Technology and innovative learning methods are becoming more and more common at all levels of education in the United States, from elementary school to college. Many may not realize how big of a role cutting edge ideas and technology may be playing even at the kindergarten level, however, as kids as young as five years old navigate lessons and educational tools on computers, mobile devices, and tablet computers and use new and improved methods to establish fundamentals in science, math, and reading.
There are hundreds of kindergartens across the nation that are embracing new ideas and tools to teach young children, and we’ve highlighted just a few here to give you an idea of what kindergarten may look like for most kids in the coming years. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite a bit different than the kindergarten of decades past, helping train even the youngest learners in the skills and principles they’ll need to navigate the modern world.
Here are ten kindergartens from Maine to California who are embracing technology to teach and reach our Net Generation. What a different world, eh?
Naselle Elementary School:
Kindergartners at Naselle Elementary School will be digital experts by the time they hit the first grade after taking part in a program at the school that gets them working with technology early. Students use laptops to do word processing, take digital photos, play games on the classroom’s iPads, and engage with a wide range of educational software. Even better, the kindergarten classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard. The students and their teachers use the high-tech tools to do simple tasks like learn to form letters, do math problems, and practice reading. Teachers and students can also take advantage of interactive books on the iPad and programs that help learners who are above or below grade level.
Poudre Elementary School:
Students in the Poudre School District, from kindergarten on up, attend a pretty tech-friendly school. Students have access to a wide range of technologies in the classroom, which they use to do projects, learn, and explore their creativity. This technology, and the products students create with it, is celebrated each year with the Student Media Technology Festival. This event allows students to enter videos, websites, animations, digital photographs, and more into a contest, with prizes awarded to the winners. Staff at the school say it promotes reading comprehension, improves writing skills, and helps students to think critically, not to mention equipping them with a whole host of skills that will translate easily into real world applications.
Washburn Elementary School:
In an attempt to close some of the learning gaps among kindergartners in their school, Washburn Elementary School handed out iPads to their youngest students. Each student gets their own iPad to use throughout the day and must stick to strict usage rules from teachers about how and when the machines are used. Teachers and district officials (not to mention the students) are excited about the new learning tools, which offer kids a chance to play educational games focused on improving math and literacy skills, a boost the school district sorely needs. Teachers at the school are developing lesson plans around the devices, which will only be used in short increments throughout the day, that will help meet the needs of students who are struggling with certain aspects of their lessons. With many schools looking for ways to raise test scores, iPad usage at even these very early stages of education could just become the new norm.
California School Districts:
In this example, it’s not just one school that’s changing things up for kindergartners, but an entire school district. California schools are adopting a new program called “transitional kindergarten” designed to help students better prepare for the classroom. The state has changed age cutoffs for starting kindergarten and offers students who don’t make the new cutoffs a chance to prepare for the real deal with this new grade level. Supporters say that it will help kids learn the skills they need, both socially and academically, to be more successful when they head to kindergarten the next year.
The Jewish Day School:
The Jewish Day School offers a pretty cool program for their kindergartners called Science Kindergarten. Kids get a chance to investigate science problems through hands-on and inquiry-based experiments. Many focus on helping young students learn more about the fundamentals of earth and water cycles, light, magnetic forces, plants, and animals and many of the things kids are naturally very curious about understanding. School officials state that they want to program to encourage creativity as well as to help students find motivation to improve literacy, math, and problem solving skills that will give them a strong foundation for the rest of their academic careers. In addition to these hands-on science programs, students at the school can also start learning another language from their first days at school.
Gordon Parks Academy:
Opened in 2008, this school offers students from one of the area’s most impoverished areas a chance to get a world-class education. Gordon Parks uses the International Baccalaureate curriculum, that is, while not innovative in itself, something you wouldn’t expect kindergartners in such a cash-strapped school district to be using. It is actually the only public school in Kansas to offer the IB program at the elementary and middle school levels, and the only open to students from all academic backgrounds — no testing is required to get in. A few other public schools across the nation have implemented the IB program with great results, and administrators in Wichita hope it will be the first step in helping prepare unprivileged kids for college.
A nursing home wouldn’t be the first place you’d expect to find kindergartners doing anything other than singing or performing for the residents, but the innovative new program at Coffeyville is changing all that. Instead of meeting for class at a school, the students meet at an area nursing home. It’s the first program of its kind in Kansas, but not the in United States, having been modeled after a similar program in Oklahoma. Kids have access to all the standard kindergarten fare at the nursing home, from white boards to toys, but with the added benefit of additional adult help with programs in reading, writing, and math. Residents also help kids learn about topics like cooking and gardening, and stepping in to help or play with students throughout the day. Unusual as it may be, the program is immensely popular, and administrators believe it’s not helping kids to learn but also enriches the lives of the residents.
Chase Elementary School:
Teacher Kim Edwards at Chase Elementary School in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago is a standout for her cutting edge innovations in the kindergarten classroom. Edwards even won the Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award this year. So what’s she doing differently? Edwards turns virtually everything into the classroom into a learning opportunity, from counting zippers to working hands-on to solve problems and encourages kids to teach each other what they know, from how to solve a problem to how to tie their shoes. What most sets apart what Edwards does may not be what happens in the classroom, however. She aims to form strong relationships with parents, offering workshops to help parents help their children learn at home and puts parents to work in the classroom helping students with their lessons.
Yokomi Elementary School:
Kindergarten students at this elementary school won’t miss out on anything when it comes to technology. The school is loaded with the latest gadgets, tools, and software to help kids learn. Each classroom at the school is equipped with a digital projector, desktop and laptop computers, loads of software, an HP docking station, interactive whiteboard, wireless slate, document camera, scanning stations, and state-of-the-art control and sound systems. Teachers use the tools to create interactive lessons and even take students on fun, virtual field trips. Of course, all this high-tech equipment should come as no surprise, since Yokomi is a science and technology magnet school. In addition to all that really awesome tech, students also get a chance to use the latest and greatest tools to do science experiments and learn about the world around them — a setup that’s not too shabby for their first year as students.
Classrooms these days, even in kindergarten, are often overcrowded, making it hard for students to get the individual attention they need. Roosevelt is hoping to change that. While it can’t totally reduce the number of kids that need to enter school, it has found a solution that allows for more individual attention for student. The school’s schedule is staggered so that students have the first or last hour of each day in a classroom with just 10-15 students. This allows teachers to spend more time with each child and to better address the learning needs of each. The school must be doing something right, as it won the Kent Award for its kindergarten literacy program.