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February 22, 2008

Raising Pre-K Standards

Recently, the state of Texas has started revising its Pre-K Guidelines. The Pre-K Guidelines are the standards that all public pre-kindergarten programs in the state of Texas follow.  I feel the guidelines are crucial to the success of the public pre-k program in Texas as they provide a foundation from which all pre-k teachers can work.  As part of the revision process, the Texas Education Agency has scheduled public forums in 12 different locations during the month of February to receive feedback from experts and stakeholders across the state.

Personally, I feel the revisions are very necessary and long overdue. For one, the current Pre-K Guidelines in the state of Texas require that students learn only 10 letters and don’t address whether those letters should be upper or lowercase or a combination of both. My students learn 10 letters in the first few weeks of school, and all upper and lowercase letters, in addition to letter sounds, are covered by December! The current guidelines don’t take into account the fact that some districts now offer full-day pre-k. If a student attends pre-k all day every day and learns only 10 letters in a year, that’s a travesty - not to mention a waste of taxpayer money.

The public forums are being held during the day, making it impossible for regular classroom teachers to attend, and this contributes to teachers feeling alienated in this process.  Many pre-k teachers are concerned that the new guidelines will not be developmentally appropriate and may mandate less play and more academics.  The current guidelines provide for plenty of art, music, oral language, and dramatic play so their fears seem somewhat ungrounded to me.  My feeling is this: the old guidelines are just that - old! They need to be replaced in order to move forward and keep up with the pace of education in the 21st century. The current standards are too low and don’t benefit teachers or students. Only those who were able to attend the forums were able to actually see the proposed revisions, but soon there should be a sneak peek on the TEA website.  I would love to hear comments from anybody who attended one of the public forums.  When the revisions are made public I will discuss them further here.

Comments

Music to my ears Vanessa... do you have links to any more information on this- I'd love to follow the progress
Ginny

Thanks for visiting Inside Pre-K. I don't have any more links at this time, but as soon as the sneak peek of the revisions are posted on the TEA website I will post the link here.
-vanessa

As long as everything below is included in your standards, I have no problem with counting the number of letters a child knows. However, this test has nothing to do with real learning and understanding at this age. Furthermore, it is normal and expected that children will be all over the place on this test of skills and abstract learning measures.
This list is what we, as a society that cares about children, want to make available to all children so they will be better able to handle what our schools and government are demanding. These are things children need and deserve to thrive.

Role of the adult:
Every child needs two charismatic adults from whom children gather strength in their life. A charismatic adult is a person that loves and respects children unconditionally and never judges their work or behavior. The key words in this statement are “unconditionally” and “judges.” Children need unconditional support. Anytime children are judged, both positively and negatively, it has a negative effect on the adult-child relationship.
• This adult finds ten minutes or more every day to devote totally to the child giving her undivided, warm, loving attention that is evidenced by their facial expressions, body language, eyes and heart.
• The adult frequently sings, dances, plays, reads, tells stories and does things s/he likes to do along with the child.
• The adult has intentionally developed a caring relationship with the child that has lasted at least two years.
• Charismatic adults accept and love the child as they are and do not expect them to do things before they are ready. The adults learn to trust in the innate capability of children to know what they need and allow children the opportunity to fulfill those needs.
• The adults understand that children are born with a built in timetable and a natural drive to achieve their own milestones just when their body and mind tells them the time is right. Adults know that children must be given the gift of time in all aspects of their play and development.
• The adults understand that play is a basic universal and essential biological need for the human body to develop properly. They know that play is the only place in a child’s life where all the necessary ingredients exist for physical, psychological, social, moral and intellectual abilities to develop simultaneously. The adult encourages all types of play because they know play makes children smarter, stronger and better human beings.
• The adults are patient, protective and listen more than they give instructions.
• The adults help children learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable by helping children see how their actions affect or may hurt others. These are the true consequences of a child’s behavior.
• The adults understand that children must have their feelings validated, that children have a right to be afraid of things, that children must be hugged daily and that children sometimes have bathroom accidents.
• The adults are aware that their actions have more impact on children than their words. The adults model respectful relationships with other adults and children and demonstrate acceptance of differences in everyday life.
• The adults welcome the challenge of providing a safe, beautiful, stimulating and challenging environment for the child.
• In childcare settings, educarers put thought into every aspect of the room. Each item on each shelf has been carefully selected to provide just what children need to grow and learn.

Adults adhere to as many of the above principles as possible in their daily interactions with children. They attempt to become more understanding and knowledgeable of the principles in which they are lacking the skill or the desire to follow. A charismatic adult in a child’s life may be all that is needed for total success in today’s world and it is much more important than all the facts, letters and numbers the child may learn about in their entire life.

The Environment:
All children deserve an environment that permits them to reach their fullest potential. Each child must experience joy, laughter and pleasure in the pursuit of learning about life. A high quality early learning environment should be a place where the following can happen on a regular basis:
• All children are entitled to being immersed in an environment that is intellectually stimulating and challenging.
• The child experiences the freedom to experiment and play with many different natural objects and materials in the environment. The environment is natural, beautiful and devoid of a brightly colored, Disney-like atmosphere.
• He is learning to solve problems by being permitted to make many mistakes.
• The child is learning to make good choices because she has been given the opportunity to make thousands of choices.
• She is learning to use communication to gain access to the things she needs to grow and develop to her fullest potential. The environment supports arguments as well as resolving conflicts with peers. Teachers and the environment permit each child to have control over materials for as long as each child needs to master the objects or skills necessary for the equipment.
• He is becoming a child that nurtures and teaches younger children in his environment.
• She is engaged in experiences that support her as a capable leader, a dedicated follower and a person that cooperates with peers in a respectful manner. She is learning that more can be gained by cooperation than from competition.
• The child has been given multiple opportunities throughout the day to move freely, to dig deep, to sing, to play with equipment for long periods of time without interruptions, to have quiet moments by himself, to get dirty, to express himself through the arts, to be possessive, to say “No,” to tell his stories in his own words (and not have them changed) and the power to choose his own way of learning.
• The child is beginning to feel a connection to peers, adults and materials in her learning community. She is learning that she should not reject other children and should always work to find ways to include peers in her play. She is learning to understand the many ways that families and peers are different, each with their own valuable history and culture.
• He is learning to take pride in caring for the tools, equipment and furniture in his environment.
• The child is becoming adventuresome with a variety of art materials routinely available in her environment including clay, wire, an art easel, glue, food coloring, paper, plenty of paint and numerous other art objects, all of which support her freedom of expression and symbolic thought.
• The child has been permitted to build many detailed and tall structures with an ample supply of unit blocks and associated supplies.
• He is intellectually engaged in experiences that use words and sounds in many ways and may attempt to spell or write stories or messages. The adults are willing scribes for his stories when he needs one.
• The child has been provided a nutritional diet and is permitted to eat when she is hungry and not eat when she is full. Water is always available to prevent dehydration.
• He has had abundant opportunities throughout the day to run, skip, crawl, climb, yell, roll and manipulate large loose parts inside and outside.
• She has numerous experiences that allow her opportunities to love and respect the earth and all living things in her environment.
• He has had the opportunity to experiment with numerous science materials such as ice, magnets, microscopes, magnifying glasses, bones, gravity etc.
• She has deeply explored the properties of light, air and water and been given the opportunity to manipulate these items in a variety of ways.
• His world involves many books and literacy activities woven into his daily play and encounters.
• He is given many opportunities and a variety of relevant experiences to develop his literacy and numeracy in ways that are meaningful to him.
• She has been given time and is learning to invest her time, work and persistence in activities that are worthy of her interest, knowledge and understanding.
• He or she sees himself or herself as capable, competent, confident and able to solve problems.

All children are born ready to learn and each child has hidden abilities and talents. Great teachers find a way to nurture each child’s gift and help all children succeed in their own unique way. We must stop judging children and start examining environments.

Bob Mills - goldenretlover@hotmail.com
I have intentionally packed a lot of information in these two pages. I hope that my words will provoke thoughtful conversations about this important topic. I welcome comments, discussion and questions. You may share this article with colleagues without asking permission.

Hi Vanessa,
Thank you for bringing this subject to the attention of preschool teachers around the country. Virginia has recently revised it's pre-k standards. Here is a link http://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/Instruction/Elem_M/FoundationBlocks.pdf
I suggest that you call or email members of the state board of education to express your concerns, whether it is the timing of meetings or the content of revisions. You should also be able to get a copy of revisions this way.
Don't take no for an answer.

Perhaps more important than the number of letters learned are the habits of mind and heart that are developed in preschool that enable children to become members of society. In Virginia these are called approaches to learning and are discussed in the states new milestones for early childhood. This document is meant to support all types of preschool situations, not just site based state funded preschools.

I think it is important to remember that it is not the number of letters you learn, its what you learn when you read that counts. What if the the number of letters was not a standard at all but emergent reading skills were the only standards, including rhyming, beginning sound discrimination and tracking print etc. Would we teach differently? Would we have to rail against the letter of the week teaching strategy?

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