Listening to the voices in the garden: The enactment of curriculum in contemporary kindergarten
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Kindergarten was originally conceived as a place for young children to playfully participate in self-initiated investigation and creative work to facilitate their development (Froebel, 1967a). However, over time, curricular mandates have shifted from Froebel’s original conception of kindergarten to prescriptive outcomes that have resulted in a more academically oriented curriculum that emphasizes skills and content in segregated subject areas (Russell, 2011; Stipek, 2004). These expectations and the accompanying accountability have led to the development of a different kind of kindergarten driven by a different set of goals (Stipek, 2004). There has been much discussion concerning the impact of shifting expectations on teacher practice (e.g., Goldstein, 2007b). Much of this research has surrounded a singular debate: the tension between the use of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) and the obligation to teach prescribed curricular goals (e.g., Einarsdottir, 2008). However, this debate focusses solely on two dichotomous instructional logics and, thus, belies the complexities of the kindergarten classroom (Goldstein, 2007a). To gain a deeper understanding of how kindergarten is enacted in the evolving curricular landscape, this research looks beyond the challenges of integrating competing perspectives and into the interconnected factors at play in a classroom. Accordingly, in this study, I use a conceptual lens informed by Schwab’s conception of the eclectic (1971) and the four commonplaces (1973) to examine the multiple factors that contribute to the development of a kindergarten classroom environment. I re-envision the four commonplaces – subject matter, teacher, milieu, and learner – to align them with contemporary conceptions of educational purposes, practical theory, classroom climate, and childhood. Acknowledgement of kindergarten as an eclectic space provides a framework to explore the concurrent inclusion of both academic and developmental orientations. Using an ethnographic approach that integrates data from classroom observations, teacher interviews, and photo elicitation interviews with the students, I robustly describe learning in three full day kindergarten classrooms in Ontario. The data demonstrate that a successful, albeit different, balance between academic learning and developmentally appropriate practices is present in each of these classrooms.