What does it mean to be ready for kindergarten? As a country, we have been trying to define this JELLO-like area of understanding children for a long time. The big question is: Can you be ready for big school if you have never dipped your toe in the water before? It is a good question, especially for parents who are trying to decide if their child is ready to be away from mom and dad for the first time. One of the benefits of preschool is the social competence acquired through daily practice of "school" skills that are necessary before the content of the Kindergarten year can be taught.
Even with Kindergarten still being optional in some states, all states offer kindergarten if only for a half day. Currently, 98% of children attend kindergarten, so even though attendance isn't required, it is the reality. It used to be that kindergarten was the first time you were introduced to "book learning"--now we begin introducing books as young as eight months with fabric books, flap books, and books you can suck on. Some studies suggest that Kindergarten readiness can be linked to the the language experiences in the home. Other studies say that math skills are stronger predictors. And finally, teachers consider social/emotional development the most important factor in a student's success. All of this research won't help parents know what knowledge and skills they need to work with their kids on over the summer.
Countdown to Kindergarten portrays a kid frightened of going to kindergarten because she doesn't know how to tie her shoes. She thinks that you have to know how to tie your shoes before you go to Kindergarten and the teacher won't help you learn.
Unrealistic expectations can fuel kids' and parents' fears about going to school. From a teacher's perspective here are three concepts that would be helpful for your child to know before going to school:
1. Know their first name. This may sound funny, but some children think their name is the nickname they are called at home. When they come to school and the teacher tries to interact with them, the teacher uses their "official" name. John won't even look at the teacher if they have only been called "Johnny" or even "Jack" or "Junior." Of course it would help if you tell the teacher your child's nickname, but part of the teacher's job is to get your child to write his or her name correctly. If Mia knows her real name instead of just her nickname, Me-Me, she is half way to the goal.
2. Begin the feedback loop. Hopefully you have already done this but, if you haven't, here it is:
Adult: Asks question
Adult: Responds to response and asks probing question
Child: Responds to adult question
This feedback loop is the key to the learning process. Everyone has busy lives but it is important to set aside just a few minutes a day to have a long drawn out conversation with your kid about something they are interested in.
3. Help your child apply understanding of positional words, like front/back, next to, in/out, and behind. These words are some of the most commonly used words in classrooms because teachers must use them to orchestrate learning activities. Children are asked to stand behind their friend, put crayons in or on a desk, and to put the scissors next to the crayons.
Are these skills pre-requisites? No. Will these skills guarantee your child's success in Kindergarten? No. I had a student this year who came to school thinking his name was Mo-Mo and left knowing how to read. However, knowing these foundational skills will make your child's Kindergarten year a much less frustrating experience for themselves and their teacher. What do you do now? Have fun learning about the Disney fairies, transformers, or the Wiggles. You will be glad you did even before school starts.