By Gail Reuther, Executive Director of Mt. Olive Child Care & Learning Center
One of the biggest concerns expressed by parents of 5-year-old children, especially at this time of year, is “how do I know if my child will be ready for Kindergarten”?
Over the years I have seen many children who reach age 5 by October 1st (the cut off date in Mt. Olive Township and most public school districts for Kindergarten entrance) who are ready to go to Kindergarten and some who are not. When those who are not ready are pushed into Kindergarten, they generally experience a difficult Kindergarten year. This can be a frustrating experience for the child and the parent!
True Kindergarten readiness is not an age matter. Nor is it a matter of “passing the test”. Tests or formal assessments show what a child wants to demonstrate on a given day, not necessarily what the child knows or what his/her future school performance will be. Factors such as unfamiliarity with the testing environment and the tester, nervousness or a slow-to-warm-up temperament on the part of the child, can prevent him/her from showing the tester what the child really knows or can do.
Let’s take a look at some developmental issues. Children go through the various stages of development in the same order but at different ages. For example, when learning to write every child progresses through the scribbling stage where he/she makes circular and angular marks on the paper. The kinds of hand movements the child makes while scribbling are the same movements that he/she will use when making letters. One child may be interested in, ready, and able to begin writing letters at age 3 and another child may not be ready until age 4 or 4 ½ or even 5.
Children learn by being actively involved with their environment, not by sitting and listening to others for long periods of time. They also cannot handle too much formal structure with an abundance of rules when they are very young. Children need the trust, support, help, and encouragement of parents and other important people in their lives in order to learn. If a child experience chronic failure due to being corrected or boredom, their self-esteem and confidence is negatively impacted. This same child, given more time and support to develop and mature, can have phenomenal success starting Kindergarten!
What are some of the readiness factors for Kindergarten success? Some of the important indicators include: (1) an ability to attend to tasks (have self-discipline) and follow directions and not be readily distracted; (2) an ability to sit in a group; (3) an ability to socially interact with other children and adults and to be interested in helping and cooperating; (4) language development: an ability to understand what is said to him/her and be able to talk effectively with others (good vocabulary and sentence structure) so as to be easily understood; and (5) an ability to see oneself as capable: “I can do it!” thinking.
How can you as a parent ensure that your child will be ready for Kindergarten? Here are some ideas:
Give your child lots of opportunities to feel pride in his/her accomplishments. This leads to the child generally approaching tasks in a positive, confident manner. Parents can help build self-esteem by frequently saying things like “you can do it!”, “I like the way you…”, “It looks like you really worked hard on your drawing?”
Be sure that your child has many experiences interacting with other children prior to entering Kindergarten so he/she can practice and develop strong social skills. When children attend preschool prior to entering formal schooling, they have the benefit of lots of experience being with their peers and learning some social and emotional life skills. Encourage your child to try to work out conflicts with other children by using words. By doing this, you are helping your child to learn problem-solving and compromising, as well as enabling him/her to practice verbal skills. Research has shown a strong correlation between learning cooperation skills and being accepted by peers in Kindergarten and later schooling.
Start where your child is, not where you think he/she should be, when playing games to teach basic skills. Keep in mind that when learning names of objects, pictures, colors, shapes, letters, numbers, etc., the first level of learning is matching (what is like this one?), the second is recognizing (point to the letter that is like this one), and the higher level is being able to name the letter, etc. For example, if you ask your child “what letter is this?” and he/she doesn’t respond, try backing up: give him/her a choice of 2 and say “please point to the letter A”. If he/she can’t do this, then play letter matching games with your child. Eventually, with encouragement and success at one level, the child will naturally progress to the next level.
Have conversations with your child often every day. Your child will learn from your positive modeling of language, expand his/her vocabulary, and practice putting words together to make sentences to express self. Including your child’s favorite superhero, doll, or puppet as part of the conversations will increase the fun.
Read and tell stories frequently. After going on a trip to the store, to visit extended family, or other place, sit down with your child and ask him/her what he liked about it. Depending on your child’s writing ability, you might write down what your child tells you or you can ask your child to write it down. Teaching what writing is all about is what’s important, so it’s not necessary to have correct letter formation or grammar. This will come with time and practice. Your child can be invited to draw a picture to go with the story. Reading readiness is supported to a large degree with this kind of activity, especially when it’s a regular practice.
Try to establish home habits which will support your child in getting ready for school. Teach your child to put his/her toys away when finished. Ask your child to help you with simple household tasks. Set a basic daily schedule, with a set time to go to bed, get up, play, etc. Children need routines, and these support Kindergarten readiness. Also, giving your child lots of practice listening to others and following directions – being sure to give one direction at a time and checking to ensure that the directions are carried out before another direction is given, also go a long way.
As a parent, please keep the Kindergarten readiness indicators in mind when you make the decision to put your child in Kindergarten. Remember that most of the time children who are not ready – those who may need another year of Preschool or a Transition Kindergarten Program – will do very well and progress steadily through the grades if they begin Kindergarten when they demonstrate overall developmental readiness.