….and What You Can Do to Help Them Along
One dilemma that seems to strike hard for parents of 4-year-olds this time of year is kindergarten readiness. Uncertainty has been wafting around the halls of my children’s preschool lately. Moms and dads try to talk through their feelings and thoughts on the topic:
“Allie knows her letters, but she can barely draw a stick figure.”
“John follows directions well in class but is so shy that he has a hard time playing with other kids.”
“Catherine is doing great and loves coming to school, but has to be reminded to go to the potty or she will have an accident.”
Having said that, there are still quite a few parents that I know who feel confident about their children progressing on to elementary school. Most of these kids have already turned 5 or are just about to do so.
As for my kids, they are both the youngest in their class with August birthdays. They just barely squeaked into the classes they are in now, and my husband and I feel very confident in another way.
Our kids aren’t ready.
Because we have twins, my husband and I have always had an understanding that they will move through school in the same grades. So what’s the likelihood that both my son AND my daughter would be academically and socially ready to move forward, especially being the youngest in their class?
Make no mistake, I am proud of my children. They thrive in school and have learned so much in the last few years of preschool. So what are OUR reasons for keeping our kids from moving forward into kindergarten?
- Academic readiness. Kids develop at all different paces. My daughter knows all her letters but oddly, not her numbers. She, however, shows a craving to learn all things academic. But try to get that child to attempt anything new (like swimming), and you have a real battle on your hands. My son, on the other hand, jumps right in when it comes to trying new things. But unless you can think of a Star Wars or superhero character that begins with a certain letter, he’s checked out.
- Focus. I can’t imagine that my children’s attention spans are sufficient at this point to withstand an extra few hours of school a day. (Not to mention going from a 4 day school week to a 5 day.)
- Maturity. My children’s teachers claim that they are a delight in class. (What’s that you say? Do I doubt these testaments? Based on this morning, maybe….) Both kids are happy as pigs in slop to be there. But there is a very immature quality to how they interact with other kids. Yes, I know that they are 4 and they ARE immature, but other kids who are kindergarten-bound use a “bigger-kid” style of play that mine aren’t ready to jump into quite yet.
How Will You Know if Your Child Is Ready?
Curious if my reasons for wanting to keep my kids back were in line with the experts’ opinions, I took to the web. Scholastic.com interviewed 5 teachers on the topic of kindergarten-readiness, all of whom have a minimum of 20 years of teaching under their belts. Ready for Kindergarten? outlines the top skills deemed necessary to succeed in kindergarten and what grown-ups can do to help kids along:
- Enthusiasm Toward Learning. What parents can do: Encourage your child to build curiosity in the world around him. To strengthen science skills, point out what you see and how it works. Invite questions and follow through with answers. (Did you know that crickets don’t make that crazy sound with their legs but their wings? I wouldn’t have known if my son hadn’t asked me and I looked it up!)
- Solid Oral-Language Skills. What parents can do: Take your child to new places and describe in detail what you see to improve her vocabulary. This can build a solid foundation for reading success down the road.
- Ability to Listen. What parents can do: Read! Be animated to hold your tot’s attention. Engage your child in the story whenever possible by having him finish sentences in favorite stories. When the story is over, ask him how the characters in the story felt or how the events unfolded to cultivate critical thinking skills. Consider making rhyming stories like Dr. Seuss a regular part of your reading routine to develop “phonemic awareness.” (Never heard of this before! The author of the article describes it as “the ability to hear and break down the subtle sounds in words. Your child won’t be able to read the word ‘cat’ until she understands that it actually has three sounds: ‘cuh,’ ‘ah,’ and ‘tuh.'”)
- Desire to Be Independent. What parents can do: I am very guilty of mindlessly putting straws in juice boxes for my twins instead of stopping to teach them how to do it themselves. This is just one of the examples of skills we need to teach our children so they can properly adjust to school. Other activities include: getting coats on and off solo, following two-step instructions, going to the bathroom and washing hands, blowing their own noses, covering their mouths to cough, and fastening and unfastening simple buttons and snaps. (Guess I’d better get busy and brace myself for the inevitable tears that come with overwhelming frustration. Can’t wait.)
- Ability to Play Well with Others. What parents can do: Model sharing at home and praise your child when she demonstrates good social skills. Keep an ear out for conflict when kids are playing together. Help them to come up with their own solutions to a problem but volunteer suggestions if needed. (Once again I am guilty of jumping right in and dictating how the conflict should be resolved instead of coaching my children to solve the problem themselves.)
- Strong Fine Motor Skills. What parents can do: Encourage kids to string beads, work a spray bottle, cut clay with scissors and work a short pencil. In kindergarten, children are expected to color, cut, paste and hold a pencil. One of the contributors to the article mentioned that his kindergarten class begins writing a letter of the alphabet in the first week. He cautioned, “If kids can’t hold the pencil correctly, they will fall behind.” (Wow. This is compelling enough for me to want to stop right there. My kiddos have to quit with the fist grip before we should move forward.)
- Basic Letter and Number Recognition. What parents can do: Our experts are not keen on us using workbooks, flashcards or phonics kits. They support teaching our children through our day-to-day activities, like sorting Legos, spelling out letters in signs or counting out toys. Keeping it fun is key.
Actually, looking over the experts’ recommendations, fun seems to be the common denominator!
So, that’s my big takeaway. I’m going to take this extra year with my tykes to try to infuse fun into everything we do. Less emphasis on shoving educational videos and worksheets down my kids’ throats and more priority on getting them out of the house, experiencing new places and inspiring creativity and inquisitiveness. I’ll treasure this time because, as the stepmom of a 21-year-old whom I’ve witnessed grow from a 1st grader, I’m fully aware of how fleeting it is.
What are your experiences with your emerging kindergartener? And for those of you with older kids, what were your signs that your kids were ready – or not?