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Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

  • 1.  Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-10-2019 10:53 PM
    Hi again everybody,
            Just today I organized a meeting with some preschool teachers in my area (one of which was my former teacher in 2nd grade), and we talked about both a New Jersey state government program which is giving a total of $25 million dollars to predonimantly low-income districts for them to expand their preschool programs to full-day. This is so these districts ensure that many more kids with working parents get support from their preschool systems.

         Also, we talked about centers in a preschool setting, which is one specific way for teachers to prepare their kids for Kindergarten. The reason why I call these centers in Preschool/Kindergarten classrooms a form of Non-Transparent Academics is because the teachers are still practicing academic concepts, but they are perceived by the kids as a fun or enjoyable activity, and therefore don't realize the long-term academic value of it.

          One of the two examples that this teacher showed me was an "ocean treasure" activity in which there is a storage container made to represent an ocean and the kids have to pick up little shells or other objects from an ocean using their hands or with tweezers (fine motor skills). Afterwards, the kids go over to the floor and start counting how many items they found (learning numbers), and along the way they learn the shapes of the item.

          The other example is a dramatic play area that for the last week of school (which is this week in my area) gets turned into a pretend ice cream shop, where kids can actually take jobs like being a cashier, or actually making ice cream. This is designed for kids to gain exposure to jobs that they might have as their first job later in life. According to this teacher, it can also help with gaining life skills, like handling money.

       Now since I have explained Non-Transparent Academics I have two questions: Do you think these two examples are developmentally appropriate for 3-5 year olds, and what do you think about the Non-Transparent Academics concept in general?

    John David DeOliveira
    Randolph NJ

  • 2.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 12:53 AM
    I am a family child care home that is set up as a preschool/prek environment. These activities sound like things that I do with my class. I love project activities and things that they can carry over into free play with each other. It also allows me to better observe their knowledge base. Sometimes children will not answer direction questions and you can learn what they know through these types of activities and during free play. I don't actually have too many teacher directed play times to begin with. I do enjoy teaching this way. It makes learning fun for the children. Which means they carry their love for learning into Kindergarten. I do wish kindergarten leaned more into this direction.

    Temesha (Ms. Tessie) Ragan
    Family Child Care IF Facilitator
    Perfect Start Learning
    Family Child Care Provider
    Edwards, CA

  • 3.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 08:38 AM
    Those activities sound developmentally appropriate.

    I am really puzzling over this concept,  though, "non-transparent academics". Perhaps it is invented for people who have no understanding of child development. There are basic main-stays of preschool education- materials like blocks, playdough, paint, sand, water- these play materials offer deep learning experiences for children and especially with early childhood teachers who are intentional about classroom design and childhood pedagogy.  Research is clear that children learn through play and movement is essential. Why would we need to call these staples of early education "non transparent?" Because they don't fit into a template of "education" which includes sitting at a table with a pencil in hand and teacher at the chalkboard?  Would sitting a group of 3 and 4 year old children down to trace the alphabet be seen as "transparent?" From my perspective, the only thing transparent would be the teachers lack of understanding about how young children learn.

    show me a child digging in the sand box and making mud pies and I can explain the depth of learning- the sensory-integration, motor development, the spatial skills, the language, literacy, math, scientific thinking. Play is the deepest form of research, critical thinking, and invention. I can think of lots of beautiful respectful meaningful ways to describe childhood learning but "non transparent academics" really misses the point and sells young children and their first teachers short.

    The foundational skills for all academics are not taught by adopting pedagogy for school children and renaming it or adapting it or watering it down.  When we are taking about best practices and  appropriate pedagogy for our youngest citizens we need to use the language of human growth and brain development and relationship building to capture the essence of this fascinating time of life and learning called early childhood.  We need a language that emerges from an understanding of early human growth- not one from the outside that places the first stage of life in a deficit model.

    With the increased funding for preschool, we have an enormous opportunity to influence educational systems. There is so much to learn from the brilliance of young children and their first teachers. We should be champions of childhood play, discovery, movement to influence kindergarten and first grade and second grade teachers. We should not be looking to emulate "public school models" but we should hope to become advocates for developmentally appropriate early learning. I applaud the teachers who are teaching through play, pretending with ocean themes, letting kids play in sand and pick up sea shells. Of course preschool children should be "pretending" to be cashiers, cooks, doctors, vets, moms, dads, and yes it prepares them for life and also gives vital practice In socialization, negotiation, conversation. These are very TRANSPARENT learning experiences from the view of early childhood teachers.

    Carol Murray
    Bard Nursery School
    Red Hook NY

  • 4.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 09:20 AM
    So then non transparent is just another name for play based education. It seems like non transparent is directed at people outside of early childhood education who may not understand the benefits of play In the early years. Not that it was developed or renamed for new teachers without a background in ece. 

    Project based learning is kind of what I thought this was but for younger children. I like project based learning a lot and think it helps with introducing many concepts to younger children through actual experience. 

  • 5.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 09:46 AM
    Good point Temesha!

    We are always looking for ways to help people outside the field "see" learning and "make it visible." And we've tried lots of different language to do this- Activity based instruction, play based learning, project approach, developmentally appropriate practice, experiential project based learning.

    Lillian Katz has written a good deal about the distinction between "academic skills" and "intellectual growth" which is also helpful.

    Carol Murray
    Bard Nursery School
    Red Hook NY

  • 6.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 08:25 PM
    Hi Carol,
       I wanted to clarify my post. What I meant by Non-Transparent was meant to represent the kid's view of these activities, not the teachers. For example, if a kid in Mrs. Snowman's class (that's the actual name of the teacher), was a cashier in a pretend ice cream shop, that kid probably wouldn't know at the time what they are gaining from the activity (which would be conversation and other life skills.)

       However, in the teacher's view, I absolutely agree with you and the reasons you listed. Its that this was just meant from a kid's perspective. I'm sorry I didn't clarify this earlier.

    John David DeOliveira
    Randolph NJ

  • 7.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-13-2019 06:05 AM
    Ah, Thanks John,  For clarification (and for starting all this thinking)

    I see what you mean- the learning is non transparent to the child. Still, if you observe in a high quality early education setting- the whole day would be non-transparent so I am not clear about when or why the distinction would be helpful.   When children are engaged in play and invention and story and song- all the best childhood pedagogy - they are not usually aware that they are "learning". Or maybe there is another way to see it- that we can take a lesson from the child. Maybe all humans are driven to learn and curious and seeking- and if we all had environments that respond to our needs the way that play responds to the need of the child, we would not be making the distinctions of when we are learning and when we are not learning.

    Does a child know he is learning vocabulary and syntax while listening to a good story? Does she know she is learning patterning and phonemic awareness while memorizing a song?

    Intentional teachers, starting with teachers of babies and toddlers embed learning goals in every interaction all day- through care, at meals, in conversation, and in the way we respond to children. That's the beauty of early learning - children do not distinguish between learning and life.

    My hope is that as more and more preschools are funded in public settings- the environments can remain full of playful engagement- like Ms Snowman's- full of discovery, with children pretending and engaging and being kids. That what high quality education looks like!

    Carol Murray
    Bard Nursery School
    Red Hook NY

  • 8.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 09:39 AM
    What good questions.  I agree with he previous commenters.  This is really play based education.  And it's an education for adults to understand what that is. Play based education is what is developmentally and academically appropriate and sound for children before (and during) Kindergarten.  I do have a logistical question about the ocean treasures activity, which combines fine motor, numeracy, imagination, sharing, and other skills.  It may be easier for both children and teachers if the children count the items into small plates or containers right on the table where they ocean bin is.  And the expectation is an adult one--that the activity will consist of picking up and counting,  For the kids, the activity will consist of picking up and playing.  So I would advise that the adult idea be expanded a bit to include what the children will do in practice, which is play with the objects and hopefully expand this play to other areas, like pretending to be fish on the playground or reading about sea creatures in both nonfiction and fiction picture books. Counting can happen at the same time by asking questions like, "I wonder how many sea stars you have?"  "You're an octopus!  How many arms do you have, octopus?" You probably know this already!

    Explaining what skills the children are practicing when they engage in these activities might be more useful to parents than the label.  They're gaining all the academic skills you mentioned plus--and these skills are more important to Kindergarten learning--sharing, cooperating, the ability to work as a team, talk with their classmates, problem-solve, etc.  If parents (and teachers) can learn to see all of these elements they may think of their children's play differently when they are with them at home also.

    Aren Stone
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA

  • 9.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 12:14 PM
    Aren, you are so right on and so eloquent!

    Carol Murray
    Bard Nursery School
    Red Hook NY

  • 10.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-13-2019 10:38 AM
    Aren you put things so eloquently.  I love listening to like minded professionals. I have found over the years that this can be a challenging concept for parents and even some teachers.  They want worksheets, writing, and reading.  The skills of cooperative play, sharing, taking turns, following consecutive directions, and critical thinking are crucial to early learning.  I love the idea of investigative learning as well. When children lead the investigation and ask the questions they want to learn about there world just expands.  All of a sudden their opinions have value, they realize they have the power to research and learn.  They are capable and our world is so interesting. Creating confident thinkers should be a primary goal of early childhood.

    Annie Carney
    Early Learning Specialist
    YMCA Memphis
    Cordova TN

  • 11.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 12:00 PM
    Hello John, what an amazing way to frame what we do daily.  Puzzles, sensory activities, matching, sequencing, all of these are non transparent academics.  To the untrained eye they seem silly but we know what's happening to the human brain while kids are doing these activities  Boom!  I hear the neurons popping. Awesome I'm going to use that  my phrase discussions with my parents.  Thanks!

    Leica Jones
    Head Start
    Rancho Cordova CA

  • 12.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-12-2019 01:26 PM

    In a play based environment there is "learning" and "educational concepts" involved in all the activities that would be available in a developmentally appropriate classroom. I believe strongly in the value of a play-based experience for all young children. We are a lab school and a big part of what our teachers do is to promote the value of play to our college students (pre-teachers). The students are taught to look for the underlying value of the play that they see. Harvard Graduate School of Education has great information about one of their projects called Making Learning Visible. I think if you look at what you call non transparent academics, the challenge for us as teachers is to make the learning that is occurring in our classrooms visible to others. There are many ways to accomplish this and we need to find what works for us in our own classroom setting.

    Another piece of the puzzle about focusing on "academics" is the role that social emotional development plays in the readiness of a child to enter kindergarten. Children are experiencing through play the skills needed to support their development.

    "Research shows the link between social and emotional skills and school success is so strong, it is a greater predictor of childrens' academic performance in the first grade than their familial background and their cognitive ability." This article I have linked talks about the role of play and social emotional development.

    I'm not sure what the original question that was posted in this series was directed towards, but I do know that we as professionals need to be vocal in our support of doing what is best for young children.

    Janet Bauer
    Windy Hill School
    Colby-Sawyer College
    New London, NH

  • 13.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-13-2019 05:43 AM
    Good morning all. I am smiling at this post (in a good way). It amuses me that "we" need to give a "name" to everything we do. Play-based, Project Approach, Structured, Un structured, Semi structured...STEAM etc etc etc...are "we" perhaps "over-thinking"? I am in my 60's and back in my day most of us didn't attend "preschool" -perhaps 1x/wk Sunday school LOL. I assume we all learned to read, write and many (shocker) went on to Higher Education...I know that my Mom didn't put much thought into my academic profile when I was 3! My own children went to preschool in the 1980's at age 3 it was 2x/week 9-11 and at 4 3x/wk 9-12, with an option for "lunch bunch" until 2 occasionally. They too learned to read write and went to university.  Everything was "play-based", social emotional development reigned...They had FUN, made friends, learned social skills, manners, how to sit and participate in circle time etc etc...I know times have changed and many Mom's choose to/need to work these days. In which case I would hope Early Childhood programs "feel" like "the neighborhood/family" for parents as well as children...All these years later I am still friends with the Mom's I met at my kids schools. I am a believer in "seeding" the classroom with developmentally appropriate materials, music, art (not necessarily crafts), science and math. Do this and the children will shine :-)

    Karin King
    Education Consultant
    Trumbull CT

  • 14.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-13-2019 09:26 AM
    Good morning!  This has been a very interesting thread to follow (and I greatly thank NAEYC for creating this platform where so many different voices can share!).

    As I read the posts, it made me reflect on two things:

    First, it makes me realize that as a field, we need to be able to clearly articulate what learning (and teaching) looks like at different stages of development.  The thread didn't really include many references to infants and toddlers specifically but I think about my time spent teaching those age groups:  I know that the curriculum I provided to them enabled many opportunities for learning.  You just need know to about child development to see that!!!  If you don't know enough about child development, you do not see the learning that is taking place.

    The second reflection I had is to mirror what several of the other respondents to the original post stated:  children do not see a distinction between 'learning' and 'play'.  They are one in the same for young children!!!  And thank goodness!  Early childhood is a time period where discoveries and problem solving are endless!  Children are the R and D of humanity! (research and development).   Those working in the field so lucky to be a part of that!

    It becomes our responsibility to ensure that those outside our field (or those IN our field who are less aware) have a clear understanding of developmentally appropriate practices.  We need to help explain what types of experiences are beneficial for young children..... vs experiences that at best, are a poor use of time...... or at worst, turn young children off from their out of home experiences.

    Kristen Kennen
    Early Childhood Education Specialist
    Danbury, CT

  • 15.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-14-2019 08:00 AM
    Hello Jonn,
    I think I agree with Carol Murray, ( if I'm intrepreting her comments correctly), "non-transparent" is too murky a concept to work well in early childhood education.  I believe "transparent educational practices"  comes from education aimed at older students, and is basically the idea that allowing students to see their educational content, classroom teaching goals, assessments, etc, creates a learning environment that is more engaging & assessable to the students, and thereby facilitates both learning and the assessment of whether "learning" is being achieved. All of this really depends on metacognitive skills that are not developmentally appropriate to preschool learners. I can imagine that the term, "non-transparent teaching"  is a pushback against trying to "quantify" & document learning in preschool- right?
    One curriculum that could be said to include the concept of "transparent teaching practices" in a preschool setting might be "Tools of the Mind" - where one component used engaging children's metacognitive skills. (Full disclosure: I am in no way trained on this curriculum, and my knowledge of it is basically through NPR coverage!) children were ask to come up with a "play plan" or "learning plan" and then,  afterwards, the child is guided through self- assessment or reflection of the child's success in meeting the original plan's  goal. This is completely oversimplified, the curriculum includes much more, relying heavily on Vygotsky's theory, peer learning, social & emotional regulation, intentional teaching, project-based learning and guided play.  This curriculum showed  great results in cognitive growth  self-regulation skills during early implementation, however, later assessments with greater sample sizes did not bare out the initial findings - although the curriculum continues to demonstrates high level of success in multiple settings. Here is a link to one published article that analyzed the curriculum:

    i do believe preschool teachers should help children's metacognitive growth by introducing the idea of "thinking about thinking" - why do you think that? Where did you learn that? How do you know how to do that? What helped you get better at that? Are all great questions to empower self reflection!  Of course, metacognitive skills are almost non existent at age 2, and every child progresses on their own developmental timetable.  I do think preschools benefit from reflection on individual & group development and it is important to have some objective tracking in place & shared with families, though I do not believe in formal assessments in pre-K. Again, this is out of my area.

    Here is a link to one article that discusses transparency in early childhood education:

    For my own experience- 1x or 2x a year parent- teacher conferences with a brief developmental checklist, and an end of the year scrapbook compilation of once a month free drawing projects that recorded the child's thoughts on an experience or idea (my self portrait, I love when my family _____, my favorite part of preschool is _____, etc). I am very interested in learning more about keeping student portfolios.
    Hope this adds to the discussion!
    Margro Purple

    Margro Purple
    Rockville MD

  • 16.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-15-2019 08:16 AM
    Hi Margro
    Do you have an example of the "brief developmental checklist" that you reference?
    If so, I would love to see how you document developmental milestones.

    Beth Clawson
    lead teacher
    silver spring day school
    Silver Spring MD

  • 17.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-15-2019 10:34 AM
    Hi Beth,
    I am not sure of I have a copy of the checklist, but I will find one and what source it came from and share it with you as soon as possible. The preschool just went on summer break, so it may take a little time, please be patient. A question for you - a while back a NAEYC member from your area contacted me about sharing information, I lost the email before I could respond yes, and then could not find the contact information- I am crossing my fingers that it was you who sent me that message ?
    Thanks so much,

  • 18.  RE: Preschool Programs and "Non-Transparent Academics"

    Posted 06-16-2019 04:58 PM
    hi margro

    yes, that was me.