Because it’s the right thing to do for children. Just because PK starts at age two and a half doesn’t mean that every child is ready to start PK at age two and a half.
Long answer with background information and explanation:
At TIS we work very hard to ensure all components of our early childhood program reflect developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) for young learners. This type of practice is driven by research on typical child development, knowledge about effective teaching for young learners and the ongoing consideration of the needs of children.
In a developmentally appropriate program, educators take into consideration each child as an individual, while keeping in mind the wide range of abilities and maturity children typically demonstrate at any age. The focus is on child development in multiple domains including:
communication styles and abilities
fine and gross motor abilities
social and emotional maturity
level of independence
Familial and cultural background and context play a huge role in children's development and strongly influence school readiness. This is also taken into consideration in a developmentally appropriate program.
Starting PK at TIS
The first step to enrolling in PK at TIS is the intake interview. Every spring we interview between 200-400 applicants for the 100 -110 available PK seats the following school year. The intake interview process, assessment tool and parent information document are all carefully crafted to provide us with information about each child’s current abilities and dispositions, their home and family life, and their interactions with peers and adults in different environments. Intake sessions are conducted in small groups with a parent accompanying the child, as this format allows the child to be more relaxed and interactive while taking into consideration that the school, classroom, teacher and other children and adults who are present are all new to the child. During this group session, we observe and make note of the child's language and communication skills, ability to focus, spatial awareness, ability to transition, self care skills and degree of independence.
Based on the information gathered during the intake process and our knowledge of typical child development, we then choose the 100-110 children who appear to be the most ready to begin PK the following September. Because the number of available seats is limited each year, unfortunately we are not able to accept all of the children who perform well during the intake interview process.
Next, we look closely at those who are accepted to predict their ability to begin with a full day program in a new school environment. Starting school can be a scary and intimidating experience at any age. It is a complex and often overwhelming task for children, and this applies even more so for young children with limited or no school experience.
Children who easily transition to full day PK are those who separate from parents and caregivers without difficulty and do not require constant adult attention or assistance. They willingly interact with peers and less familiar adults (not family members or caregivers) and can express their needs and opinions (in any language). They explore new opportunities and environments, play with others and take turns, solve minor conflicts independently, follow instructions, focus on tasks that they follow through to completion, and are able to manage their own self care tasks (e.g. feed themselves without assistance and use the toilet independently).
It is difficult to identify all of these characteristics and abilities in young children following a brief small group session and given limited family and background knowledge, but we can predict that the first 2-4 weeks in PK will be challenging for many two and three year olds. The children who are fully toilet trained and who demonstrate confidence and independence during the group interview in addition to several of the characteristics described above are invited to begin their PK year with full day attendance.
All of the remaining accepted children who demonstrated some minor challenges during the group interview but still performed well are invited to begin with half day attendance for the first few weeks of school. This allows them a bit of time to adjust to the new environment, routines and people in the PK program while still allowing them to spend their afternoon in a more familiar place with parents/caregivers. The shorter school day provides a settling in period during which they begin to develop a trusting relationship with their teachers and get to know some of their peers. They begin to explore their own classroom and the various locations visited within the school on a typical day and learn social and school behaviors including separating from parents/caregivers with confidence, sharing adult attention, following directions, participating in new activities, sharing their thoughts and feelings with others and independently toileting and feeding themselves. As these skills and confidence develop and the child becomes more comfortable in the classroom, we begin to increase the length of their school day.
The amount of time needed for this initial adjustment period varies for all children, but most who begin with half day attendance are ready to increase the length of their school day in 3-5 weeks time. For any child who still needs extra time, we simply continue with half day attendance until they are ready. There is no set schedule or timeline - each child will eventually clearly demonstrate their readiness and in the meantime it is the role of the adults to observe, provide support and encouragement and then celebrate when the day comes to begin full day attendance.
It is our goal to assist all of our children to transition to full day attendance in a school environment in which they feel happy and ready to learn. Some children need more time to reach this optimal level of trust and readiness than others. Children should look forward to coming to school and enter willingly because it is safe, challenging and fun and they want to be present and engaged in their own learning. The half day start provides a high quality program as well as additional time to adjust to the demands of being a student in a formal educational setting. This is why we consider each child individually and give them the time they need to adjust to full day attendance and experience success in our school.
For additional information, including numerous books, articles and brochures about developmentally appropriate practices to support educators and families in meeting children where they are and helping them learn and grow, please visit the following websites:
NAEYC website www.naeyc.org (National Association for the Education of Young Children
Alberta’s Early Learning and Care website www.flightframework.ca