Another purpose of this study was to explore the characteristics of kindergarten classes in terms of the physical arrangement of kindergarten classrooms, the types of activities teachers include in their curricula and whether the physical arrangement was related to the types of activities.
Teachers were asked whether their classrooms had activity centers and whether each child had his or her own desk. Use of activity centers generally is viewed as reflective of a child-centered approach to early education and more conducive to interactive, hands-on learning. By contrast. use of individual desks is viewed as indicative of a more teacher-directed approach to learning and more conducive to formal, group instruction. The vast majority (97 percent) of kindergarten classes in public schools had activity centers (Table 10); 19 percent were set up with a desk for each child. Only 1 percent of kindergarten classes had desks for each child but no activity centers, whereas 79 percent had activity centers but no desks (Figure 4). About one-fifth (18 percent) had both desks and activity centers, and 3 percent had neither desks nor activity centers. Since so few kindergartens had desks but no activity centers, the activity center versus desk classification could not be used for analyzing classroom activities.
Teachers were asked to estimate the average amount of time each day that their kindergarten class spent in formal group instruction led by the teacher in reading, numbers, or the alphabet. The survey also obtained estimates of the average amount of time spent in individual or small group activities planned by the teacher and selected by the children.
Teachers indicated that, overall, about the same amount of time was spent in each type of activity (Table 10). In a typical day in public school kindergartens, 31 percent of the day was spent in teacher-directed formal instruction, and about the same amount of time (30 percent) was spent in individual or small group projects in which children selected the activities. No significant variation was found across school or teacher characteristics.
Teachers also were given the following list of activities and asked how frequently a typical child engaged in each during the week: never, 1-2 days a week, 3-4 days a week, and 5 days a week:
The most frequently reported activity was listening to stories: 90 percent of kindergarten classes listened to stories 5 days a week (Table 11). Children in about two-thirds of the classes participated daily in creative activities such as dramatic play (64 percent), free play (66 percent), and choosing from a set of specified options available in the class (69 percent). Daily engagement in gross motor activities like running and jumping occurred in 58 percent of the classes, and 49 percent of the classes used manipulatives for math or science every day. Worksheets were the least used activity; teachers of only 14 percent of kindergarten classes reported daily use of worksheets for math or science and 18 percent for literacy skills.
Although there was some variation in frequency of activities by school characteristics, these variations were slight and did not form a consistent pattern (Table 12). There were differences, however, by some teacher characteristics and whether the kindergarten program was full-day or half-day.
Daily participation in dramatic play, arts and crafts, and other creative activities increased with the experience of teachers, from 56 percent of classes with teachers who have taught kindergarten less than 5 years to 69 percent of classes with teachers who have taught kindergarten 11 or more years. A similar pattern occurred with number of early childhood education courses; a higher proportion of classes whose teachers had taken five or more early childhood courses had daily creative activities than did those classes whose teachers had taken less than five courses.
Since the full-day program, by definition, is longer than the half-day program, there are more opportunities for students to engage in various activities daily (Table E). The largest differences between full- and half-day programs occurred in gross motor activities and use of manipulatives for math or science. Gross motor activities were daily occurrences in 72 percent of the full-day kindergarten classes, but in only 48 percent of the half-day classes. Similarly, manipulatives were used daily in 61 percent of full-day kindergartens, compared with 41 percent of half-day kindergartens. Although not prevalent in any kindergarten classes, worksheets were used more regularly in full-day classes than in half-day classes. One-fourth of full-day classes used worksheets for literacy skills and 20 percent used them for math or science, compared with 13 and 9 percent, respectively, of half-day classes. Full-day kindergartens also engaged in free play more often than half-day kindergartens--72 percent versus 62 percent. Perhaps, the interesting point is that frequency of listening to stories read aloud and creative activities did not differ significantly by length of kindergarten class (full- or half-day).
The likelihood of children participating in gross motor activities also varied by teacher assignment (Table 12). Although the overall trend was for more daily running, climbing, and jumping in full-day than in half-day classes, the main difference occurred in classes where teachers taught two half-day classes (41 percent of classes, compared with 68 percent of classes whose teachers taught one half-day class and 72 percent of full-day classes).