Recently a friend asked me a great question about Kindergarten/1st grade classrooms (known as K/1’s). His daughter is in Kindergarten and her school is implementing K/1 classrooms next year- this just means that the classroom is half kindergarteners and half 1st graders. Apparently some of the parents are worked up about this and he wanted to know what I thought about K/1 classrooms in general.
I should first say that I am extremely passionate about education. I think our education system generally needs a lot of work and that young children are not getting the opportunities to learn and grow the way they deserve. I also think that as a society we are starting to overcompensate and push little kids into unnatural learning environments before they are developmentally ready. I believe play is crucial to learning and I am concerned that American children are being pushed into structured learning classrooms where kids are required to sit at desks for large portions of the day before they are ready and when other learning opportunities can be equally, if not more, effective.
Also, I should note that I was in a K/1 classroom for both Kindergarten and 1st grade. I actually had the same teacher for both years, Mrs. Comeau (undoubtably one of the best teachers I ever had) and shockingly enough I remember my K/1 experience extremely well. I remember being in Kindergarten with 1st graders and really loving it. I remember wanting to be like the “big kids” which pushed me academically to learn to read. I actually vividly remember when I was in 1st grade there was a Kindergartener (I still remember her name but won’t include it here) who already knew how to read and that made me really competitive to be better than her and to learn to read more than she could. (For those of you that know me, this could have been the spark that started my competitiveness!)
So with that said, here are my thoughts on K/1 classrooms:
If they are going to split classes, K/1 is the time to do it. Academically and developmentally putting 5 and 6 year olds together makes sense -especially in co-ed classrooms where girls tend to develop faster than boys. Both Kindergarten and 1st grade should be years when children are getting used to school and new social situations (even though 60% of children under 6 are in some sort of childcare). K/1 classrooms can be good for the kindergarteners in that they may push them a little bit more academically. It can also be really good for the 1st graders if it’s a better fit developmentally or if you are feeling like your child still just needs more time to play and be a kid (obviously it’s not dramatically different in terms of this or they wouldn’t do it, but it likely will be slightly less push, push, push academically).
I think there are three things you need to think about when deciding whether a K/1 classroom is the right fit for your child. Consider where your child is in regard to these three factors (1) academically, (2) socially, and (3) age/developmentally:
If your child is going to be a 1st grader in a K/1 classroom:
1. Academically. If she is super smart, already reads easily, and you are truly concerned she might be bored or slowed down by slightly younger kids learning to read etc, you may want to reconsider a K/1. If not, there is a nice benefit of being a “big kid” academically because you can help teach the little ones (or at least think that you are helping) and that can boost academic confidence and as we all know teaching something can actually help you learn it.
2. Socially. Just think about how she is with younger kids in general and how she interacts with her fellow classmates. Kindergarten is a great place to learn social/emotional skills and to develop things like sharing and playing together. Also understanding other people’s perspectives and how other people feel and act. A second year of experience practicing these skills never hurts anyone! In terms of social stuff, if she is sort of a bully or takes advantage when she has the opportunity then you may want to reconsider a K/1 as being a “bigger” kid can lead to opportunities where she can have the upper hand.
3. Age/Developmentally. Is she already young or old for her class? (For example, I was born in January so I was on the older end of my class). If she is younger, again I think it’s a benefit to do the K/1, if she is already older, you may want to reconsider. And of course, don’t just think about age- if she developmentally (or even physically-if she is bigger) seems older than the other kids or younger, consider that. If she has already mastered things like sharing, sitting still, listening to directions, respecting others feelings and needs and thoughts, then she might be better off in a full 1st grade.
If your child is going to be a Kindergartener in a K/1 classroom:
1. Academically. If he already knows the alphabet and counting and is comfortable and eager to learn new things, K/1 might be a good choice as it might push him along a little faster. Also, if he actively enjoys learning and wants to be able to read on his own and doesn’t mind practicing with other kids or on his own, K/1 might be a good option. If your child is intimidated by other children or practicing and making mistakes in front of other kids, especially “big kids” then K/1 might not be a great option. If he is getting bored in pre-school and needs to be a little more challenged a K/1 might be a good choice.
2. Socially. Again, think about how he interacts and plays with his classmates and children that are older. If he is timid or shy and needs more time to warm up or to interact with a group, more time in a more play focused environment might give him more experience with social interaction and social settings. Kindergarten is a great place to learn social/emotional skills and to develop things like sharing and playing together. Also understanding other people’s perspectives and how other people feel and act. If your child needs more practice with these skills, then a K/1 environment might not be ideal. But if these play and social skills have already been mastered, learning to share with a bigger child or interacting with a 1st grader might provide a Kindergartener with increased opportunity to learn language and other social skills earlier.
3. Age/Developmentally. Again, is he already young or old for his class? If he is younger in terms of age, you may want to stay in a full Kindergarten class so the children are closer to his age, size, and developmental level. if he is already older, you may want to go for a K/1 where he can have the opportunity to play with kids closer to his age. If developmentally he seems younger than the other kids, consider that. Or if he has already mastered things like sharing, sitting still, listening to directions, respecting others feelings and needs and thoughts, then developmentally he may be ready for the K/1 classroom.
In general, I think K/1 classrooms can be extremely beneficial to children in both Kindergarten and 1st grade if it is a good fit. Like any classroom decision it is important to make sure the teacher is a good fit (both for the child and for the K/1 environment). Make sure the teacher understands the needs both academically and developmentally of both kindergarteners and 1st graders. Finally, really make sure you are making the right decision for your child, not for you. In general, you want children’s early experiences in school to be positive so that they like going and learn to love learning. If you push them into something that is not a good fit, your child’s early experiences with school will not be happy and it will make for a very long 13 years of education to get through high school!