Jun 25, 2014

What is "Kindergarten Readiness"?

Jessica Perrotte was born and raised in Winooski, Vermont. She graduated from UVM with a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Masters in Reading and Language Arts with a reading specialist endorsement. She first began teaching at JFK Elementary 18 years ago and enjoys contributing to her hometown community. She currently lives in Winooski with her husband and two children. Jessica was recently featured in Vermont Public Radio's Ready or Not series on early childhood in Vermont.

What is "Kindergarten Readiness?"

According to reports released this year by Building Bright Futures and the Vermont Agency of Education, 40-50% of children in Vermont arrive at kindergarten unprepared. As a kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that getting our kids ready for school means more than helping them with their ABCs, packing their lunches, filling their backpacks, and getting them to the bus on time. It means giving them the quality early experiences they need to develop strong cognitive, social and emotional skills from day one. 

At JFK, we conduct kindergarten screenings for all students before they enter school. This process takes 45 minutes and consists of one-on-one with a teacher and group play time with other incoming students. We consider multiple factors in determining kindergarten readiness—such as academic preparation, social skills, and student independence.

Cognitive development—which is fostered through stimulating interactions with babies and toddlers such as reading, singing and talking with them—helps prepare children academically. During one-on-one time in our screenings, we identify if the students know the alphabet, the sounds of the letters, can write their names, and are able to rhyme and to recognize colors. For math skills, we are interested in the child’s ability to count objects, count forward and backward, identify numbers, and identify numbers before and after a given number. 

But we don’t just focus on assessing a student’s knowledge of their ABC’s and 123’s—we look very closely at their social-emotional readiness for kindergarten, as well. This occurs throughout the entire screening process. We observe how each child interacts with both adults and children during the one-on-one and group playtime portions of the screening. When assessing for their social and emotional development we ask:

  • How easily does a child separate easily from his or her parents?
  • Do they engage in play on their own or do they need help or encouragement?
  • Do they integrates well with others or do they play mainly by themselves or participate in something called parallel play, which is when a child plays next to another child, but without interacting?
  • Does the child show a positive emotional tone while playing with others?
  • Does he/she share materials and use material appropriately?
  • Does the child maintain consistent attention to the task or is he or she easily distracted by miscellaneous noise? 

As you can see, independence is an important part of social-emotional development. When it comes to separation from parents in the first few days of school, some children walk right through the door and barely give their parents a wave goodbye as they take their seats and introduce themselves to their new friends. On the other end of the spectrum, many children are frightened to leave their parents and join our classroom. 

Adaptive behavior is another part of independence, and involves real life skills. Some children come into school able to tie their shoes, blow their noses, zip their coats, and manage the cafeteria all on their own. On the other hand, some children still need help putting their boots on, opening their milk cartons, covering their sneezes and coughs, and learning potty-training.

The ability to work on one’s own is very important, too. Some students can sit independently and complete an entire assignment, while others require constant positive reinforcement and reminders to stay on-task. 

I am asked often by parents, “What can I do to prepare my child for kindergarten?” A child’s cognitive, social and emotional skills are all interconnected. Children need specific early experiences from day one to be prepared for school and for life. Foster a love of reading and learning in your home. Create a routine of reading a bedtime story at night, and work on learning letters and numbers. But don’t just focus on the academics. Play with your child often, and make play-dates so your child has times to build those social-emotional skills with his or her peers. And whenever possible, try to grow their independence by giving them space to be on their own during play-dates or nights with a babysitter. 

If we keep the focus on creating a safe and stimulating environment in the early years, we can help all of our babies and toddlers develop into successful, independent kindergarteners who are well-prepared for life.

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