporting
There are no formal reporting requirements in JK. However, I maintain frequent communication with families through texting, face-to-face conversations, and social media. Since our JK students only attend 0.25, I feel that it is premature to write a report card in November. I invite families to join me for a conference if they are interested or if I have concerns. Otherwise, I write a one-page report card in March. I use a scale to evaluate learning and social behaviors (secure, developing, not yet), then comment anecdotally on strengths and areas to develop,

My comments are based on ongoing pedagogical narrations that include conversations with the child, observations (including photos/videos), and work samples he/she has produced. As previously mentioned, I organize all of this in Microsoft OneNote. More information on pedagogical narration is available in this resource from University of Victoria.

Additional Resources
Ministry of Education, Ontario: this province offers full-time Junior and Senior Kindergarten to all children in the province. Here is their guiding document on Kindergarten.

Junior Kindergarten is a unique and special time in a child's life...enjoy every minute of learning with these fun little people!

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