by Susan Schwartz, M.A. Ed. (www.aboutourkids.org)
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 developing an eagerness to master new abilities. In addition, they have learned that they are distinct individuals who engage in activities separate and apart from their parents, caregivers and siblings. 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 assume all children are equally ready and can resemble an instructional style used in the lower elementary school grades. Children sit at tables and teachers use structured whole-class instruction and paper-and-pencil activities based on reading and math readiness activities. This type of academically-focused program is not always the best match for a child who is learning slowly or for a child who is advanced. All children learn by doing and often make the most progress with hands-on learning experiences as recommended by 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 six to eight words
• Talk about an experience in an orderly sequence of events
• Ask and answer questions
• Produce and understand negative sentences
• Follow three to four oral directions
Cognitive ability - The child should be working toward or be able to:
• Sort objects by function, color, size and 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:
• Smoothly 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 and/or scissors; tracing basic shapes; drawing a picture of one's self; assembling a puzzle of l0 to 12 pieces; buttoning and zipping own clothing
Social and behavioral - The child should be working toward or be able to:
• Understand the purpose of games with simple rules, such as tag or 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 that lasts five to 10 minutes
• Take turns and share
• Be willing to try new activities
• 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 and respect the property of others
Self-help and personal behavior - The child should be working toward or be able to:
• Initiate his or her own activities
• Care for his or her own belongings, such as a sweater or shoes
• Show appropriate self-control
• Care about personal appearance and habits
• Be aware of personal data, such as his or her name and 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 the basic facts and educational philosophies of the program your child may enter; for example, how many children are in the class, the age range of children, the amount and types of teacher support, such as assistants or aides, the training of staff and 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 with other children who will be in the same program before school starts.
• 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 him or her during the year.
Prepare for the transition to Kindergarten.
• The transition to Kindergarten begins when children bid farewell to their preschool teachers and understand that the following year they will attend a different program at a new school in a new building.
• To get your child ready to begin school, walk or drive by the school several times and talk to your child about what he or she can expect when going to the new school.
• Children often begin Kindergarten with a slow transition. Some Kindergarten programs have half the class attend for an hour, then for just half of the day, and then for a full day; it can therefore take up to a week to get oriented and ready for the first full day of school with the whole class.
• The transition to Kindergarten is made by the whole family. Try your best to be prepared for the worry or sadness you may feel in separating from your five-year-old as he or she begins elementary school.
Know the curriculum.
Some Kindergarten teachers assign homework, such as picking a book the child can 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 to 20 minutes; if it takes longer, contact the teacher to determine whether the work is appropriate or if the child is having some difficulty that should be monitored.
Provide enriching experiences to supplement Kindergarten activities.
Play games and provide activities that 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 and peeling vegetables promote classification and number concepts as well as fine motor development. Read books and watch television shows together and talk about the stories, how characters feel and act, the sequence of events and 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 ensure that children's Kindergarten years enhance their social/emotional, language and cognitive development and serve as a strong foundation for the school years to follow.