HomeJean Marzollo, author of I SPY

The New Kindergarten

Chapter Three

How to Organize and Manage a Full-Day
Child-Centered, Academic Kindergarten



Room Layout


Room Layout

As the noted Swiss educational psychologist Jean Piaget stressed, autonomy is an important factor in children's learning. When children are able to discover answers for themselves, they learn more effectively than when they are told answers by a teacher. The best kindergarten classrooms are managed so that children can direct their own learning as much as possible.

A classroom in which children are encouraged to direct their own learning is often called a child-centered classroom. The child-centered classroom is set up with centers, special areas of investigation that children visit at different times during the day. Some of the most popular centers are: the reading or library center, the listening center (where children listen to tapes and records through earphones), the writing center, the science center, the math center (often combined with the science center), the game center (equipped with various educational games and puzzles), the block center, the housekeeping or family living center, the art center, and the water/sand table center. Other centers might be the show and tell center (where children display items they have brought to class), the music center, the quiet center, and the puppet stage.

Centers are arranged to accommodate several children at a time. Teachers usually place a limit on the number of children who can be in each center at one time. The number is posted on a sign that also has stick figures showing how many are allowed, and/or the number of chairs in the center signifies how many children can be in the center. Each center is given enough space for the allotted number of children to function effectively. In order to have sufficiently roomy centers, teachers may have to limit the number of centers in classrooms or redo centers from time to time.

Managing the flow of children in and out of centers and overseeing the instruction that goes on in them is one of the most basic challenges of a kindergarten teacher. In order to the the job, she needs to combine pragmatic organization with an understanding of children and the purpose of kindergarten. Without a hearty blend of planning and theory, kindergarten teachers are ineffective; when this happens, they have to step back and rethink their program.


Only after a children's needs are identified and program goals established are teachers able to go ahead and create a practical daily schedule for coordinating children, materials, space, and time. Because teachers and classes are different, no one schedule works for every school. A good teacher finds a way to manage her classroom that works for her and the children. Once she finds such a schedule, she does not carve it in stone, but rather she adapts it and improves it as she goes along.

Being able to make a classroom "work" is an accomplishment, and teachers who can do it feel understandably proud of their work. It is helpful for teachers to share scheduling ideas with each other, especially as they discover new ideas and identify additional needs of children. Parents like to see a copy of their children's schedule. They appreciate having a sense of their children's days so they can picture them at school and so they can talk with their child more vividly about school at the end of the day.

A good teacher has both long-range and short-range plans. Long-range plans may encompass a plan of themes to be covered during the year. In this book ten themes are presented and suggested for ten months of the year, but teachers should feel free· to use themes of their own choice in whatever order suits them. The advantage of a monthly theme is that it pulls the content of a program together so that children's interest can flow meaningfully from one activity to another.

Teaching Children the Schedule

Short-term plans are plans for the week or day. In the beginning of the school year, kindergarten teachers plan time to teach children the daily operation of the classroom. Each activity of the day is presented clearly, with expected behaviors modeled by the teacher so the children know what to do. What to do with your coat and lunch box, what may be done during free play, how to assemble for circle time, how to walk in the hallway, how to use the bathrooms, how to use tempera paints, how to use various learning centers, how to put away materials, and so forth-the teacher takes plenty of time in the first weeks of school to show and explain these activities to children so that they know how to behave. Taking sufficient time to teach children how to be kindergartners pays off for the rest of the year because it enables children to acquire a sense of control over themselves and their environment. They like to know what is expected of them.

Kindergarten girl



A key factor to the success of a child-centered classroom is teaching children at the beginning of the school year how to work and play independently.

Establishing a mood of autonomy, inquiry, sharing, and respect in the classroom enables children to feel pride in their ideas and to be curious about the ideas of others. Such a classroom atmosphere leads to improvement in the children's ability to listen to each other and to focus on their own activities without being distracted. The new kindergarten is quiet with the hum of activity; it is a pleasant place to be.

Discipline in the new kindergarten is based on positive reasons for respecting each other and being safe. Teachers state rules in a way that helps children understand them: We take turns in centers so that they don't get crowded; we walk so we don't fall down; in a group discussion we raise our hands so each of us can be called on and heard by everyone else; we share materials so that we each get a chance to use them; we clean up after ourselves so that the next person has a place to play.

Because young children can get rambunctious, they need clear signals to tell them when to calm down. Teachers teach the signals at the beginning of the year. "When I feel you're getting too noisy, I'll turn the lights off and on two times. That will be a special signal for you to quiet down." Or, "When I clap my hands three times, please stop what you are doing and listen to me because that will be a signal that I have a special announcement to make." Or, "When I ring my bell, that is a signal to clean up and get ready for lunch." Or, "When I start to sing a certain song, that is a signal to meet on the rug for circle time." Children enjoy learning the meaning of special signals and enjoy being able to act in accordance with them.

Good teachers know that you don't just tell children to get ready for lunch, you teach them at the beginning of the year exactly what "getting ready for lunch" means in your classroom: putting away equipment, getting in line, washing hands, and so forth. Sometimes teachers invite children to give their ideas for improving classroom procedures.

In the new kindergarten thinking skills are stressed, not just in science and math, but in all aspects of the day. The children become used to the teacher asking them how to solve all different kinds of problems. When a problem of discipline arises, children are asked to think how to solve it. For example, if two children are fighting over a toy, the teacher can ask for the toy and say, "How can you solve the problem you two have? You both want the toy. What can you two do about that?" The teacher might put the toy away until the children solve the problem.

An Atmosphere of Learning

A sense of inquiry pervades the new kindergarten. Children learn to explore materials, make predictions, test predictions, come to their own conclusions, record their ideas, and share them with others. In time, the process of inquiry becomes second nature to the children, who soon become able to manage the stages themselves with little help from their teacher. The teacher is now free to visit centers and teach. As children learn, she supports them and leads them to further discovery with open-ended questions and support. By respecting children's autonomy, she helps children feel pride in themselves as excellent learners.

What to Do Where

In a child-centered classroom teaching methods and physical environment go together hand in hand. In the centers, teachers help children explore materials individually or in small groups. There is usually a special area in the room where the class can meet as a whole. Often, this meeting takes place in a circle and/or on a rug on which everyone can sit comfortably; hence, meeting time may be called "circle time" or "rug time." Sometimes the whole class may need to sit at tables to do a class activity. If the tables are in centers, the children can sit there, or the tables can be moved together in the center of the room.

The activities in this book are written to involve action on the part of children. Where they are best done in the classroom depends on the teacher, the children, the classroom setup, and perhaps the presence of a teacher aide. Teachers are invited to use their own judgment in adapting the ideas in this book to their specific setups. If the ideas are adapted to centers (and it is hoped that many of them will be), teachers need to demonstrate to the children exactly what task they are expected to do at the center. Often, the task is presented as a question to explore in the center, such as: "How many beans do you think are in this jar? The jar will be in the math center this week. When you go to that center, look at the jar. Estimate and record your answer on a slip of paper along with your name. Put your answer in the red box. You may also play with other materials in the math center. On Thursday we will make a graph of our estimates. On Friday we will count the beans."

As much as possible, have children in centers record their discoveries in concrete ways: by writing, drawing, making models, doing a ditto, or marking a graph. This way, it is easier to share and keep track of children's accomplishments.

Children and parents may enjoy being involved in helping to think up tasks for centers. Asking parents to help in such a way enables them to understand better how centers promote classroom learning.

Children in a child-centered classroom rotate jobs that keep their classroom organized and functioning. Their jobs might be: center checker, line leader, door holder, snack helper, table setter, table clearer, floor cleaner, and paintbrush washer. Teachers have job charts on the wall with pictures and names of each job and a system for rotating children's names. In some places the children's names are written on tags that are hung up under the job pictures. Or children's names are written on clothespins and clipped to the job pictures. The children enjoy their jobs because they give them a sense of helping to run their classroom.

Because classrooms vary in size and equipment, it is difficult to present one ideal classroom arrangement and schedule that works for everyone. Teachers have to arrange their classrooms and plan their schedules in ways that best suit their children's needs and kindergarten's goals. However, here are some sample schedules and classroom arrangements to stimulate thought and ideas.

Kindergarten Schedule 1

  8:40 - 8:50 Children arrive    
  8:50 - 9:10 Meeting (attendance, pledge, song, calendar, weather)    
  9:10 - 11:00 Language Arts/Centers    
  11:00 - 11:25 Recess    
  11:25 - 11:55 Lunch    
  11:55 - 12:10 Quiet Time    
  12:10 - 12:30 Story Time (each week a different author is featured)    
  12:30 - 1:00 Math    
  1:00 - 2:30 Science, Social Studies, Special Projects, Centers    
  2:30 - 2:45 Show and Tell    
  2:45 - 2:55 Clean Up, Jobs, Ready to Go    
  2:55 - 3:00 Dismissal    

Kindergarten Schedule 2

  8:30 - 9:00 Meeting Time    
  9:00 - 10:00 Language Arts    
  10:00 - 10:15 Exercises and Music    
  10:15 - 10:30 Rest Rooms/Snack    
  10:30 - 11:00 Math    
  11:00 - 11:20 Recess/P.E./Environmental Studies    
  11:20 - 12:00 Learning Centers    
  12:00 - 12:10 Rest Rooms    
  12:10 - 12:30 Lunch    
  12:30 - 12:45 Story Time    
  12:45 - 1:30 Rest and Relaxation    
  1:30 - 2:00 Recess/P.E./Environmental Studies    
  2:00 - 2:15 Rest Rooms/Snack    
  2:15 - 2:45 Arts and Crafts/Social Studies/Science    
  2:45 - 3:00 Prepare to Go Home    
  3:00 - 3:15 Dismissal/Parent Conferences    

Kindergarten Schedule 3

  8:30 - 9:00 Circle Time/Calendar    
  9:00 - 10:00 Language Arts    
  10:00 - 10:30 Centers    
  10:30 - 10:45 Recess    
  10:45 - 11:15 Social Studies    
  11:15 - 12:00 Art    
  12:00 - 12:40 Lunch    
  12:40 - 1:40 Lunch and Independent Play    
  1:40 - 2:10 P.E./Music    
  2:10 - 2:40 Math/Science    
  2:40 - 3:00 Jobs, Clean Up, Get Ready to Go Home    


Managing the Day: Kindergarten 1

The following description is of a day in kindergarten #1. Bear in mind that it reflects a typical day in the middle of the school year; in other words, children have already been trained how to operate in the classroom.

Monday is an important day. On this day, centers and jobs change. At the morning meeting (which is extra-long on Mondays), children learn of their new jobs for the week and see their names on a rebus job chart. (The rebus chart shows pictures for the various jobs.) Certain children are appointed center leaders. The center leaders take turns and go to their centers and bring whatever is new back to the meeting area. The teacher goes over the new item with the children, teaching them what to do with it, and posing questions and tasks for them to do with it when they get to the center. The listening center leader, for example, shows the other children the new tape or record that the children will hear that week. In many classrooms one author is studied per week, so the introduction of the new tape is an opportunity to introduce the new author too and show some of the author's books.

Each center leader is given a chart with every child's name on it. The center leaders tape the charts to a table in their centers. As children use the center, they cross out their name on the chart. The center leaders keep track of who hasn't been to the center. On Thursdays and Fridays they remind classmates to catch up. At the end of each center period, center leaders check to see that their centers are cleaned up properly.

At the beginning of the year children are assigned to centers, where they must stay for fifteen to twenty minutes before being reassigned to other centers. As the year progresses, children do not need to be assigned. They are allowed to choose centers, as long as they do not exceed the number allowed in each center. They may move on to other centers as they please. During the week, however, they must visit every center, or especially centers that are "must do" centers.

If a center is not popular, something's wrong with it. Either the task is not clear, or it's too hard, or it's boring. Teachers should' revamp unpopular centers. The children should be given a sense that, while center work is serious, it should also be fun.

Sometimes, while children are at centers, teachers or aides pull a small group of children together for special small-group instruction, often involving writing and reading activities. The teacher may have a special table near her desk for this purpose.

Sometimes, while children are at centers, teachers visit them there, participating in and strengthening the learning that's going on. Often, the centers are where the most exciting moments of learning occur. And they are where the best opportunities occur for teachers to observe and evaluate children's strengths and weaknesses.


I have not yet seen a kindergarten report card that reflects accurately the learning that goes on in a child-centered, academic classroom, but hopefully one will be developed someday. In order to be effective, it will have to reflect the depth of children's learning and the sophistication of the processes they are using (such as graphing amounts, recording ideas, using the scientific method, operating independently, brainstorming, critical thinking, sharing discoveries with each other) as well as the specific tasks they are mastering (such as writing on their own level, reading their writing, number recognition, letter recognition, and so forth). Furthermore, no written test thus far developed seems to be able to diagnose fully children's real learning needs and strengths, though some checklists can be used to keep track of certain skills, such as ability to tie one's shoes, ability to identify letter sounds, and ability to hear rhyming words. Teachers may want to make up their own checklists! report cards that reflect their own programs.

Thus, so far, at the kindergarten level the best evaluations of children are anecdotal. Teachers can keep notebooks with a page for each child in which to record thoughts and observations. These anecdotes can be shared with parents, and parents can be encouraged to contribute ideas of their own.

Diagnosing Special Needs

Any special learning problems should be discussed with parents and referred to special education teachers. Kindergarten teachers usually are quite good at spotting eye and ear problems that parents might not notice at home because they are so used to their children.

Parent Communication

An important aspect of the new kindergarten is parent communication. Teachers use many different methods to involve parents in the program. Parent newsletters tell about student activities in the classroom and invite parents to visit the classroom. Parents Night provides an opportunity for parents to see how a child-centered classroom really works. Many teachers actually have the parents visit centers and do tasks so that they can see what autonomous learning can produce.

Parents and grandparents are invited to celebrate special occasions at the school, such as a Thanksgiving feast, a holiday sing-along, and Grandparents' Day. Parents are invited to contribute materials to the classroom and to share special skills and hobbies they have. Parents volunteer to help on class trips, and class "mothers" or "fathers" help to arrange events, making important telephone calls to class parents.

One of the most important payoffs of involving parents meaningfully in a child-centered, academic kindergarten is that parents come to see for themselves that children learn best not through abstract paper-and-pencil drill-type activities, but through active, concrete, self-motivated investigation. Parent involvement is parent training, and parents who have been trained through class involvement are better able to help their children learn at home.
The next ten chapters of The New Kindergarten present ten different themes for investigation in the classroom. As teachers cover a theme in the classroom, they usually send a note home to parents explaining about it, describing what children will learn, and suggesting ways parents might become involved. At the beginning of the year teachers can announce the themes for the year ahead of time so that parents have plenty of time to plan how they might participate.



Based on the book THE NEW KINDERGARTEN: Full Day, Child Centered, Academic
A book for teachers, administrators, practice teachers, teacher's aides, and parents
Text © Jean Marzollo, Illustrations © Irene Trivas

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