Monday, September 8, 2008

Why can't kindergarten last forever?

My son will start kindergarten tomorrow and I am very excited for the year of learning he has ahead of him. It only take's a quick look at the Kindergarten Handbook to see that it is a year of exploration, learning and fun. I'm excited to take the journey with him and watch him explore someplace new.

In my real-world travels I have taken a couple of different approaches to exploring new places. I have been on the package bus tours, I have arrived in a city alone and figured things out from there but for the most part I have existed someplace in between those 2 extremes. My brother or sister was usually living in whatever exotic locale I was visiting and served as my guides. Their role went beyond just showing me the sights. Having them there allowed me to venture off on my own knowing that someone was there to bail me out or point me in the right direction. They gave me the basic information, a sense of security and from there I could explore, take chances and experience places in a way that was relevant to me.

Each time I head off to a new place I'm a little better prepared than I was the time before. I move further and further away from the safe, predictable package bus tour and more towards the independent explorer that I hope to be. I wonder why it is that in schools that we seem to have that process backwards? As kids progress, learning seems to change into something that resembles a 10 European countries in 9 days bus tour. You see a lot of sights, are given a lot of information but it always leaves you feeling a bit cheated. Interesting sites pass by your window but there is never time to stop and explore because the group needs to stay together. Rarely is there an opportunity to interact with the communities in any meaningful sort of way. There is an itinerary to follow and strict time constraints each step of the way.

Kindergarten, on the other hand, seems to be the perfect blend. These tiny explorers are given the opportunity to explore and discover, and take responsibility for selecting and completing a
variety of activities. (from the kindergarten handbook) The class often explores a topic of study that arises out of children’s interests and brings together learning from different areas. (also directly from the handbook) In other words -- the bus makes unscheduled stops depending on the interests of the passengers. Many people from the community contribute to the Kindergarten program.(again a quote from you know where) Sadly as more and more curriculum (stops on the tour bus route) is added to the kindergarten program we are in danger of losing this type of learning.

There are many problems that need to be adressed to change the face of learning. The internet and Web 2.0 are only one piece of the puzzle but I think that used correctly they can play an important part. Never in the history of learning has so much information been so readily available to so many people. But information is such a small part, the connections that we can make with members of our larger, global community are unprecedented. Our students can have access to paleontologists from The Royal Tyrell museum, astronauts from the Canadian Space Agency and so much more. They can communicate in real time with classrooms around the world. They can explore, create, share and play. In other words they can make the magic of kindergarten last forever.

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