Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

For some people, the title of this particular entry may seem as a bit of a joke.  How can you be ready for kindergarten?  When I was growing up, I had no preschool or head start of any kind and entered kindergarten with nothing but the preparation I had received at home from my family, and fortunately that was enough that intellectually speaking, at least, the grade was no problem at all.  To put it very mildly, I did not grow up in an area [1] that was or is renowned as a source of intellectuals, and the fact that I was able to read entering school was viewed with a mixture of incredulity as well as mild frustration by those involved in my education who realized much to their chagrin that they would not be able to hold my attention by trying to encourage the learning of individual letters as was the case with many of my classmates.  Clearly, as far as reading was concerned, I was more than ready for kindergarten, perhaps a bit too ready.  Nevertheless, is there such a thing as needing to be ready for kindergarten?  Is this really a thing?

Indeed, today one of the more intriguing sources of occasional humor and thought-provoking questions about education, a private Christian academy in Yamhill County, Oregon, sent a checklist for parents of four and five year old children asking these parents if their children were ready for kindergarten.  So yes, it is a thing.  What sort of readiness is expected of children entering kindergarten these days?  Well, as might be imagined, this readiness consists of a few areas:  physical development, emotional maturity, social development, language and literacy, and numeracy and scientific reasoning.  I can safely say without any exaggeration that I do not believe anyone was concerned with my numeracy as a four and five year old, whether in my family or in school or anywhere else for that matter.  Nor am I sure that these concerns are clearly articulated by many public school systems, as it is quite possible that the average early elementary school teacher might have trouble understanding the concept of numeracy or being able to articulate the skill to any profound degree.  Nevertheless, I must admit I find it somewhat humorous that there are expectations of at least one school in rural Oregon that children master a certain degree of skills before entering school.

What are some of the specific skills within these categories?  Well, under physical development there is some expectation of both large muscle as well as small muscle control (including painting and working on puzzles) as well as some knowledge of personal safety and hygiene skills and practices as well as respecting the personal space of oneself and others.  In terms of emotional maturity, these entering kindergarten students are expected to be curious and eager to learn, imaginative, be free of separation anxiety with parents, develop flexibility in thinking and behavior without being upset at transitions, having an ability to focus for five minutes, being able to control their words and behavior as well as follow simple rules and routines and be able to express their needs and wants and basic feelings.  In terms of social development they are expected to recognize their own feelings and show some empathy for others, be cooperative with adults and engage with other children, use their inside voice and have some degree of self-confidence in their skills as well as a sense of belonging with family and larger groups.  In terms of language and literacy there is the expectation of being able to identify letters of the alphabet and produce correct sounds, understand narrative structure, being able to write their first name correctly or almost correctly, being able to follow at least two-step directions and understand and use a wide variety of vocabulary for a wide variety of purposes, and even understand the smaller sounds and letters of words.  Finally, there is an expectation of understanding scientific reason and numbers that include addition and subtraction using objects up to five in number, correctly using comparative language as well as simple shapes and directionality, and even basic set theory and counting up to twenty as well as the ability to sort groups based on attributes.

I’m not sure if I was prepared for all of these things entering school.  Some of these tasks, like speaking with my inside voice, remain challenges even at my relatively advanced stage of development.  It is clear that in order for a children to be prepared in this sense that there must be a sense of intentionality about the behavior of children before their entrance into school.  I am not sure of the extent that many parents engage with their children in an intellectual way, or sometimes even with regards to developing empathy, when children are in preschool age.  In many schooling systems, what is expected out of these young people entering school is something that may take a year or more to accomplish of formal schooling.  It is easy to see, though, that any school should want their entering students to have such a high level of developmental mastery, because a school with clever and emotionally mature and curious students is certainly a great deal more enjoyable to teach than would be the case with children who have little knowledge and less interest in the world around them, or the ability to sort and characterize objects and people thoughtfully and responsibility, a task that remains problematic sometimes even for adults in positions of social authority.

All of this discussion about the skills someone would need to be ready for school invites a rather obvious question:  what is the purpose of school?  If a child is capable of basic literacy and knowledge of math and reasoning, and is emotionally mature and capable of empathy as well as a basic understanding of the world and the people and things in it, and can write or draw with some degree of competence, then all school is doing is encouraging the further development of someone who has all the raw material to be able to learn anything there is to learn given enough time and persistence and curiosity.  We should surely all like to have such children in our lives, to teach them in class, and to engage with them wherever we would happen to come across them.  The larger question, though, is how can we encourage such qualities in others without having them ourselves?  If we struggle with empathy or with sound understanding of numbers and categories and if we lack curiosity with the world and an ability to engage with others without being upset, how can we teach such qualities to little ones in the first place, so that they may be ready to enter school?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    I was intensely focused on developing your ability to understand the concept of numeracy, analytical reasoning, and vocabulary, enunciation and literacy skills before you entered school. This was because of the Asperger’s symptomology of walling one’s self off emotionally; leaving the child behind the curve in the areas of empathy, personal space, anxiety with sudden changes in routine, behavior control and using the inside voice. High-functioning children with learning disabilities should not be warehoused to other institutions because they don’t meet the requirements of a school district. My extremely intelligent son would have been labelled “behaviorally challenged” and would never have had his IQ tested; thus he would have never had the level of education afforded him. However, this school district is a wake-up call to the parents. Children are sponges. They absorb everything they see and hear, and the results can be shocking, embarrassing and thought-provoking. They have to be taught how to get along with their siblings first–how to share–and this is made much easier when their parents have a healthy, loving relationship. They must feel appropriately happy or sad for others–another area taught by parents through community service and explaining stories on the news, etc. Parents have to watch how they talk about others, their jobs, how they complain and how they handle being upset or angry. The crux of what you are saying is that parents have to be mature enough to be parents in order to equip their children with the tools they need to enter school. They need to be ever-present in their lives beforehand, and, afterward, they pick up where school leaves off. Parenting doesn’t slack off just because the bell has rung.

    The question of “why school?” is answered by the premise that it is designed to prepare the student for life. This issue remains whether or not it succeeds in that endeavor. I strongly believe the system needs a thorough overhaul, and that parents need to be FAR more involved with their children’s overall development–on every level. As it is now, we are failing our children.

    • I’m not sure how the school would have reacted to me as a kindergartener, but I’m definitely pleased that you were concerned about my numeracy skills and making sure that despite the rather severe difficulties I had to address when it came to my experience in school that at least those obvious skills I had would be developed to the utmost. I agree that far too few parents do a good job at being involved in their children’s education and contributing maturity and a good example for their children growing up as well, and obviously when there is a poor example at home this tends to manifest itself in poor performance in school as well. Children are indeed sponges and there is a lot of unpleasant things that many kids pick up very early.

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    I knew that the other characteristics would develop with time, experience and internal growth. The wise instructor will educate the whole student and this calling begins with the parents. We must never forget that. Children–and people as a whole–will live up or down to others’ expectations of them. Everyone needs someone who believes in him or her. I dreaded having to make you and your brother go to school because of its influences and how ugly peer attitudes and actions can be. I have to admit that I watched you both like a hawk and tried to stay on top of things as much as possible. It’s too easy for our youth to lose its innocence and hope when thrown to the wolves, and I hated that the Church’s youth experience wasn’t your soft place to fall. It was like reliving my own nightmare.

    • Yes, I have often pondered what it is that makes certain people struggle with socializing everywhere, and all too often the church has been just like the world in the way it viewed others.

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