• Ready for Kindergarten

    Get Ready, Get Set, Go to Kindergarten
    by Anita Gurian, Ph.D. and Susan Schwartz, M.A. Ed.

    What makes a child ready?

    Although kindergarten marks the official start of formal school, children have really been getting ready since they were born. Through their interactions with family, caregivers and friends—the people around them—they have been learning some important readiness skills such as being responsive to others, becoming curious about the world around them and eager to master new abilities. In kindergarten programs that are developmentally oriented, language, cognitive, sensory motor and social-emotional skills are strengthened through play and systematic, planned opportunities. In other cases, kindergarten programs that assume all children are equally ready resemble a downward version of the early elementary grades. They use structured whole-class instruction and paper-and-pencil activities based on reading and math. This type of academically-focused program has been deemed inappropriate by many early childhood educational and mental health professionals.

    What do teachers expect?

    The child entering kindergarten should have or be in the process of achieving competence in the following areas:

    Language and communication
    —the child should be working towards or be able to:
    - express him or herself understandably with a variety of words and complete sentences of 5 or 6 words

    - talk about an experience
    - ask and answer questions
    - produce and understand negative sentences
    - follow two or three oral directions
    Cognitive ability—the child should be working toward or be able to:
    - sort objects by color, size, same/different
    - understand number concepts such as one-to-one relationships
    - understand relational concepts (bigger, in front of, etc.)
    - understand times of day
    - identify beginning sounds, rhyming words
    Fine and gross motor skills—the child should be working toward or be able to:
    - use large muscle abilities such as walking, running, climbing, skipping, hopping, and bouncing a ball
    - use fine motor skills requiring eye-hand coordination, such as using pencils, crayons scissors; tracing basic shapes; drawing a picture of self; assembling a puzzle of l0/12 pieces; button and zip own clothing
    Social and behavioral—the child should be working toward or be able to:
    - understand the purpose of games, such as tag, ball playing
    - work independently or within a group
    - work with other children toward a common goal—such as building an agreed-upon block structure
    - attend to and finish a task
    - take turns and share
    - be willing to try new things
    - show prosocial and empathic behavior such as picking up social cues, reading the reactions of others, comprehending the effect of one's behavior on other children and adults
    Social expectations and conventions—the child should be working toward or be able to:
    - respond appropriately to adults and authority figures
    - follow adult instructions and understand the consequences of behavior
    - follow rules, respect property of others
    Self-help and personal behavior—the child should be working toward or be able to
    - initiate own activities
    - care for own belongings
    - show appropriate self-control
    - care about personal appearance and habits
    - be aware of personal data, such as name, phone number
    In summary, kindergarten readiness depends on an individual child's developmental pattern and whether it is consistent with the expectations of the kindergarten program.

    How Parents Can Help

    Make the best child/kindergarten match:
    - Know basic facts and educational philosophy of the program your child may enter: how many children in class, age range of children, teacher support such as assistants or aides, training of staff, adaptations for children with special needs.
    - Make sure the kindergarten program is developmentally appropriate and ascertain if activities are individualized.
    - Talk with a parent of a child who has gone through the program.
    - If you approve of the program, arrange for a visit before the start of school.
    - If possible, arrange for your child to meet before school starts with others who will be in the same program.
    - If your child is enrolled in a preschool make sure the kindergarten has a transition process with the preschool in place.
    - Establish a relationship with the kindergarten teacher and feel free to be in touch with her during the year.
    - To get your child ready to begin school, walk or drive by the school several times and talk about what the child can expect when going to the new school.
    Know the curriculum:
    Some kindergarten teachers assign homework, such as picking a book to look at or that parents or caregivers can read to the child or finding pictures of objects that start with a specific letter. When school starts, find out whether there will be homework and how involved you should be in helping your child to complete the assignments. Homework should take the child no more than 15 or 20 minutes; if it takes longer contact the teacher to determine whether the work is appropriate or the child is having some difficulty which should be monitored.

    Provide enriching experiences to supplement kindergarten activities:
    Play games and provide activities which promote reasoning and problem-solving skills. For example, cook and bake together and discuss amounts of ingredients and how combining them results in changes, emphasizing cause-and-effect relationships. Common household tasks such as sorting socks, stacking the dishwater, setting the table, peeling vegetables promote classification and number concepts as well as fine motor development.

    Read books and watch television shows together and talk about the story, how characters feel and act, the sequence of events, how people's actions affect outcomes.

    Sing songs and play rhyming games to develop sound awareness, which are reading readiness skills.

    Make activities short so that children can focus and see them through to completion.
    Cooperation and communication between the kindergarten staff and children's homes will insure that the kindergarten years enhance their social/emotional, language, and cognitive development and serve as a basis for the school years to follow.