These were kindergarteners?

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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I’ve been to several school “expos” during the past year. In each instance, it was as more or less an obligatory trip, made as a grandparent.

That said, I am delighted to have been encouraged to go because every time I do, I become a bit more convinced that there really is a great deal of positive energy in Isle of Wight County’s “project-based learning” initiative.

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I’m still old-fashioned enough to believe in heads-down, read-the-material learning. Today, the head may be down over an iPad rather than a paper book in many instances, but whether it’s a great work of literature or a math table, there’s a certain amount of very hard individual study that cannot be replaced. I would quickly add, however, that the school system doesn’t seem bent on eliminating that kind of study so much as finding different paths to it.

I still have some concern that there are introverted children who may not thrive in the group-earning environment, but I’m confident that some very highly qualified county teachers and administrators are sensitive to that as well, and will adapt as necessary so that all kids have a chance to excel in this exciting concept.

At any rate, the concept seems to be working well so far. Strictly from a layman grandparent’s point of view, as well as what this newspaper has written about quite often during the past couple of years, the school projects involve a creative approach that includes a great deal of teamwork, no matter what the particular subject matter.

The recent Hardy Elementary kindergarten expo that focused on the world ecosystems is an example. I couldn’t imagine what a group of kindergarteners could do to warrant one of these expos, but was I rarely more surprised. The entire gymnasium was lined with exhibits featuring the world’s great ecosystems.

Here were drawings and explanations of life in the oceans, grasslands, tropical and temperate climates, savannahs and deserts. Each class of these 5-year-olds had been assigned to an ecosystem and had learned an amazing amount given their ages. They were taking a first giant step in learning about the world in which we live, a rudimentary beginning of understanding on which to build a lifetime of knowledge.

But what most impressed me was that these youngsters were learning, at that tender age, to talk with adults who came to look at their displays. Each group had prepared questions that could be asked of them. They were expected to answer the questions in their own words, and most of them did so with considerable aplomb.

The projects being undertaken throughout the county obviously teach teamwork, research skills and much more. But if the projects and the expos that follow them were to accomplish nothing more than instilling self-confidence in children at that young age, that in itself would be a very big deal.

I remember being that age. Most of us back then didn’t have the luxury of attending kindergarten. We walked straight into the first grade at age 6. And there, we learned to read from “Dick and Jane.” Instead of being able to describe the animals and plants that live in a rain forest, we were struggling to “see Spot run.”

At that age, also, I will honestly admit that I never had the kind of self-confidence these youngsters display. I’m just delighted that, thanks in part to the school system, our grandchildren do.