It’s a story that begins with a simple idea.
At a local park, a girl named Ruby has the kids playing a game called Kindergarten Nugget.
Ruby is trying to build a tower that looks like the one that you see in a cartoon, so the kids can help her build it.
One of the kids is looking at the tower and asks Ruby what color it is.
“I dunno, brown?”
“Yeah, but I can’t tell you,” the other kid says.
“You can tell us.”
Ruby is right.
The tower looks like a white box with a big white diamond.
The kids don’t understand the meaning of the puzzle until they’ve played with it.
And when they finally do, they can’t quite figure out what it’s for, and what it means.
“That’s the difference in a child’s understanding of what’s possible,” says Mark Miller, the director of the Kindergarden Project at New York University.
In fact, the Kindergardens are so successful that in the first few years after they started, Miller says, the project has grown from a handful of teachers to a full-fledged kindergarten program.
The Kindergardes are like a new kind of playground, but they’re also a lot of fun.
“Kindergarden is a way for kids to learn in their own way, without being forced to memorize things,” Miller says.
But there’s a catch: they’re not the only preschools offering this kind of learning.
In the United States, kids have access to more than 2 million preschool programs.
Kids in those programs spend more than 90 percent of their time at home with their parents.
“Our kids are playing in our house,” says Kelly Smith, director of children’s programs for the United Way of Greater Boston.
“And we need to provide them with opportunities to learn and play.”
So why aren’t we starting our own kindergarten program?
Because most preschools are still set up like kindergartens, which are not ideal for kids of any age, according to Miller.
Miller has a theory: There’s a lack of funding.
Because there’s so little money for preschool, there’s little incentive for preschoolers to go to a program that teaches kids to think, he says.
It’s the opposite of what most people think about preschool, and it’s the reason why we’ve seen a decline in the number of preschool programs over the last two decades.
Miller says we’re still building the infrastructure for the future.
“But when you’ve got kids that are too young to do that, it’s difficult for us to provide the educational opportunities they need,” he says, noting that we’re also trying to get more parents involved in the program.
For example, he’s helping families sign up for Kindergards in their neighborhoods, and he’s trying to find ways to get parents to take their kids to preschool on Saturdays.
The goal, he believes, is to help parents take the initiative and help kids discover their own strengths and talents without being told what to do by an educator.
“We need to build our own Kindergard program, and we need parents to be the ones who are the ones taking care of it,” he said.
“If parents don’t have a hand in it, it can become a waste of time.”
And the fact that it can be difficult to teach preschools kids to read and write has an impact on their education, too.
Miller estimates that if you give kindergarten students a book called KinderGarden Reading, they spend an average of 15 minutes per day on the book.
“There’s no way to teach kindergarten students to read, so they have to be taught by other people,” Miller said.
But in the United Kingdom, parents have a very different experience when it comes to preschool education.
They’re more likely to have preschoolers working at home, in the family home.
And they spend more time with their kids.
Miller is optimistic that we’ll start to see a more balanced approach to preschool in the next few years.
“In my lifetime, I think there’s been a lot more emphasis on the quality of preschool,” he believes.
“Now, the quality is better and the quantity is better.
I’m optimistic that that will continue to improve.”
But he worries about how well this new approach will translate to classrooms.
He says the Kindergartens are trying to teach kids to see the world through their own eyes.
“Kids need to be able to look at the world from a different perspective, and to make connections between ideas,” he explains.
“The kids that get it will become really good and innovative people.
And then, the parents that don’t, they’ll have a tough time teaching their kids the right way.”
In the meantime, the best way to give kids the opportunity to learn is to have them try to do it