Naptime is over in class

Kindergarten: Full-day programs trade in sleeping mats for more instructional time in the classroom.

September 27, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Renee Krysiak lists a full day's worth of activities on the blackboard of her kindergarten class at Brooklyn Park Elementary School: Read and respond to a story, recess, math.

Naptime, however, is not one of them.

As educators strive to prepare children early so they can achieve later, naptime -- the envy of some adults -- has evolved into a period of quiet activities in the full-day kindergarten programs offered in Anne Arundel, Howard and other Maryland counties.

The disappearance of naptime is part of an increased emphasis on curriculum and instruction designed to make the most of the precious moments children spend in the classroom.

"We're paying the salary of a teacher to instruct. That's the purpose of all-day" kindergarten, said Barbara Griffith, Anne Arundel's director of early childhood education.

She stressed that days are structured to balance active and less-active periods so that children have a chance to rest -- and that no one will be awakened if they do nod off.

However, "what we are not doing is establishing the environment with the expectation that all children will take a nap," she said.

These changes in rigor and approach come at a time when the average age of kindergarten pupils is increasing.

State mandates require districts provide full-day kindergarten by 2007. Children had to turn 5 by Oct. 31 to enter kindergarten this year. That cutoff date rolls back to Sept. 30 next year.

In Krysiak's Brooklyn Park classroom, the last child turned 5 a week after school began. As a result, Krysiak said, most have the stamina to make it through the day. The youngest child was the only one who has fallen asleep in three weeks of class.

"Five-year-olds are out of naptime as far as maturity goes," she said. "They don't need it. Four-year-olds are going to be tired."

Educators say children adapt to new routines quickly. Kindergarten children are capable of learning much more than what was thought years ago, said Rolf Grafwallner, coordinator of early learning programs for the State Department of Education. Kindergarten classrooms are therefore focused on developing literacy and language, he said.

However, these concepts are presented in developmentally appropriate ways. "It's not that we want to make these kindergarten students robots that are doing drill and practice," said Janine G. Bacquie, director of Montgomery County's division of early childhood programs and services.

Programs aren't strictly academic, said Tracy B. Jones, Howard County's early childhood coordinator. She described ways to incorporate learning into playtime activities. For example, children may be asked while building with blocks to measure the length of a structure by counting blocks or to make patterns of short and long blocks.

"We want them to make good use of their playtime," she said.

Kindergarten rarely is a child's first experience in a group setting, since some start to attend day care as infants, Grafwallner added. If children are engaged, they stay energized.

"Students can move from activity to activity and not be sitting for long periods of time," Bacquie said. "We make sure the amounts of time and activities are appropriate."

Naptime is overrated, contrary to what adults may think. Children often rebel against the idea of a nap, and it can be hard to awaken them when they do fall asleep, Jones said.

In Howard, teachers dim the lights and play music during quiet time, and several children have fallen asleep.

But during a recent visit to Anne Arundel's Brooklyn Park, most of the children seemed active during their down time.

After lunch and recess, the children got a drink of water and sat on the rug to listen to a story about school. Then, it was time for about 20 minutes of "quiet centers" such as coloring, reading books or playing with small toys.

Ty Taylor and Jake Dockins crawled over the bright carpet finding different pieces of a puzzle depicting the letters of the alphabet.

"Can you help us find `p'?" Ty asked.

"C is right here, for `truck,'" Jake said later.

Teachers such as Krysiak also give the pupils transitions between activities. For example, she instructed the children to stand up after a lesson on school rules. "Roll, roll, roll with me, just like me," she sang, gently twirling her fists around each other.

Krysiak has the children for more than six hours each day, so she has time to spend about 2 1/2 hours with the Open Court reading curriculum, which heavily emphasizes phonics.

The full-day schedule also offers time to leave the classroom for physical education, music, art and media, providing another respite during the day.

All children benefit from extra time to learn, especially those who may not have as much exposure to reading and language early on, said Anne Arundel Superintendent Eric J. Smith. Preparing them for first grade also gives them the confidence to feel they can be successful, he said.

However, determining the amount of sleep a child needs should remain the purview of parents, Smith added.

"Sometimes we do things that really are the domain of the home," he said. "We ought to stick with the things we do well."

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