The lack of play in early childhood education, especially in kindergarten, is causing widespread concern throughout the US. Carmel Cooperative Preschool, located in Carmel, Indiana, a northern suburb of Indianapolis, is taking steps to offer an alternative in their community. They are making plans to add a kindergarten class to their program in the 2018-19 school year.
Filling a Need
According to Carmel Co-op Co-President Jazzy O'Brien, filling a need within the community is their primary inspiration for adding a kindergarten.
She describes a lack of play-based schools within the the Carmel Clay Schools district, and she says that within the curriculum for kindergarten and higher grades, play is non-existent. Carmel Clay Schools offers a video with scenes from a typical school day as an an introduction to their kindergarten program. Play is not addressed nor are playful moments in view.
The parents and teachers at Carmel Co-op want to see play-based kindergarten as an option within their community. Carmel Co-op Co President Natasha Shallon reported that Carmel Clay Schools only provides 15 minutes of recess for all of its students, including kindergarteners. "There has been an outcry in the community against this which has been seen in newspaper articles, editorials, and the creation of a Facebook group called Carmel Recess Initiative, " says Shallon.
Shallon has heard from parents with students currently attending Carmel kindergarten programs that their kids come home tired and that they are under too much pressure. Parents are looking for some relief, and Carmel Co-Op would like to be able to provide it.
Carmel Co-Op's plan is for their kindergarten to operate as a cooperative in the same way as their preschool.
Shallon says, "As a Cooperative we really value parental involvement. Parents will help a run the kindergarten in terms of marketing, fundraising, and volunteering in the classroom amongst other things. As in our preschool classrooms, there will be an experienced teacher who is paid to plan lessons and lead the class. As the kindergarteners will be older than our current students, our student to teacher ratio will be a bit higher which will mean Co-oping less often for the parents in this class."
Community Support and Challenges
The concern expressed by families within Carmel Co-Op about the current kindergarten options, as well as stories about searching for an alternative kindergarten, was enough for Carmel Co-Op to start researching and planning. They sent out a survey via Facebook and posted in numerous local mom groups to see if the community outside of the preschool also felt the need to for an alternative. The support was overwhelming.
Creating a new class within an existing school does not happen without challenges. Shallon said, "One of our biggest hurdles right now is simply the cost. Our current space may not be big enough for us to continue as a preschool and add a kindergarten at the same location. We also need a licensed kindergarten teacher, which will be more expensive than what we are currently paying."
Space, supplies, furniture to accommodate the children's larger bodies and greater abilities, and ensuring that the curriculum will follow state guidelines while at the same time incorporating a play-based philosophy all need to be addressed as the program develops.
In the immediate future, Carmel Co-Op plans to continue to gather information from the parents in their community, which they will turn into a collection of questions that need to be answered and obstacles that need to be overcome. They will eventually seek advice and lessons-learned from other co-ops with kindergarten programs.