Preschool expectations higher than ever

May 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Kindergarten isn't just for lightweights anymore. The expectations are higher than ever, and that means preschool children are having to step it up a notch, too. It's challenging for the kids and the teachers.

This is a lesson in writing, preschool style. No pencils involved. Instead, there's singing and building. The program is called Get Set for School and involves academic activities made age-appropriate for children before they get to kindergarten.

"It's a lot easier for a young child to build a letter than it is to draw a letter," says occupational therapist Joanne Figone.

Tamalpais Preschool in Mill Valley started using the Get Set program to keep up with demands from local elementary schools.

"More pressure to be more like kindergarten and that's why pre-K programs, they are five days a week, more intense," says pre-kindergarten teacher Marcela Amador.

The California Department of Education has just come out with its first ever list of skills preschools should be teaching. The 205-page document is full of recommendations to push children further than many schools are used to.

"Our program doesn't require them to sit and actually do letters and numbers and everything, so it's going to be a new concept for our program," says Sacramento preschool teacher Teresa Mastin.

Many preschools are feeling the pressure. Teachers packed a training session in Oakland to learn how to ramp up lessons without overwhelming little kids. One class focused on teaching early writing skills. The instructor is an occupational therapist and she has lots of tricks, like using tiny crayons.

"It encourages the children to hold the crayon with their fingertips, rather than holding it with a palm grasp which limits how much control they have," says Figone.

The state guidelines also include practicing social skills, such as cooperation and self-control. Lots of playtime is critical for that. Even when it comes to more academic learning, the key is still to keep it playful.

"You don't want to push the child. You want to make it fun," says Figone.

To see the California Department of Education's recommendations for what should be taught in preschool, click here.

For more information about the Get Set for School curriculum, visit: www.hwtears.com

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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