Westgate Elementary School kindergarten teacher Nancy Abruscato has been teaching for 30 years, including the last 21 in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25. She started in the Early Childhood program at Westgate, but five years later was asked to move to kindergarten, where she's been ever since.
Q: For many of your students, kindergarten is the first time they'll find themselves in a structured school setting. How do you help set your students' minds at ease and make their transition as smooth as possible?
A: Before school begins, Westgate School encourages our students to come and visit the classroom and meet the teachers. At this time, parents are able to provide me valuable information about how they feel their child will transition.
Within the first few days, I make a point to learn something special that each child enjoys and provide activities related to their interests. Within the first month of school, I focus on helping my students learn that we are a family and we are here to help each other.
Kindergarten is a place to make mistakes and learn from them. I believe that building a strong foundation of trust and respect for each other will allow us to learn and do so much.
Q: How do you balance the necessary learning components of kindergarten with the equally important socialization aspects your students need?
A: Finding a balance between teaching the core curriculum standards and allowing for play is easy when you embed the two together. My lessons are planned so the students are allowed to work in groups, socialize and help each other on various activities. Once a student masters a skill, they are allowed to help another student by explaining the process to their peer, but not giving the answer.
They develop their socialization and collaboration skills by engaging in hands-on learning activities where they need to think, collaborate and reflect with each other. However, I am a firm believer that 5-year-olds still need to play together. They need to learn how to "synergize" with their peers and develop skills in compromising.
I build in "free play" activities throughout the week. I use this time to observe their interactions, listen for speech and language concerns, and use their confrontations as a learning lesson for the whole class.
Q: The use of laptops, tablets and other high-tech items in and out of the classroom is becoming the norm, even at the primary levels of education. How are you students using technology, or what is your class doing to prepare students to use such technology in the coming years?
A: Technology plays an important role in my classroom and is used as a tool for my students to obtain information, create projects, and document learning in a way that makes their thinking visible.
It is a great tool for students to use for reflection on their work that can be shared with their parents immediately. Students today understand and navigate technology very easily. My students have the opportunity to use technology daily, such as assessing themselves reading, practicing math and spelling skills, and looking up information for various research projects.
Technology also allows me to interact with parents in a timely manner about their child's learning so that they are able to see what their child is working on during our school day and have a conversation about it at dinner. The technology skills the students learn in kindergarten sets them up to use technology in the coming years.
Q: What drew you to teaching at the kindergarten level?
A: A child's kindergarten year is a magical time in their life when they start learning about themselves and begin to develop their independence. When they walk into my classroom in the fall, many students have just turned 5 years old and still function like toddlers. However, when they leave in June, they have not only learned to read and write, but also how to work together, question themselves as well as others, and have learned valuable lessons from making mistakes and trying again.
Kindergarten is a world of conversations, where making mistakes is OK because we learn from them. Watching the excitement in their eyes when they learn something new is something I am able to witness every day, which makes teaching kindergarten a truly rewarding.