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Barbara’s Story: Teaching TK for the First Time

Last year I accepted the challenge of piloting a TK classroom at my school. I was excited about the benefits this program could offer the very youngest and sometimes most vulnerable children entering public school for the first time. To start, I met with my kindergarten colleagues to get them on board, and found their support throughout the year was vital both to me as a teacher and in the success of the program. They became TK ambassadors who could speak to parents about the benefits this program could offer their children.

Building a TK Classroom

Next was the task of building the many aspects of the class. When I begin a big project like this, I “chunk” it up like when teaching a new concept, working from the concrete to the abstract. First, I played with the furniture and space in my classroom to create centers. I tried to imagine children actively engaged in the library, dramatic play, art/writing, science, computers and manipulative centers. Once I had the room set up – and it did evolve throughout the year – I began to think about curriculum.

First Lessons

I used the California Preschool Foundations and the Kindergarten Content Standards to anchor my ideas in developmentally appropriate practice. The reading program that was purchased for me had an abundance of rich children’s literature which became the basis for my theme or project-based planning.  I used the “Big Idea” of “Change” to weave throughout the lessons during the year.

The first project lessons were “I Am Special.” This project lent itself to integration into all subject areas.  Photos of families, children’s likes and dislikes (graphing), collaging, science/five senses/my body were just a few teaching activities. The content and experiences offered the children and me a way to get to know and trust each other in the transition from home/preschool to TK.

Families as Partners

Next, I revisited the classroom centers to decide what materials I needed in each area. I already had many items – some purchased by my district and some I placed on a wish list for parents to help provide. Parents always overwhelmed me with their generosity and eagerness to contribute, even in under-resourced communities.

By the first day of school, the program framework was in place and the rest of the year began to fall into place one day, one week at a time. I found that the most important aspect is to “be there” for the children. Parents were always welcome in the classroom and I provided a sign up list on the very first day of school which included a list for working parents to volunteer to prep activities at home. Their contributions were helpful to me and gave them the opportunity to be part of their child’s learning community.

The Result

It was a year of tremendous growth for the children and me. I have eagerly watched the progress of these children this year as they moved to their new classrooms and teachers.  Each and every one has achieved at proficient or above proficient levels. Four of the students even advanced to 1st Grade classrooms.  I still see parents who thank me profusely for their child’s “great start” and tell me their children continue to love school!

Barbara Blakley is a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who began a transitional kindergarten pilot program after teaching kindergarten for more than 30 years.