Kindergarten or TK: Where Do We Start?

Posted by Corrie Weaver
When is the best time to start your child's educational journey? This can be a challenging question for parents, especially for those with children with birthdays in the late spring, summer, or fall.
Corrie Weaver, a 16-year veteran of teaching both Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten classes at Caldwell, explains the difference between the two classes and why TK might be the best fit for some children.
When to start your child's educational journey can be a challenging question. If their birthday falls in late spring, summer, or fall especially, parents may wonder is best for their child. Would it be best for them to be one the oldest in their grade or one of the youngest? Many schools have a school-start recommendation based primarily on a child’s age. If they are five years old they should proceed to Kindergarten. At Caldwell, the emphasis for Kindergarten placement is on a child’s development rather than their age or academic skills. The reason? We want them to be successful and confident academically, socially, emotionally, and physically for their entire educational journey, from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Corrie Weaver has taught both Kindergarten and now our Transitional Kindergarten (TK) in her 16 years at Caldwell. Corrie sat down to share some insight for parents considering different aspects of the two programs.

You've been both a Kindergarten teacher and a Transitional Kindergarten teacher. What is the difference between the two programs?
Corrie Weaver:  TK focuses more on the social and emotional side of the child’s development, Kindergarten sets the academic foundation. We're more free-spirited in TK. "No worries!" is our motto. Kindergarten has more expectations and structure for students. 
Academically in TK, we work on a letter a week. We go through all the letters and talk about how they are made. We do a craft for each letter that is made out of that letter. We set the foundation for reading and writing. We're not sounding out words, but introducing them to letters in a basic way. We start handwriting by talking about top to bottom lines, left to right lines, slant left, slant right lines,  and circles. All of those things we don’t even think about that children need to know before they can be confident writing letters. 
We set the foundations of math by exploring colors, patterns, and shapes. We work on each individual number and how to write it. What it looks like on your fingers, on a tens frame, when you hop. We also explore Bible stories. We walk through the Old Testament and do a craft to go with it. 
Socially, we find so many kids have been home with Mom and Dad for their schooling. The first year of school is their first year learning how to relate to other students and their teachers. When they are young, children play beside each other. They don’t play with each other. It’s about this age when they learn how to do that. We are trying to teach them kindness toward others, putting others first, and how to react when someone does something you don’t like. These things don’t come naturally, and there are fewer opportunities to interact with others when you are home with Mom and Dad than when in a classroom with more personalities. 

When I was teaching Kindergarten, I had a Mom from my church who wanted to send her son to Kindergarten. She said, “He knows how to write his letters, and write his name.” But learning in a classroom isn't just reading and writing. TK students learn how to follow directions given to a large group and how to get along with people you do not get along with. The little boy came to Kindergarten and had some behavior issues. Then the Mom saw what I was talking about.
In Kindergarten there's a little bit more structure than in TK. There are also academic expectations: doing assessments, what letters they know, sight words, numbers, etc.
What have you learned about the difference between a TKer and a Kindergartner developmentally?
TKers love to play and simple is better. We teach simply with great love. 
With Kindergarteners, there's a focus on executive function and the ability to follow multi-step directions. The abstractness of academics step up and oral directions need to be followed. Just to write a letter takes so much brain function. Letter D - what is the letter D? How does it look? Which way does it face?

It seems our culture defines a child's success by their academic ability. How would you define a "successful" experience in a child's early education?
If we have helped a child become independent and confident in their place in the school, we have done our job in TK. All of the students will have learned to read, write, and do math before they graduate. What we need to focus on is learning how to "do" school. If these students can learn how to have respectful conversations with one another, learn to take turns, learn to listen to two- to three-step directions given to a whole group and follow them, they're set up to be more successful in all aspects of life.
What do children who have the extra lap of Transitional Kindergarten develop, to help them succeed?
They get quiet confidence and a comfort level of being in the classroom. They can say, “I know how this works.” It eliminates a layer of complexity, one less thing for them to worry about. It frees their brain to think about other things.

Given a choice, parents choose Kindergarten over TK because of a worry about their child being "bored" and "not challenged enough." What thoughts can you share, from your perspective as an experienced teacher of both TK and K, that would be helpful for parents to consider?
I have had parents say, in retrospect, they wished they gave their children an extra year. I have never had a parent tell me they wished they had not given them an extra year. You're going to have more issues with behavior in Kindergarten with students who are not ready.
The TK day moves around so much. We have children who might be able to read but can’t write their names. They're not bored. We are working on so many skills at one time. It might look like we're just working on top-to-bottom lines, but there are many parts to this: holding the pencil the right way, listening to and mirroring the teacher, fine and gross motor skills.  

What have you seen when a child is not developmentally ready for Kindergarten - what does that look like? How does that impact them in the short term and the long term?
At the beginning of Kindergarten, they don’t realize everyone is getting it but they aren’t. But later, they start to realize that their peers get their sight words and letter sounds. They start to shut down. They will act out because it's embarrassing, and it’s hard work so they get tired of trying. Some will catch up and some will continue to struggle. That extra year is an opportunity for children to struggle a little less.

As a teacher of young children, what advice would you share with parents of young children?
As a mother of grown children, I can say this Kindergarten year is done in the blink of an eye. You can’t ever get that time back. While at this point it seems so huge that your child is ahead of the crowd, you’re going to discover that the advantage really isn’t that important.
None of my children were academic stars. We didn’t push it, and they weren’t driven that way. Now they're all in college and doing just fine. Our oldest is a second lieutenant in the Army and he wasn’t the child that made straight A’s. You realize what you thought was so important, what worried you so much, wasn’t that important.TK-with-Firefighters