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Joy’s Story: Learning and Growing in TK

I taught preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade for more than 20 years when the opportunity to teach transitional kindergarten came up. Because 1st grade standards have become more stringent, kindergarten has also become much more academic than it used to be. Transitional kindergarten offers an opportunity for children to learn in a developmentally appropriate setting again. Young children need to learn to socialize. They’re curious and they have seemingly boundless energy. TK gives them the chance to be kids, to learn through play, through exploration of concepts and hands-on experiences.

Voices from the Field

Planning TK with a Network of Support

Before our first year of TK, the six teachers in our district met to map out our goals for the year. Early on, we decided to focus the first trimester on social-emotional development. We spent a lot of time developing  a curriculum that provides activities and time for socialization. During the school year, we continued to meet once a month. This was a tremendous support to all of us, and we will continue this practice this year. It felt very safe when we got together – we had time to talk about how our classes were going and some of us took the opportunity to visit each other’s classrooms.

This supportive network, in addition to my incredibly encouraging principal, has given me much needed support. My principal visits my class regularly, giving me feedback and encouragement, and I know that she knows how my kids are doing. I am very fortunate to also have the support of the kindergarten staff at my school. They are all willing to work with me, especially as we learn more about and begin to use the California Common Core State Standards.

Watch Joy Slater’s video of highlights from her first year of teaching transitional kindergarten.

Seeing Children Grow and Learn in TK

We keep our eyes on the prize in TK, knowing that our students are becoming familiar with the formality of school while learning how to socially interact. This will set the stage for future academic success. I literally watched as the kids’ social-emotional development grew in the first few months of TK. For example, a couple months into the school year last year, two boys got into an argument over a magnifying glass. Earlier in the year, these boys would have fought and then tattled on each other to me. But through the course of the first couple months of TK, they had learned how to talk about conflict. They started telling on each other to me and all I had to do was have them face each other and they continued to tell each other their issue. They got everything that had happened out of their systems, and were then ready to go re-engage in the day’s activities.

My classroom is very loud, but when I look around, the children are all actively engaged in learning. The arrangement of the classroom is very defined by discovery /interest areas, but the children can make choices about where they would like to spend their time. There are activities where a child can explore scientifically, create a piece to take home, quietly read a book or dance to classical music. Some of the interest areas are where I use my volunteer parents, and others are independent spaces. My goal is to monitor the children as they work and give them opportunities to expand their thinking within an area and if a child seems “stuck” (e.g., in the art area), I suggest trying new areas to pique their interest.  Some children of this age “flit” from one activity to another. I allow this flitting for a few days and then work to help the child hone in.

Involving Parents as Teachers

Parents are of course the child’s first teacher and so I feel it is important for them feel included in their child’s experiences in TK. Parents are invited into the class to work in a variety of ways. Working with the students, keeping our spaces clean, reading to ready listeners are a few of the jobs in the class.

Transitional kindergarten parents do not differ much from all other parents except that the expectations for TK have not been as clearly defined for them. It is important for parents to remember that their child will benefit most from listening to stories and playing.  One piece of advice I give to the parents is to remind them to make time for free, unscheduled play.  In addition to providing an excellent play dough recipe, a myriad of ways to access books and opportunities to be a part of our classroom, I also send home pertinent articles to keep parents informed.  The checklist below is something I send to parents each year.  It is from the 1970’s and I have revised only to make it pertinent for today’s world.

At the End of the Day

I love my job! It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling at the start of the day, I come to work and the kids make me laugh. They’re fun, funny, compassionate and real, and TK allows them the time they need to develop, learn and grow in their own way.


Joy began her teaching career when she was 16 years old, teaching preschool in an ideal setting. She continued to teach and direct preschools for most of her career, taking a short break for a few years to advocate for school funding at the State Capitol. She then earned her teaching credential and has spent the last 18 years teaching at Highlands Elementary in Concord in 1st grade and kindergarten, and is now in her second magical year in TK. When she is not working, she loves to read or garden or combine the two.