COVID has heightened the kindergarten class size conversation. I have always been in agreement that smaller kindergarten class sizes are important. Right now, they are a must.
Defining smaller and larger classes
I consider a small kindergarten class one that consists of fifteen or fewer students and a classroom teacher. I had a small class this past year. A larger class could fall within a range of 16-33 students, a classroom teacher and an early childhood educator team teaching. I know many kindergarten teachers who have had very large classes of 33 students as recently as the 2019/2020 school year.
The year before, I shared a class of 21 students. That was manageable in terms of space for students, staff, furniture (including large, dramatic play items) and learning materials.
What motivated this post
Last week The Ministry of Ontario announced the initiatives and funding for students returning to school after six months at home due to COVID. Many of us were expecting to hear that classes would be divided in half, plans for less students in every classroom at one time. Very little was said to ease the anxiety of families and educators of kindergarten to third grade students. I nearly spit out my tea when I heard our provincial education minister’s comment about Kindergarten rooms having more space than other classrooms. What kindergarten rooms has he been in?
Start with an empty room – how much space is allotted per child?
If all of the toys, furniture and resources were removed from the AVERAGE sized kindergarten classroom in Ontario (and I hear this is true far beyond our borders), how much space is allotted per child?
Now let’s think about the students with autism, and other individual learning needs. Those who need equipment and special devices, additional staff. Visuals. The number of hooks and spacing in the cubby area (if there even is a cubby area).
Remember – we’re starting our measurements with a completely empty room so far. Not including the cubby room, the calming room, the gym or the library. If we were to even attempt social distancing, does the area of the room even equal social distancing guidelines when divided by the number of children and adults present?
When I was a lifeguard, the health department based the capacity (number of people allowed in) of the pools on formulas for the areas of deck, shallow and deep water. They also shut us down sometimes for air quality issues.
Is anything like that in place for schools? A comment in response to this post on Facebook just informed me that there is for daycare!
Why kindergarten needs more attention
It contains rich opportunities for learning through play and inquiry, building literacy, math and self-regulation skills. They encounter real-life, age-appropriate problems to solve in their play and interactions with others. Toys, small objects, building and craft materials, sensory, literacy, math manipulatives, puzzles, books and toys support their learning.
I am realistic about kindergarten and COVID.
What is expected for kindergarten students? I believe that it is understood that asking not quite four year to five and half year olds to maintain the same social distancing expectations and mask management of older students is not realistic. Given this understanding, certainly, they should also be given more space.
I agree that young children need structure and daily, extended periods of play with friends back in their lives. Exercise is crucial. Mental and emotional well-being is a major priority.
I also believe it is a completely careless practice to stuff 30+ kindergarten students into rooms that were built for class sizes of 20-25 long before anyone ever heard of COVID.
Whether parents are most comfortable with organizing small playgroups and starting the year online, or sending their kids to school right away, we need smaller kindergarten classes, especially while COVID is part of our reality.
On a related note, kids have been out of school for six months. Separation anxiety is very real, particularly in kindergarten. It’s time to bring back staggered entry so families and educators can gradually bring students in comfortably and give them the attention and care that they need in a calm manner. More on that next time.
What are your thoughts? How are things happening where you live?
Stay well, my friends.