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  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?
 See, for example: