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South Salt Lake Journal

For kindergarteners, brain breaks, bulletin boards and testing await

Aug 29, 2019 11:31AM ● By Bill Hardesty

A bright and colorful bulletin board in Kim Christensen’s classroom is ready for her 2019 kindergarten class. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Ah yes, the wonderful memories of kindergarten when life was simple. You spent time eating graham crackers and milk, you took a nap on your own mat, you painted while wearing white smocks and you played outside in the special kindergarten playground. 

Today's kindergarten isn't your kindergarten. First, there are no naps.

"We have so much content and curriculum they need," said Alexandra Dennis, a fifth-year kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Elementary School. Today's kindergarten content used to be taught in first and second grade.

Now, they do something called brain break twice a day for an all-day kindergarten class. Brain breaks are design to get the kids moving after the hard work of reading or learning vocabulary. Thank goodness they still have two recesses during the day.

Classroom organization

"The classroom atmosphere is everything. It can welcome kids or push kids out. It is everything," Dennis said.

One item that has stayed the same is the bulletin board. Kim Christensen, a fourth-year teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, has boards that are bright, fun and useful. In her dramatic play area, vocabulary words are displayed allowing students to practice the words while at play. Near the front is the focus wall.

Another remaining item from kindergarten long ago is the carpet where kids sit "criss-cross applesauce" style. Years ago, sitting cross-legged was called something that would be racially insensitive today. In the language of kindergarten teachers, it is called "on the carpet." Around the room are small group areas where parents and other volunteers help develop skills like reading and knowing letters and numbers. 

A dramatic play area was added this past year. The theme changes each month. One month, students play house. Another month, they play store. This year in February, it was a dental office that helped kids develop good dental hygiene habits.


Recently, the Utah Board of Education instituted a kindergarten testing program. Kindergarten Entry and Exit Profile (KEEP) " intended to inform various stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, and leadership, on the academic and social-emotional development of entering and exiting kindergarten students."

There are three components giving a more complete picture. The first component is a parent questionnaire that focuses on preschool attendance of the new student.

A 10-20 assessment is given to the future student by a kindergarten teacher. This is done during the first Monday to Wednesday of August each year. The skills assessed include the level of oral language, the ability to write letters, recognize upper and lower case letters, understand the direction of reading and number and shape recognition among other skills. 

The final component is a Social-Emotional Skills Observation Inventory completed by the teacher administering the assessment. The inventory is rating such behaviors like self-confidence, the ability to follow directions, how they respond and how easily do they switch tasks.

The entry part of KEEP is used as a guideline for where to start each student's instructions. Christensen and Dennis explained that in each kindergarten class there are students who scored high, average and low on the assessment. Those students more advantaged are challenged during small group learning and those needing more help receive help during small group learning. Another advantage of mixing the class is that more advanced students naturally help those needing additional help.

The exit part of KEEP is used to measure progress and determine readiness for first grade. The test has 14 components.

Preparing for the new school year

"Have a great summer" was a common answer when asked how do teachers emotionally prepare for the new school year.

Rachael Williams, a nine-year kindergarten teacher at Woodrow Wilson, said besides preparing her classroom, "I sit in my classroom alone and visualize the upcoming good year."

Some mention the importance of having a supportive staff and fellow teachers. In fact, members of the kindergarten team often get together in the summer.

"We just hangout a couple of times during the summer," Christensen and Dennis said.

What is in a name?

Have you ever wondered why it is called kindergarten? The concept was created by educational theorist Friedrich Froebel, who opened the first kindergarten in the world in 1837 in Blankenburg, Germany. The word in German translates to “children garden.”

In 1850, the first kindergarten was established in England by Johannes Ronge, a German Catholic priest. The teaching method came to America in 1868 by Elizabeth Peabody in Boston. In some languages, the word was changed. However, the word was brought into English (sometimes it might be spelled a bit more English as kindergarden). 

In 1863, Horace Mann, an American educational reformer and Peabody wrote the "Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide." In it, they describe why the name.

"Kindergarten means a garden of children, and Froebel, the inventor of it, or rather, as he would prefer to express it, the discoverer of the method of Nature, meant to symbolize by the name the spirit and plan of treatment. How does the gardener treat his plants? He studies their individual natures and puts them into such circumstances of soil and atmosphere as enable them to grow, flower, and bring forth fruit—also to renew their manifestation year after year."