AJA Kindergarten Provides Path to Preparedness
Aileen Duncan has nurtured kindergartner curiosity at AJA for 18 years. Courtesy of AJA.
By Chris Aguero
Child-centered learning resides at the heart of the most effective kindergarten programs. Each child arrives to school having developed an array of skills asynchronously. One student may demonstrate dexterity with emotional- and self-regulation while struggling to apply phonics to spelling while the opposite case may be true for another child. Some children may thrive in imaginative play but feel frustrated when afforded the opportunity to transfer their ideas to paper, whether in short sentences or with crayons and markers.
In a quality kindergarten program, teachers create space for the varying degrees of children’s strengths and challenges and provide countless opportunities for children to apply and practice new and familiar skills.
The AJA kindergarten experience acknowledges the work begun at the preschool level, and AJA educators intentionally build on these skills. A strong kindergarten program uses the structure inherent, but not always evident, in preschool programs to cultivate student resilience and an ability for students to anticipate the many activities in their day through recourse, routine and ritual.
Social-emotional learning equips students to maneuver days filled with new ideas and burgeoning relationships with friends. At AJA, the lexicon for this social-emotional literacy is rooted in timeless Jewish values. A master kindergarten teacher must bear in mind that the curriculum of emergent literacy and fundamental number sense exists alongside basic classroom skills.
For 18 years, AJA students have had the great fortune of learning with Aileen Duncan. Duncan has consistently nurtured the curiosity of the children in her classes. She sees her students as individuals and offers them opportunities to move beyond their comfort zones. Each afternoon, the students make decisions about how they will finish the day and become lost in a host of options during a time she calls “exploration.” This is a time for children to work with classmates of their choosing. Often, these classmates are not the same ones with whom they play at recess. Exploration time offers a social component that requires elements of student agency and learning through play as they build, tinker, gather data in the classroom or problem solve.
As students begin to take ownership of their physical spaces and the options for learning, a useful sense of independence emerges. Kindergarten offers families the opportunity for students to engage in genuine acts of autonomy. The cadence of the day promotes a culture in which students take responsibility for their personal effects, such as lunchboxes, snacks, water bottles, rest mat and backpacks. AJA educators encourage parents to facilitate this autonomy beginning with the morning routine upon arrival to school. Throughout the day, students navigate their spaces with assistance as they care for their own items and classroom resources.
Most importantly, the collective kindergarten experience provides enriching content and a setting for students to practice verbal skills and patience with active listening among their peers. The back-and-forth dynamic is one with which students will engage as they move through school. ■