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Embracing A New School Reality For The Early Years

This summer was a very exciting time for Kindergarten educators in Ontario. The Ministry released The Kindergarten Program 2016 and Growing Success — The Kindergarten AddendumAt the end of last week, I read both of these documents. I got to engage in many interesting conversations on Twitter about them

I am very happy to see the role that self-regulation plays in the The Kindergarten Program, but also to see Stuart Shanker‘s influences on these sections of the document. There are detailed descriptions of The Five Domains. The document emphasizes that self-regulation is not a program: highlighting the SELF component of self-regulation. While Self-Regulation and Well-Being is one of the four frames described in The Kindergarten Program, it’s interesting to see how self-regulation impacts on the other three frames and the underlying belief throughout the document that children need to be “calm and alert” in order to learn. It’s this belief that has me thinking the most since I’ve finished reading this document.

For years, I believed that self-regulation — like the other Learning Skills — were always secondary to academics. I was so concerned about meeting benchmarks in Language and Math that I thought I could reinforce these other skills while still focusing on academics. Then last year, I had a class that challenged my beliefs. My partner and I realized that as much as we wanted students to recognize letters of the alphabet, read words, and understand math concepts, we couldn’t push these academic skills without working on self-regulation first. This meant …

  • exploring stressors in all of the domains.
  • reconsidering the classroom environment, both in terms of layout and material options.
  • increasing outdoor learning time.
  • re-looking at the classroom schedule and minimizing transitions.
  • modelling social skills during play to help students learn different ways to interact with each other and solve problems.
  • seeing behaviour differently, and asking “why this child and why now?,” to help determine the cause(s) for the stress behaviour.
  • knowing when to sometimes walk away, take a deep breath (because this strategy works for me), and come back calmer and better able to handle challenging situations.
  • taking off my glasses (blurring my vision a bit), getting low to the floor, and still viewing the span of the classroom but maybe without the mess that causes me more stress.
  • getting “uncomfortable” as my view of teaching and learning continued to evolve.

Spending our time changing our focus and really looking at the needs of the “whole child” mattered. By the end of the year, many children moved from a need to co-regulate to the ability to self-regulate. Sometimes they were even able to discuss why certain options worked for them. As this change happened, we noticed that the room felt calmer. We could spend more time focusing on literacy and math skills. We met our goal of developing children’s self-regulation skills. And for many reasons I should be happy about this. However, I still can’t help but hone in on our reading scores. I compare them to Board benchmarks, and wonder, could we have done more?

Looking at our experiences last year through the lens of this new document makes me question, have I become so “schoolified” that academics will always seem to be the best measure of student success? How do I become more comfortable with the need to focus on self-regulation while still not losing sight of the academic expectations? During my Twitter conversation on this new document, I sent out this tweet. 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧@avivaloca

This new Kindergarten document makes me happy in so many ways. #framingfdk

Olivia Skibinski, an Ontario educator, replied with this comment. Olivia Skibinski@oliviammolina “looks like curriculum is only 25% which it should be in K”.

I struggled with this reply as it made me question if only “academics” count as curriculum. In this new document, you can really see and hear that the “child” is at the forefront. Academic expectations exist within the four frames. So do expectations that target the physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being of the child. Along with this changed layout comes a far more powerful message about the competence and capabilities of ALL children. There is so much “good” in this document, but change can be hard.

How do we reduce the cognitive stress (for adults) that may come from updated expectations and a new, required program delivery model? How do we help educators, administrators, and parents see the value in a model that makes “learning” about way more than academics?

I hope that we have these important discussions as we all work together to understand and implement the finalized Kindergarten Program document.