Guiding Young Children Toward Kindergarten
Article by Jim Squires
Going to kindergarten is an important rite of passage for children. It is an event they view with both excitement and curiosity. What will my kindergarten be like? Who will be my kindergarten teacher? Will I make friends in kindergarten? What will I learn? How must I behave? Despite all of the questions swirling around a young child's mind, most children view kindergarten as a place they want to attend and fully expect to be successful once they arrive.
As parents prepare to send their child off to kindergarten, they too have many questions. To the extent that parents receive answers to these questions, they are better equipped to help their child make a smooth and successful transition to kindergarten. One of the persistent questions parents ask is "Will my child be ready for kindergarten?" The notion of school readiness is important for parents and others to understand.
What Is School Readiness?
Ask any two people what school readiness means and you are likely to get three diverse answers. School readiness means different things to different people, something that can confuse children as they try to satisfy everyone's definition and expectations.
Perhaps the best way to understand school readiness is to view it from four perspectives:
- Children ready for school: Does the child possess basic skills, behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes toward learning that will help him succeed in kindergarten? Is he eager to attend?
- School ready for children: Is the school prepared to effectively meet the many different levels of children coming to kindergarten? Is the school reaching out to families before kindergarten begins and throughout the year to share information and develop partnerships?
- Parents ready for school: Do the parents know ways to support their child in making the transition to kindergarten? Do they know what is reasonable to expect from a child entering kindergarten in terms of behavior, skills, and knowledge?
- Communities ready for children: Are there ample opportunities in the community to help children get ready for kindergarten? This may include preschool programs, story hour at the library, or other venues. Are there opportunities for parents to improve their parenting skills? In general, does the community care about its children?
To think about school readiness from just one of these perspectives provides an incomplete picture.
Children Ready for School
Of all the above perspectives, the one that draws the most attention for parents is "Children Ready for School." While some parents think this may mean a preschooler knowing her letters, numbers, colors and shapes, other parents may view it as being able to listen to the teacher, follow directions, and get along with others. School readiness includes these and much more. The National Education Goals Panel (1995) suggested five dimensions of school readiness:
- Physical Health and Development: Is your child healthy, well nourished and active? Are his vision and hearing OK? Can he control his body to do things such as run or hold a pencil?
- Approaches to Learning: Is she curious and eager to learn? Is she persistent when exploring new things?
- Communication: Is your child able to understand others and make his thoughts understood by others? Is your child interested in books and stories?
- Social and Emotional Development: Does your child feel good about herself, viewing herself as being successful? Does she get along well with other children and adults?
- General Knowledge and Thinking: Does he understand what letters and numbers are? Does he ask questions about things and try to figure things out?
Children being ready for school may include the five above dimensions, but people do not often agree on the specifics. Child care providers may have a different opinion than kindergarten teachers. Parents may have different expectations than preschool teachers. To make matters even more confusing, people in these groups seldom agree 100% among themselves!
Creating Shared Goals and Expectations
To assist parents, teachers, and others in sharing reasonable expectations for what children entering kindergarten are capable of knowing and doing, most states have developed early learning standards. These standards or guidelines are not checklists of everything children going to kindergarten must know or do; rather, they are a menu of skills, knowledge, and behaviors that five-year-old children might be capable of based on research, reality, and common sense. As children mature at different rates, it is not practical to develop policies and procedures that fit every four-year-old.
By outlining various learning and behavior goals for parents and early educators through early learning standards, there can be common agreement on things when the "Children Ready for School" conversation arises. Early learning standards can positively impact the quality of a child's curriculum as well as enhance communications among early childhood professionals and parents. In the end, however, it is the intent that the introduction of early learning standards will benefit all young children as they enter school as eager, confident, and curious learners.
For information about Early Learning Standards in your state, contact your Early Childhood Education office at the State Department of Education or local Head Start office.
- National Education Goals Panel. (1991). The national education goals report: Building a nation of learners. Washington, DC: Author.
- National Education Goals Panel. (1995). Reconsidering children's early development and learning: Toward common views and vocabulary. Washington, DC: Author.
About the Author
Jim Squires, Ph.D. is Early Childhood Programs Coordinator at the Vermont Department of Education and part president of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. He has taught and directed programs for young children in child care, Head Start, public schools, and university lab schools. Jim resides in Charlotte, Vermont with his wife, Debbie, and faithful Australian Shepard, Obie.
Published: January 2004