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UPK - How Flexible Is the Curriculum? Disappointed with Daughter's pre-K

My daughter goes to UPK (Universal Pre-K) at a community-based organization in Queens for 2 1/2 hours per day. From the beginning, the teacher has sent notes to parents emphasizing that UPK is non-academic and play-based. There is very little or no pencil and paper type work (we do workbooks at home with her though). There are few art projects, but some painting. They have the required play stations with a kitchen, dress up, sand and water, etc. She was in nursery school last year at the same school, as were most of the other kids in her class, where she learned her letters, colors, letter sounds, shapes, etc, and most importantly social skills.

I might be okay with the lack of emphasis on pencil and paper type work if I felt that she was learning or growing in some other way. I'm not sure what she is supposed to be getting out of this pre-K program beyond what she would get at a playdate. Her social skills are already very good. The other parents I have spoken to are also disappointed and feel like their kids are not learning anything. Some say their kids are bored, which doesn't surprise me because these are mostly bright, articulate kids, and some are about to turn 5. Mine is not bored, because she loves being around other kids regardless of the activity, but I'm sure she would enjoy being challenged and learning new things even more.

My question is this: Is it worth trying to contact the director and the head teacher to see if changes could be made for next semester? I'm thinking of writing an anonymous letter, tactfully worded, so that there would be no negative feelings toward my daughter. Even if they don't want to do pen and paper work, they could learn about nature, do simple science experiments, more complex art projects, anything where she could be learning (suggestions on activities appreciated). Is there any point to doing this, or is UPK such a set curriculum that they cannot do anything to enrich it? Do teachers make changes in curriculum mid-year? If a letter is a good idea, what should I say that they wouldn't be offended and would be convinced to improve the program?

[Changing schools is not really an option, since we can't affort to pay right now, and UPK programs in our area filled up long ago (and I don't know whether the others are better, if they're all based on a set curriculum).]

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well, i assume this isnt supposed to be a montessori type program. what i would worry about is the fact they may be latching on to montessori philisophy without following the full idea of the program. preschool in general for age 4-5 would be assumed to have academics-unless the parent wants an alternative such as montessori which is fine as long as thats what you want. i would assume a UPK would have a basis of academics.

im confused on one thing, you mentioned last year's program and said what she learned. is the program this year continuing with those things? im just not clear on whether she is ONLY not using pencil work which concerns you or if you mean she isnt do anything academic?

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I think you have very valid concerns!
I own a preschool and at the 2 and 3 year level we do a lot of fun, interactive based activities and a lot of play time, music and movement. They also do an arts and crafts project every day they come. The 3's do circle time each day and Handwriting without Tears some days.
Our 4 year olds are on a much more academic program. Most of them are able to complete the McGraw Hill kindergarten work sheets and we also cover 90 sight words. They also have mastered all their upper and lower case letters by the time they leave. Some are reading. A lot of it is still done through play and fun but it is academic. The kids don't sit a lot in circle time, we have colored, shaped tiles with the alphabet and number and they play jumping games on them, spelling their names and finding colors called out. They play fishing games for their motor skills and hand/eye coordination where they fish with a pole for magnetized fish with letters, numbers, colors, shapes, words etc. There are tons of fun play oriented ways to teach kids the valuable things they need to learn.
I would be concerned but if it is a community based organization they may not be held to the same standards as a UPK in a school. They would be funded by the gov't to be able to do a UPK class so I suggest you call the State Dept of Education and find out about the school and what their responsibilities are. I know a friend who is doing UPK in her private school and they have a lot of standards set by the dept. It's an easy way for a preschool to guarantee enrollment, what they show or say on paper to the gov't doesn't necessarily mean it's being met for real, so if people don't complain nothing will be done. I can set a curriculum to knock parents socks off but I don't follow through or let my staff let kids play all day then I am not offering what you believed to be what you signed up for.
Your taxes pay for UPK so you have a rights, just because it is free to you as a person doesn't mean it is 'free'. You are paying for it and deserve to be able to ask questions and find out if you are receiving quality pre-k education.
Sorry this is soooo long winded. I'd be happy to answer anything else you might have questions about if you want to email me. Good luck. Start with the State Dept.
http://www.nysed.gov/ find Nursery school information or UPK info. I might even have the woman's name I dealt with when we made changes to our school.

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Does she really need pre-school/kindergarten? If it is a waste of time, why not take her out and home school her so she's actually ready for kindergarten? If you need to have her there because you work, then after school her. Young children need to be able to develop fine motor skills, which they get through coloring, painting, and drawing. They also have brains like little sponges, which means this is the prime time for learning things like reading, foreign languages, math, etc. They also need to learn how to sit still for brief time periods, so story telling is important to improve attention span. Some local libraries offer free story hours, which you'll want to check into.

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The curriculum sounds like it is developmentally appropriate for 4 year olds. Children learn a lot from creative, open-ended play and it sounds like your daughter is enjoying it. I'm also not sure how much more they would fit into a 2 1/2 hour day. Perhaps you can have a conversation with the director to discuss the benefits of this particular curriculum. I don't know if an anonymous letter would be helpful because it would not allow for any dialogue. It would be better of you can share your concerns in a tactful way and be open to hearing another viewpoint on this curriculum. Best of luck.

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I believe that a non academic aspect of learning for young children is important, many parents do not have the ability ( work schedule, family support) to expose their children to social interactive play provided by the manditory stations in UPK settings. The society in which we live today, is technologically driven. Many of our children are stripped of the experience of "free play", which builds strong social skills. However, academically it is important for children to be prepared for the increasingly heavy demands of elemantary school. My suggestion is to create a wish list of what you would like to see more of, and work individually with your childs teacher to achieve the goal you have in mind ( this is free). If you are part of the Parent board at your school, you can get together and create a petition requesting that your children receive additional academic support.

An anonymous letter speaks to cowardice on the writer's part for what ever the reason be it real or imagined.

Your child is only there 2 1/2 hours. I would concentrate on perhaps giving your child the hands on instruction through what ever other care is being provided to him because he spends more time there. Truth is at 2 1/2 that is really young and you do have plenty of time to develop small motor skills.

If you feel so strongly about the curriculum at the school perhaps you and some other parents that share the same feelings could get together to meet with the director to discuss some possible changes at the school.

HI T.:
First the purpose of any kind of school environment is to challenge the mind. Even if it is through non-pen-and-paper methods.
Second, I have found that anonymous letters either tend to be ignored or create a drama for the whole environment where the director is trying to find out who the writer is.
from my experience, I would approach the director and the teacher with a few non-pen-and-paper suggestions about activities that would stimulate both the minds of the kids, give them cause to analyse situations or alternatives, and create a new source of fun.
there are many resource places that would help with this look under ideas for activities for gifted children on the internet, or Scholastics has a wonderful portafolio of ideas you can arm yourself with.

As an after thought I would also, this time discreetly, find out if this teacher is qualified to work in early education or does she think this is a babysitting service. PreK is supposed to teach the following, boundaries, responsibilities, respect, assignment of duties, letters, colors and numbers. Basics.

Don't know UPK, and am only writing to say: play is the best type of learning for your baby.

paper and pen is not everything. She may be well-socialized and she may have her letters and numbers, but 'advancement' is not EVERYTHING. IMO, at age 4 she belongs with you.

We have been learning as we go, and learning is a process that is entirely up to the child. Pushing will not always make it go faster and faster will not always be better. If she is not challenged, I suggest an instrument and lessons. Music will teach her math, and will pave her way for better math skills in the future.

If you have any further questions about this, feel free to email.

You might check out the article in the NYT on Forest Kindergarten. I think that would be more in line with the nature learning you want your child doing. I wish I had the site handy.

Good luck, and ask your child if she would rather stay home and go on field trips with you. You might be surprised!

What is UPK? As a teacher, I am very concerned about this program. They don't need to be pushing pencil and paper, but there are many prereading skills they should be learning through play and interaction. Rhyming, concepts of print, letter sound associations, etc are all needed. As a previous person stated, they NEED these skills for kindergarten. There are also concepts in math that are so important. All the activities you suggested are great, and working with her at home is too, but she needs to be a part of doing these in groups and with the guidance of a skilled teacher, You could talk to the director, but she obviously has let this go on so I would be concerned about her knowledge and commitment to student learning. I would look into other schools if I were you. Good luck.

Dear T.,

I agree there should some type of "academics" maybe not necessarily pencil and paper though. Children at this age do learn through play. Is the play structured or unstructured? Structured play like circle time reading or singing songs, counting dishes, pretending to be animals and making the appropriate sounds and even sign language, etc is learning (my daughter who is 21 months does this at daycare and knew her numbers, letters and colors before starting).

It is unstructured play that would concern me. I would ask the director if there is a daily schedule they follow where thay do specific activities with the children or if they just let the children play at will.

If you can, also have a discussion with the other parents to see how they feel. Regardless, I would meet with the director and share your concerns since switching schools is not an option for you.

They should be introducing letters and sounds, at least. I would first talk to the teacher. Ask first what the curriculum is. She should be able to give you papers of what they have been doing and will be doing. Doesn't sound like they have anything like that. So afterwards you voice your concerns.
Every day, when you pick her up, you should be finding papers of their 'work' in school. If you're notb getting those I would be concerned. Nothing wrong with asking. In fact, I decided against sending my kids to public school when i found out how little they would be working in kindergarten.
Pencil and paper should be their major form of entertainment, drawing, coloring, learning how to write their names etc.

Having taught kindergarten, I can tell you that there has been a shift from the non-academic pre-k program to one that builds the foundation needed for academic success.
Children are expected to be readers when they leave kdg. so pre-k is the new kdg. This doesn't necessarily mean lots of paper and pencil stuff but...
The New York State Education Department website was down this morning or I would have included a link. (a note said they hope to be back on-line by 7pm) I believe there are standards for pre-k just like all the other grades. I would check that out.
Hope this helps!

There is a UPK at the preschool I teach at and it is totally academic based. they do cicles, listen to stories, practice writing letters and their names adn practice reading comprehension. I know it semms like alot but the children enjoy the challenge and they will be very prepared for kindergarten. I teach at an special education preschool so some of the children in the room recieve services but they are still enjoying the activities. I would definatly write a letter and encourage other unhappy parents to do the same. Although play is good for children in a preschool, I would expect a UPK program to be more preparing children for kindergarten. Good luck!!

Hi T.,

I own a Montessori preschool and I can tell you I would not write an anonymous letter. I would suggest you have a meeting with the director and discuss your concerns. I was wondering when you took the initial tour of the school didn't the director go over daily schedules and curriculum with you at that time? Did you have a back to school night where the teacher went over the curriculum and goals for the year. I know in NJ the state mandates that I have schedules posted, back to school night for parents, child evaluations etc. I have a schedule posted in each classroom in which we change activities every half hour. Most of our academics take place in the morning due to the fact that I provide daycare as well and the children nap in the afternoon. I can assure you that pen and paperwork is not always necessary for children to learn. In a Montessori program we do little pen and paperwork we do more of exactly what you explained in your post. Science, art, music, math, language. Each day the children do some type of art project to take home. At your daughters age developing fine motor skills, with cutting, coloring, writing is important so I would approach the director about how your daughter is being prepared to enter kindergarten. As I said there should be a clear curriculum implemented and also presented at a back to school night meeting etc. I know as a director the most difficult job I have is dealing with parents. However when a parent comes to me with concerns I always listen and do my best to resolve them if possible. I think as long as you approach the teacher or director concerned, and positive, there is no reason for any teacher or director to hold anything against your child as no professional should. Trust me I am not endeared by all of the parents who's children attend my school lol!! But I would never hold that against a child. I am sure if this school is state funded that could also be an issue if resources are limited. Also, are you sure all teachers are certified to teach? Each state has their own required amount certified teachers per center. Which means all teachers do not have to be certified!! For the most part I would not worry there are some children who never go to preschool and do just fine in kindergarten. In my opinion I would worry more about social development then academics. The academics is the easy part, but if a child has trouble socially it is heartbreaking. Good luck!

well, i assume this isnt supposed to be a montessori type program. what i would worry about is the fact they may be latching on to montessori philisophy without following the full idea of the program. preschool in general for age 4-5 would be assumed to have academics-unless the parent wants an alternative such as montessori which is fine as long as thats what you want. i would assume a UPK would have a basis of academics.

im confused on one thing, you mentioned last year's program and said what she learned. is the program this year continuing with those things? im just not clear on whether she is ONLY not using pencil work which concerns you or if you mean she isnt do anything academic?

Your concerns are valid. The school is doing all of those children a disservice. My child went to an academically based pre-school from age 2-4 and just started kindergarten this year. I was very surprised at the amount of work and the degree to which they are challenged on a daily basis at the kindergarten level. The work is equivalent to "our" second grade lessons.

If the kids are not taught anything academic, especially holding a pencil and practicing their writing skills, they are going to be at a strong disadvantage once they enter kindergarten. Just to give you and example of kinder so far, they take weekly spelling, math and reading comprehension tests. The kids are expected to know how to write and already read 3 letter words.

I would write the note anonymously to see if there is any change and if not, I would seek other programs that are more beneficial.

Good luck.

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