Hold on to your seats as we take off through the vast sea of School Readiness! It’s often a bumpy ride. But if you know how to navigate, it’s a fantastic trip. The question, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” is akin to the traveling child’s question, “Are we there yet?” As your child approaches kindergarten age, the question seems to ring constantly in your mind. But who knows the answer? And what does the question really mean?
It may be helpful to define readiness. Of course, the definition depends on who you ask. Much research has been done on this subject. The short and sweet version is that most kindergarten teachers agree that if a child is “ready to learn”, he is ready for kindergarten. Simply put, a child must be able to 1) get along with others, 2) demonstrate self help skills, 3) follow directions and 4) complete a task. You may be asking, “Is that all?” The answer is “YES!” But, in order for children to do all of these things independently and consistently they need to be socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively mature. They also need to be linguistically astute enough to comprehend and respond to verbal and nonverbal communication. Wow, now that doesn’t seem so simple. Does it?
It really is simple when we as adults realize that child development is a process. We cannot force children to become ready and we cannot make them ready. Parents and preschools are sometimes tempted to force specific skill development on children too early (i.e. – flash cards, worksheets, letter drills, etc.). However, this philosophy is very short sited. Research clearly and consistently shows that a child may develop the specific skill in the short term. However, long term goals such as motivation, curiosity, independence and initiative are sacrificed.
All of the existing brain research tells us that young children learn best in a play based, multi-sensory environment where the child makes independent choices. In other words, important learning takes place during play. For instance, the dramatic play center in your child’s classroom may just look like a kitchen to you. But to your child it is full of opportunities to practice negotiation, planning, imagination, oral language, writing, small motor skills and problem solving. These are the types of activities that get children ready for kindergarten.
Today, school choices seem endless. Public, private, faith-based, home school………. Each school’s definition of readiness may differ according to their expectations of children. The admission process for some of these schools may include “testing.” These tests are designed to see if your child is “ready” for that particular school’s curriculum. The school wants your child to be successful. If their kindergarten curriculum is not suited for your child’s developmental level or chronological age, the school may suggest Transitional/Junior Kindergarten. I urge parents to investigate all school options. It is often helpful to turn the tables on this process. Ask the questions, “Is this school “ready” for my child? Can they meet his needs? Will my child flourish here?” Also, be sure to talk with your child’s preschool teacher about how your child functions in the classroom setting.
Parents usually ask, “What can I do to help my child get ready for kindergarten?” Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or infomercial product that can prepare your child for school success. But, the answer to this question is relatively simple. Here are a few suggestions.
* Read to your child/be a role model for lifelong reading
* Talk to and listen to your child
* Encourage self help skills (dressing self, opening lunch, toileting, etc.)
* Limit screen time (TV, DVD, Computer, etc.)
* Give your child responsibilities at home (take out trash, make bed, set table,etc.)
* Give your child large motor opportunities (running, jumping, climbing, etc.)
* Give your child creative opportunities (singing, dancing, drawing, etc.)
* Look for opportunities to point out shapes, colors, numbers, and letters as a part of everyday life.
* Make sure your child is well rested and well nourished
* Arrange “play dates” with other children
As you reflect upon your daunting decision of school choice, remember this is a journey for you and your child. Maybe instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” we should be asking, “Where are we?” Instead of asking, “Is my child ready?” we should be asking “What is my child ready to do?” or “Which school is ready for my child?”