In a previous post I talked about society’s different views on the purpose of kindergarten and how child-readiness has been defined over the decades.

With all of the conflicting definitions of kindergarten and kindergarten readiness, across cultures and communities, and even between teachers and parents, how can families access whether their youngsters are ready for their first day of school?

Due to the increased focus on early childhood education, and the wide range of programs, the California Department of Education set out to answer this question by developing a set of Preschool Learning Foundations. These are kind of like Standards for preschool. This is a big document so I suggest skipping to the Appendix which provides parent friendly examples (and is also available in multiple languages)!

For a simpler version, Parent’s for Public Schools San Francisco has partnered with First 5 California to produce an easy-to-read brochure titled: “A Parent’s Guide to Starting Kindergarten in 2010” (Contact PPSSF for to learn how to obtain a free copy.)

Questions you can ask to determine if your child is K-ready

The following are four main areas of skills followed by my example questions to help with your assessment of your youngster:

  1. Self-Care and Motor – Can my child go to the bathroom by themselves? (and wash their hands?) Can he/she open up their lunch boxes unassisted?
  2. Self-Regulation – Will my child be able to sit during circle time, share during playtime and follow basic classroom directions? (With a reasonable amount of teacher assistance of course?)
  3. Social Expression – Will my child be able to ask for what they need in appropriate ways? Communicate with their peers? Does he/she express curiosity for learning through questions?
  4. Academics – Can my child recognize letters, numbers, shapes, colors? Can he/she write their names? Do he/she understand that words have meaning and letters make up words, etc.?

Notice that academics is listed last. I think it’s for a reason. Imagine a child on the first day of class who can’t recognize the letter ‘K’ versus a child that can’t feed herself, or ask to go to the bathroom, or play with others. With these examples in mind, you can see why teachers are not quite as concerned as parents might be about whether our little ones can recognize the difference between a square and a rectangle.

Preparing your child for kindergarten

What can you do NOW (during the Pre-K years) to prepare your child for a successful transition to kindergarten?

Talk with your child’s preschool teacher/s

Learn what they are doing to prepare your child for kindergarten and ask questions about how you can support and reinforce learning at home. Use the resources above to guide your conversations. According the research, “Children learn better if the expectations of parents and teachers are closely aligned.” (From “Teacher and Parent Expectation for Kindergarten Readiness,” Michael Welch and Barzanna White, 1999)

Talk about kindergarten with your child

Discuss fears, hopes, and ask questions. Point out and visit elementary schools in your area to build comfort and positive feelings about school. Explain the similarities and differences between preschool and elementary school. Ask them questions and be open to questions. On the way to school one day I mentioned to my twin girls that some elementary schools put twins in separate classes. One of my daughters was excited, while the other became very upset. By bringing it up ahead of time and talking through her feelings, I have been able to work with their current teachers to give them opportunities to explore separation while they are still in preschool.

Support your child’s developing independence and social communication skills.

Speaking as a former middle school and high school teacher, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of parents in helping children to learn these necessary foundational skills. Learning how to identify all the letters in the alphabet is something a teacher can work on in the classroom. Social and behavioral issues are much harder and have a negative impact on learning, not just for the child but the entire class. Although it may not seem like much, but helping your child to make and maintain friendships, or follow simple instructions are very important skills that you can work on each day. Teachers can support this type of development, but this is one area where parents have the most impact.

Share your love for learning with your child each day

Do this through reading, counting, and asking questions about the world. Reading books with your child is the number one most important activity that you can do with your child. When you read you are building early literacy skills while building a positive association with learning and books. Jumpstart is an organization dedicated to supporting early childhood reading and has put together a lot of great resources for families. (Stay posted, as I’ll be blogging more on this in later posts.) Also for helpful tips, read Abby Newman’s article on the Scholastic Books Website titled: “Raising a Reader.”

What are your thoughts? If you are future kindergarten parent, do you have any questions or concerns about your child’s readiness for school? If you are a “veteran” parent, or kindergarten teacher, do you have any advice you can share?

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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