Janet’s Story: The Continuum of Learning in TK

Now in my second year of teaching transitional kindergarten, I have really embraced the gift of time this new grade offers. My students don’t have to master all the academic skills of kindergarten. Instead, I get to foster their natural curiosity and instill a sense of confidence that will serve them throughout their educational careers and beyond. We explore kindergarten standards using hands-on and interactive activities, and I incorporate play into many aspects of their learning experience. In TK, my students build the social, emotional and academic skills necessary to be successful next year in kindergarten.

Nurturing Confidence in Young Learners

Cultivating my students’ confidence is essential to helping them become motivated learners. Children will become more involved and engaged in discovery if they feel successful. I make an effort to recognize their work and help them feel good about what they accomplish.

Building off of this foundation, I’m then able to meet children where they are. I have multi-level games and activities available at each learning center during math and language arts “table time.” Students tend to choose the activities that are at their level. They are curious and naturally seek out opportunities to try new things.  At times they make up their own rules for playing a game such as “Go Fish,” but they are still learning to recognize numbers and to negotiate the process with their classmates.

When the students have lost interest in a given activity, I switch it out and provide more challenging activities as the year progresses. I use assessment to guide my instruction, and children receive additional help individually or in small groups as needed. As the year progresses, I create leveled small groups and differentiate instruction.

Voices from the Field

Academic Growth in Transitional Kindergarten

My students enter the TK classroom with a vast range of skills along the continuum of learning. My goals are to ensure that they have the academic and social skills necessary to thrive in kindergarten and to instill a love of learning in the process. Music, movement and games are essential ingredients to my students’ learning. I emphasize hands-on, interactive activities that invite discussion, and rarely use worksheets.

A favorite learning game for vocabulary and language development is called “Mystery Bag”. One child chooses an object and puts it in the bag, and then the other children ask questions to figure out what’s in the bag.

I teach many of the phonemic awareness skills through songs, and also find songs that will help students learn the vocabulary of the theme.  We sing some songs in both English and Spanish. This gives English language learners the comfort of some words that they are familiar with and helps them to feel good about their home language.

During “Writer’s Workshop,” students learn to draw and write stories about themselves. They eagerly share their stories with the class during “Author’s Chair,” and their classmates learn to listen and ask questions about the story. At the beginning of the year, the stories are mostly illustrations and perhaps strings of letters; then, as they are ready, the students begin to write words and sometimes sentences using phonetic spelling.

As a former kindergarten teacher, I recognize the value of children knowing the letter names and sounds, writing their names, understanding one-to-one correspondence and having number sense for the numbers 0 – 10. I try to make sure that they have these basics.  If they’re ready to go further than that, I give them plenty of opportunities and activities that will take them further. I want my students to love math, so we do a lot of fun games that encourage mathematical reasoning and understanding. When the children are successful, they feel triumphant and want to show everyone!

Budding scientists!
I love being able to introduce my students to science. When we read the story “The Little Red Hen” earlier this year, I bought some dried wheat at the craft store and let the children use a mortar and pestle to grind it into “flour.”Currently, we are studying weather and the properties of water. I put water in balloons, containers with interesting shapes and sand castle molds. Then I froze them so that the children could explore ice properties at the water table.
Tip: Modify old standard games, such as Go Fish and Bingo, depending on what you want the kids to learn. These games invite a lot of conversation and oral language development. Find new activities online – has great theme-based activities.

Partnering with Families

Because transitional kindergarten is a new grade, parents and caregivers aren’t always sure what to expect. During my first conversations with them, I let them know what their child will be doing and learning over the course of the year. During parent-teacher conferences, I remind them that TK is the first year of a two year kindergarten experience. I start off talking about the skills their child has – what they do well. Then talk with them about the ways they can support their child’s learning at home, such as playing games and focusing less on rote activities like flashcards and more on interactive activities like counting together while setting the table.

Tip: Start a take-home book program, including books in multiple languages.

I also encourage family members to come into the classroom. I send out a survey at the beginning of the year asking for volunteers. It’s nice if they can commit to once a week on a particular day, but it doesn’t always work that way. I create a schedule from the survey, but I don’t make it mandatory for parents to schedule ahead of time if they happen to have a day off that they can come in. They come in and talk about their jobs or something from their culture.
Sometimes parents help lead art projects utilizing a program called “Arts Alive.” For example, one of the parents recently helped the students make train collages using shapes of various colors and sizes. The children were shown famous prints of different types of trains. They discussed the elements of each work, such as the colors and types of lines the artist had used, and had a lot of information to successfully put together a train of their own.

TK is such a breath of fresh air. It’s truly priceless that children are allowed to learn through play, and TK is truly effective at ensuring students get the skills they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond!

Janet Londgren is in her 15th year of teaching. After teaching 5th grade for one year and Kindergarten for 12 years, she is delighted to be in her second year of teaching TK with Gilroy Unified School District. She loves the opportunity to teach using a lot of songs and hands-on activities.