Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Why Kindergartners Haven’t Lost a Year of School

It’s been a kindergarten year like no other. There are some typical ‘K’ experiences that couldn’t be replicated. Some of the experiences have been lost. But have kindergartners really lost a year by virtue of being virtual?

Children’s experiences have been even more dissimilar than usual, and it will take some time to tease out who lost what. Chances are good, though, that most will progress just fine.

It is helpful to think about what kindergarten is – and isn’t – in normal times. Kindergartners’ days are spent learning, but there are many different kinds of learning taking place.

Sequential and Non-Sequential Learning

A portion of the day is spent learning very specific concepts and skills, some of which are sequential. Gaps in learning can make for serious problems down the road.

Some learning is important but not sequential. Kindergartners learn about other cultures. They learn to appreciate people who are different than themselves. They listen to and discuss literature. They are introduced to child-size wonders of the natural world. They learn about places they may go someday and jobs they may have. They have jobs in the here and now: door holder, calendar leader, line leader, caboose. They practice sharing and taking turns. It’s valid life learning. But there is more flexibility here, and gaps don’t show up in all the same ways.

Those sequential and specific curricular elements lend themselves well to a virtual environment. How well children stayed on track depends on many factors, including how skillfully the school and teacher adapted the curriculum and how well they made use of tech tools.

Many teachers have done shared reading and writing activities onscreen with children, and worked through workbook pages with them. In some cases, children have a better view than they do in physical settings. In real-world settings, teachers often use a document camera to model what they’re writing. Children view a projector screen instead of an iPad screen. The children may be sitting at a distance, facing each other at tables or huddled on the rug. There are other children between them and the symbols on the screen. Some children may rise to their knees or get into others’ spaces. And some children have difficulty translating print from a vertical surface to a horizontal one.

In a virtual environment, it’s all, ideally, right there in front of the child, on his or her own iPad.

Routines and Non-Academic Tasks

Kindergarten teachers are in a custodial role as well as an educator role. They are often responsible for more than 20 children at a time. The day includes recess, lunch, bathroom breaks, snacks, walking in line, waiting in line, and getting things out of lockers. It’s important stuff. Recess is important to children's physical and social development, and mastery of school routines does transfer to other classroom and life settings. But often there is more time devoted to it than is crucial from a developmental standpoint. Some of the routines are just what is needed to get through the day. Some difficulties -- and some of the things that take up time -- are developmental.

Children need to learn to wait for turns. They need to learn to stand in lines. They need to learn to solve conflicts when they occur. But how much of this they do in school depends on many factors, including how many children there are per adult, whether there are enough materials to go around, whether children bring their lunch and snacks or wait in line to receive school food -- and how far the class is from the bathroom! If more were better with regard to “school skills”, children from some disadvantaged backgrounds would be at an advantage here.

Small Group and Whole Group Times

Children in kindergarten spend part of their days working in small groups with the teacher and other parts semi-independently carrying out self-selected or teacher-selected learning activities. The teacher monitors – and tries to set up the classroom so it requires a minimum of monitoring and a minimum of the ‘start and stop’ that gets in the way of learning.

Children who work a little faster than others may have limited choices of what to do if they get a bit ahead in structured group work. Some color the illustrations on their work pages. It develops fine motor skills and can be soothing. But what a child gets out of it, he or she can get from other activities.

If the online educational day feels shorter to parents, it isn’t necessarily shorter for the teacher. One difference: The teacher is probably spending less time in a custodial role overseeing children when working with small groups or individuals. That can cause problems. Caretaking is part of what schools provide. Virtual education has been a disruption for most families. But on the flip side, there have been plenty of skilled teachers who have used that educational time to advantage.

The Take-Away

The average kindergartner learned something about responsibility in an extraordinary year even if he or she didn’t get a turn as caboose.

How are children actually doing with the basics, like kindergarten math? Some are behind. Anecdotally, some are ahead.

There is a lag time in collecting and recording data. Those who are projecting based on data from spring 2020 may be overly pessimistic, as virtual education has come a long way since those haphazard weeks when teacher knowledge was low and expectations had to be set low.

Children didn’t all fall behind – but some did. Virtual kindergarten doesn’t work well if the child doesn’t have an iPad, a stable internet connection, or a stable enough living environment. Skillful use of the virtual environment can mean greater individualization and more one-on-one. But it may have been the exception not the rule (

Educators, including school psychologists, will have a lot of work to do in the coming months – and, in some cases, years. They will need to determine who needs support and at what level.