If kindergarten is the new first grade … is your child ready?
With the first day of kindergarten arriving for many young children, the looming question for many parents is: Is she ready? And how ready is she compared to the other children who will be in her class?
Most often, the question of kindergarten readiness arises when a child turns 5 within a few months of the cut-off dates. Parents of children born as far ahead as May, particularly parents of boys, become concerned with whether their child is ready to begin classroom work. The decision is not one to be taken lightly. A year is a long time to take out of a child’s life. And the decision rests solely with the parents.
Kindergarten has changed from what was just a few years ago. Now, many schools make kindergarten an integral part of the elementary school’s curriculum, and the focus has shifted from social to academic.
Is She Ready?
Readiness for kindergarten involves both the child and the school setting, so when considering whether or not your child will meet kindergarten success based upon her abilities, you must take into account both the program and the teacher’s expectations of the students.
Kindergarten teacher Jane Stiltner likes to see her students enter the classroom already knowing some basics, like how to spell their first and last names. “I always like it if they know the alphabet coming in – not just singing the song, but being able to recognize the letters in random order,” she says.
Kindergarten teachers expect that children will be able to function within a cooperative learning environment where they work both independently and as a member of small and large groups. “Kids should be able to play with other kids, take turns, share, those kinds of socialization things,” says Stiltner, who adds that while most of her students understand things like raising their hands to be called on, for some children, kindergarten is a first experience in a school setting. “Kindergarten is what the old first grade used to be.”
Children should be able to attend to and finish a task, listen to a story in a group, follow two or three oral directions, take turns, and share and care for their belongings. They are also expected to follow the rules, respect the property of others and work within the time and space constraints of the school program.
Teachers expect children to develop certain physical skills before they enter kindergarten, too. In order to write letters and to make attempts at written and drawn expression, children are expected to enter kindergarten having already mastered fine motor skills requiring eye-hand coordination, such as using pencils, crayons or scissors. It is a definite plus for children to be able to master belts, buttons, zippers and shoelaces.
Children are also expected to possess both visual and auditory awareness of sounds and objects. These skills will be needed to learn the sounds of letters and the names and quantities of numerals. Children should grasp the concepts of “same and different” so they can sort objects into groups whose members are alike in some way. Usually, the kindergarten teacher expects students to recognize and name colors, shapes, sizes and their own names (although these concepts are often part of the curriculum early in the school year).
Most 5-year-olds can express themselves fluently with a variety of words and can understand an even larger variety of words used in conversations and stories. Children who have been read to from an early age are usually interested in the printed word and how it is used to express ideas; a concept of story and story structure; and an understanding of the relationship between oral and written language.
Some sense of numbers is also ideal, like counting and being able to recognize numbers from 0 to 10. A further issue is what the teachers and school system expect the child to accomplish by the end of kindergarten.
“They should be reading some words,” says Stiltner. “They should be able to sound out simple, three-letter words with short vowels, maybe reading short sentences like, ‘I like you’ … Of course, it is true that we have all levels of kids entering kindergarten. If Mom and Dad have read a lot to their child at home, that’s where your early readers come from.”
As expectations become more academic and assessments more formal, pressure increases to retain children who do not meet expectations. The assumption is that children who have not achieved a minimum level of cognitive and academic skills prior to first grade will benefit from another year of kindergarten. While that may be true for some, it is not true for others. Developmentally appropriate programs assume that children vary upon entrance; that all children progress during the program at their own rates and in their own manner; and that children will continue to vary at the end of the program.
How to Get Involved
Parents can help children learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet – the beginning of the process that leads to reading – and to also help them learn the sounds the letters make. If a child knows her alphabet and the sounds the letters make upon entering kindergarten, she is on the path to reading.
Here are additional skills parents can help their children acquire leading up to and during kindergarten:
- Count from one to 10 or higher
- Identify colors and shapes
- Name parts of the body
- Distinguish between left and right
- Demonstrate an ability for small motor skills like holding a pencil or a pair of scissors correctly
- Demonstrate an ability for following directions, including multiple-step directions
- Show an understanding of stories
- Demonstrate clarity of speech
- Demonstrate an increasing vocabulary
- Demonstrate the ability to tell a story in sequence
Ready, Set, Go!
Readiness for kindergarten depends on a child’s development of social, perceptual, motor and language skills expected by the teacher. It also depends on the curriculum’s degree of structure, the behavior required by the instructional program and expectations of what is to be achieved by the end of the program.
To aid parents in preparing children for kindergarten and in assessing whether their child is ready to attend, most schools provide booklets on readiness. And while checklists are always useful, you know your child best – if you feel she’s ready, then it looks like it’s time for school!
Patricia Cook is a freelance writer.
Experts agree that a child’s development needs to be evaluated in several areas. The following is a guideline that includes a range of social, academic and developmental factors to consider when deciding if your child is ready to enter school:
- Enthusiasm toward learning. Is she eager to explore and discover? Is she comfortable asking questions? Does she persist even when a task is difficult?
- Does she communicate her needs? Express her feelings appropriately?
- Ability to listen. Can she follow simple instructions? Is she able to listen to an entire story without interrupting?
- Desire to be independent. Does she separate from parents for the school day? Is she starting to take responsibility for her personal belongings? Can she follow simple two-step tasks? Can she use the bathroom by herself?
- Ability to interact with children and adults. Is she able to share, compromise, take turns and problem-solve?
- Strong fine-motor skills. Is she able to hold and use a pencil? Cut with scissors? Is she learning to write her name?
- Basic letter and number awareness. Can she sing and recite the alphabet and recognize some letters? Can she count to 10 and identify numbers one to five?