District Provides Access to Learning and Exploring for its Youngest Students as it Expands the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) Program
Lifting brush to paper, young students swipe swaths of green, brown, red, and pink paint in an effort to illustrate the flowers they’ve just learned about in a book read by their teacher. “1-2-3-4-5-…,” they count aloud, making sure their flowers have just enough petals. They take turns dipping brushes in a cup of water to clean supplies and dutifully push in their chairs before carrying their art to the drying rack.
Activities such as this in a Redwood City School District (RCSD) transitional kindergarten, or TK, classroom serve many different purposes all at once, such as building fine motor skills, learning parts of print, exploring the natural world, counting, independence, working with others, and much more. Students are not only learning colors, basic ABCs and 123s, but are also being exposed to the building blocks of classroom etiquette and how to get along in diverse settings—skills that will serve them throughout life.
Currently, the TK program is for children turning five-years old between September 2 through April 2.
In 2023-24, RCSD will offer Transitional Kindergarten at nine schools, a 100% increase in the number of classes provided in 2022-23 when the District served 100 TK students. The more than $3 million investment in the hiring of credentialed teachers, instructional assistants, and the resources and supplies for each classroom means more than 200 TK students will have access to school, helping them develop the knowledge and skills they will need as they transition to Kindergarten.
Heidi Conti, TK Teacher at Orion Alternative Elementary School, said that by meeting students where they are in their development, students feel supported and confident to continue on their learning journey.
“Students develop skills of patience, sharing, empathy, and cooperation while working and playing with their peers,” she said. “Students can learn to express their feelings, manage their emotions, and develop resilience. In TK, students will learn to communicate their needs and perspectives, negotiate, compromise, and find solutions. Another great benefit to attending TK is students learn school routines, like following instructions, raising hands, and taking turns, which prepare them for the elementary classroom.”
Ann Berljafa, who coordinates the TK program for the district, said that the foundational elements of TK are family engagement, developmentally appropriate practice, and social-emotional development.
Frequent collaborative meetings between the program’s dedicated teachers is one cornerstone of this impactful program, she said, where teachers can share best practices with one another. The TK curriculum is a blend of California Common Core Kindergarten standards and the CA Preschool Foundations for five-year olds.
“Transitional kindergarten is often described as a ‘gift of time’ for children who are not ready for the academic demands of kindergarten, but need more stimulation than preschool,” said Berljafa. “It can also benefit multilingual learners who need more exposure to English before kindergarten. Our highly qualified teachers provide a positive, nurturing environment for children.”
She said the RCSD TK program fosters a lifelong love of learning in young students by honoring and including families in the child’s learning process, providing a play-based curriculum that bridges the gap between preschool and kindergarten, and by developing children's self-esteem, confidence, empathy, and curiosity through positive interactions and exploration.
Jennifer Mercado, TK Teacher at Adelante Selby Spanish Immersion School, said that students learn best when they are encouraged to engage with their learning environment to explore, build, create, design, write, read many stories, sing, observe, ask questions, and problem solve.
“Our students have multiple opportunities to build their preliteracy skills in a fun, engaging way that supports how children learn best and sets the tone for continued learning,” she said. “Students develop a strong and early math foundation through hands-on activities and engaging learning centers, and during circle time activities. Students build their vocabulary through sharing opportunities, by listening to stories, singing songs, engaging in dramatic play, playing circle games, and interacting with their peers and teachers in the classroom.”
Students learn by doing and having a great day with their newfound friends in the classroom. The TK class provides opportunities for social-emotional and language development, as well as fostering a lifelong love of learning through interactive, hands-on activities and stimulating classroom centers, which focus on science, mathematics, writing, arts and crafts, and learning about community through role play.