The Essential Guide to Kindergarten in India
What children learn in school is important, but what about the time before school? That’s where the role of kindergarten comes in.
Kindergarten is a German term meaning ‘garden for children.’ It was started in Germany and France in the late 18th century. Intended to prepare children for move from home to school, it was first seen as an early education approach. It involved activities such as playing, singing, drawing and social interaction. Today, the term refers to many institutions that teach children ages 3–6, with a variety of approaches.
The terms preschool and kindergarten are often used interchangeably depending on the country. However, a preschool may refer to any institution for children too young to go to school. Often, in India, these only apply to children ages 2–4. A kindergarten is a specialized institute with educational programs for children ages 3–6. It is seen as the first step to formal education. Many schools have a kindergarten level for children to start at.
Around the world, countries have different standards for kindergartens. School entry age varies from country to country. Most of these start at age 4 and have different names. Most do not consider it compulsory.
Importance of Kindergarten
- How to learn: Kindergarten teaches children to understand learning as something fun. Instead of being stressed the first time they’re in a classroom, they enjoy the experience.
- Social interaction: At home, children have little chance to see anyone their own age. Kindergarten teaches them to develop social skills. They learn to open up, share, and make friends.
- Creativity: Kindergarten is where children learn free expression and creative ways to learn. They can later apply these methods when they reach higher grades.
- Preparing for higher grades: Kindergarten helps children ease the transition from home to school. At home, they’re not used to paying attention to other adults. They learn structures and routines. Children also learn the basics for further grades.
- Future success: Going to a great kindergarten can have a huge impact on your child’s future success. From going to college to how much they earn, early education has a big role to play.
Kindergarten in India
The structure for kindergarten in India varies according to the system. Some institutions may continue on from nursery to kindergarten, before primary school begins. In larger schools, it follows a simple structure of Lower and Upper Kindergarten.
Lower kindergarten (LKG) or Junior KG is a natural progression from nursery. However, no education is required to enter LKG. Children are usually 3–4 years old at admission. They learn the alphabet and basic numbers. They are encouraged to play. They develop social, emotional and physical skills.
Upper kindergarten (UKG) or Senior KG is more structured. Children learn to read and write using creative methods. Their vocabulary develops and they learn basic math. Teachers may use a more individual approach depending on the child. The learnings are used to prepare children for first grade.
II. Developmental Goals
Kindergartens are less focused on teaching and more on developmental goals. Ideally, by the time children are 6 (end of UKG), the school should have helped them achieve the following milestones.
A. Physical Skills
- Catch a ball
- Skip using a jump rope
- Hop on one foot
- Walk on tiptoes
- Use one hand more than the other
- Hold a pencil
- Cut out basic shapes
- Use utensils like a fork and spoon
B. Cognitive Skills
- Recognize colors and basic shapes
- Know the alphabet and letter sounds
- Know their name, address and phone number
- Understand story structure
- Recite numbers up to 20
- Finish a short 15 minute project
- Make plans about how to play or what to draw
C. Language skills
- Use words to argue with people (learn how to use “because”)
- Use plurals, pronouns and tenses correctly
- Tell stories and jokes
- Understand opposites and comparisons
- Follow simple directions with multiple steps
- Talk about the past and future
D. Social and Emotional Skills
- Want parent’s approval
- Behave like their friends, wanting their approval
- Learn to follow rules
- Enjoy getting attention — they may dance or sing to do so
- Understand why sharing and getting along with others is good
Kindergartens attached to larger schools often take children from KG to Grade 12. These usually follow a mix of systems. Their primary goal is to prepare the child for the educational board that the school follows. Researching the pedagogy and educational board beforehand will help you to choose the right school for your child.
Choosing the Right Kindergarten
I. Safety and Reliability
The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has established guidelines for private schools for ages 3–6. We may assume that private kindergartens must adhere to the same. The commission has outlined the registration procedures for private institutions. They state the teacher-student ratio must be 1:20 and the teaching period should be 3–4 hours a day. They also give guidelines on boundary walls, fire safety, first aid kits, and other aspects of safety. Large private schools that teach kindergarten have modified versions of these rules.
For private institutions, following these standards and registration with the authorities is necessary. The authority is usually the district level officer responsible for implementing the Integrated Childhood Development Scheme (ICDS) under the Government of India. Larger schools also have to register with the respective boards.
A. Physical Safety
1. The school should have a boundary wall and alert security guards. Preferably, in bigger schools, the kindergarten section should have extra security.
2. CCTV cameras should be installed in classrooms and corridors.
3. Fall surfaces should be present around the classroom to prevent injuries.
4. Any materials in the classroom (eg. toys) should meet safety standards.
5. Dangerous supplies like scissors should be kept out of reach. If used, it should be with supervision.
6. Electrical outlets should be fitted with childproof covers.
7. Cleaning materials should be locked away.
8. Daily safety checks should be carried out.
9. If swimming is part of the activities, ensure adult supervision at all times.
- Kindergarten should be clean and free of health hazards to children (eg. mold)
- All surfaces should be sanitized regularly.
- Toilets and showers (if applicable) should be cleaned regularly.
- Encourage the practice of washing hands and other hygienic habits in children.
C. Staff Qualifications
- Teachers should ideally be qualified in Early Childhood Education.
- They should also be aware of the developmental goals and have plans for the same.
- The kindergarten may be based in schools following a certain curriculum. If this is the case, the teacher should understand and prepare students for the same.
- Extra staff, such as caregivers, should meet standards.
D. Background Checks
- The school should conduct thorough background checks for all the staff.
- For teachers and caregivers, these includes checking if their credentials are genuine.
- Secondary staff, such as bus drivers, security guards, etc. should also be checked.
- Ensure that you question the school about the nature of the background checks.
II. Curriculum and Activities
Unlike preschool or playschool, in kindergarten children are much more focused. They are guided more by the teacher than being left on their own. The systems vary, but children should usually learn a mix of the following:
- Math: They begin to learn basic numbers. They might count with physical objects. Simple math functions such as addition and subtraction are taught. They also learn basic concepts of time. Some advanced curriculums include fractions.
- Language: Children are taught the alphabet and letter sounds. They also learn capitals and vowels. Teachers read them simple poems and stories. By the end of kindergarten, they should be able to read the same. They are also taught to write and spell simple words and sentences.
- Sciences: Children may learn a wide variety here. They understand the seasons. They begin to identify plants, birds and animals. They learn what healthy food is and how the body works.
- Social sciences: They begin to learn about the world around them. This is the area where they learn about their community. They also begin to identify right from wrong.
In kindergarten, it is important to check if equal time is given to physical activities as academics. The school should ideally have a playground. Children of this age need physical activity and movement to develop and grow. Teachers can also use games to teach concepts like teamwork and sharing.
Always ask for a copy of the curriculum to have the best idea of what your child will learn. Ensure that it matches with what you have in mind and your child’s abilities.
At the kindergarten level, the teacher can have a huge impact on future learning. As referenced earlier, studies show that this can affect even future job earnings. Here is a initial checklist:
- Should be creative, kind and patient
- Should structure activities to ensure the best development of your child
- Should understand nuances for each child
- Should take active part in PTAs and PTMs
- Should communicate your child’s progress effectively
- Should be trained to respond in emergencies
- Should keep the numbers of the parents and emergency contacts
- Student-teacher ratio should be 20:1 as recommended by the government
IV. Behavior Management
In kindergarten, children still require some guidance on behavior. Younger children can’t sit still for very long. Rather than forcing them to do so, teachers can use creative techniques to persuade them. Check if the teacher follows ideas like these:
- Proactive Techniques: If the children get restless, the teacher doesn’t suppress it. Rather, they allow them a break to sing, dance, or be generally active. The teacher may also gently reinforce good behavior. For example, if a child speaks out of turn, the teacher may ask them to raise their hand. When the child does so, she offers praise.
- Modeling Behavior: The teacher brings the childrens’ focus to those who behave well. For example, they may ask a noisy child to look at children reading quietly. When they follow the same behavior, praise is given.
- Routine: Setting a routine helps young children follow instructions. When they are asked to clean the toys in the same manner every time, it becomes a habit.
At no point should a teacher engage in harsh scolding or hitting. If your child complains about these, bring it to the school’s notice. This sort of behavior management does not help the children to develop.
V. Ratings and Reputation
There are several websites that will rank schools and kindergartens for parents. Parents should try to use multiple tools and references in order to make their decision. Besides, speak to the children who study in a kindergarten and their parents to get a better idea.
VI. Timings and Cost
Most kindergartens teach for 3–4 hours a day. School starts a little later for older students. A typical schedule is from 9 AM to 1 PM. If both parents work, ask about after school activities or daycare options. Choose what works best for your schedule.
A kindergarten’s cost can vary according to the institute or school. Premier schools often charge more, and fees are rapidly rising. Take into account the activities offered, the curriculum, and hidden costs. Transport, picnics, and outdoor activities may be over and above the initial fees. Choose the school that best fits your budget. If you plan to keep your child in the same school, check the fees for higher grades as well.
VII. Transport and Location
The kindergarten’s location shouldn’t be too far from home. This is important whether the child is using school transport or not. If using school transport, the child shouldn’t have to get up too early to catch the bus. Young children need their sleep. If the parents take the child to school, it should not be too far out of their way. Parents should be given authorization cards to ensure the child isn’t handed to a stranger.
The school bus should have a qualified driver as well as caregiver who counts all the children at pickup and drop off.The bus must follow Supreme Court guidelines for school buses, including but not limited to:
- Having a clear label indicating it is a ‘School Bus’
- Having grills on the windows
- Having a first aid box
- Having a fire extinguisher on hand
- Having the school name and telephone number clearly visible
The parents must be contacted in case the child is not present at the pickup or the parent is not present at drop off.
Kindergarten is obviously not the only option. Parents may choose to homeschool their children until primary school. They may obtain materials online or from libraries. Teaching your child yourself can be a fun activity and helps in bonding with your child.
Some parents may also send their children directly to primary school. But few parents can compare to a professional teacher. It also keeps the child from making friends and learning social skills. The home to school transition is going to be harder as well.
Parents should choose the a kindergarten based on their parental goals and child’s abilities.
If you already know your preferred curriculum, choosing a kindergarten affiliated with that board is recommended. Otherwise, many systems like Montessori also offer great learning experiences.
Kindergarten may be presented as an option. But in today’s competitive world, it has become extremely important.
A Day in the Life of a Kindergartner
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