Wow… Time flies! When I wrote this post below, I was wrapping my head around enrolling my girls in kindergarten the following fall. And now, here I am, the proud mom of two seventh graders! Who would’ve thought?
As I look over the precipice of teendom with two nine-year old girls (just say “puberty” and you’ll hear giggles and see faces go pink and eyes roll…) I am amazed at how far we’ve all come. That said, it is easy to act like elementary school is old hat when your kids are middle schoolers.
With that in mind… I’m reposting this piece I wrote when I was getting my girls ready for their first big day of K. For those of you doing this for the first time, congratulations! This time can definitely be nerve-wracking…but it is also full of so many wonderful “firsts”, and oh so fleeting! Just ask any parent of an elementary, middle or high school graduate. They grow up so fast… (sniffle…sniffle…)
And… I’d also like to say a THANK YOU!!! To all the AMAZING Kindergarten Teachers out there! (Ms. Vega-Fuette, Ms. Ly, Ms. Chen, Ms. Suzie… You know who you are!) You are an extra-special SPECIAL breed of teachers, and us moms, dads and grandparents are truly indebted to you for all the love, patience and care you give to our kids… and to us as well…
After months of researching elementary schools, going on tours, and basically talking the issue to death with my husband, we finally got it together to submit our application paperwork for a local SFUSD Kindergarten.
Well, my focus turned toward making sure our girls are ready for the big transition from pre-k to kindergarten this coming fall. This has been a hot topic in our preschool lately. According to what I’ve heard from other parents, many schools offer vastly different programs. These differences make it hard to determine if our children are being prepared to take this major step into “big-kidhood”.
It doesn’t help that in my generation the term, ‘Pre-K’ basically didn’t exist. In fact, many of us didn’t even go to preschool. When I try to recall my own experience (I attended an educated-hippie nursery school in the heart of L.A.) the only memories I can summon involved finger-painting with chocolate pudding. (What a great way to establish a positive attitude about school!)
The lack of hard evidence from my own experience led me to do a bit of research on this subject and the following is a brief summary.
What is the purpose of kindergarten?
The main purpose of kindergarten is to prepare young children for the transition from home to formal schooling. It’s interesting to note that kindergarten looks drastically different in various countries throughout the world. (Check out Wikepedia to see how different countries view kindergarten’s role in early education.) In America, even though the vast majority of children attend preschool and/or childcare before attending kindergarten, it is commonly viewed as a child’s first school (aka, academic) experience. (ACEI Position Paper, The Child-Centered Kindergarten)
Friedrich Fröbel opened the first kindergarten in Germany in 1840 and is credited for popularizing it throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The first American kindergartens were created roughly 20 years later, based on Fröbel’s principles. Their purpose at this time was to acculturate newly arrived immigrant children and serve the poor.
Flash forward to our children’s generation where “school accountability” has transformed kindergarten from a purely play-based, social-learning environment to one where students are taught to acquire “proficiency” in early academic tasks and “curriculum is aligned” with state standards and assessments at the upper grade levels. Gone are naps and snack-time, which were regular components of our kindergarten experience (and many classes also ended at noon as you may recall).
Some argue that kindergarten is becoming the first grade of years past and Pre-K is becoming kindergarten, respectively.
So what is kindergarten readiness?
Though many have come up with their own definitions, this one is hard to pin down definitively. According to my limited research, there are some interesting findings in this regard.
Definitions of Kindergarten Readiness are culturally based:
Based on data from an ethnographic study of kindergartens in three communities, the developing meaning of readiness is described as locally formed and distinct, with a coherent community flavor. The teachers, parents, and the school as an institution interact to develop a social interpretation of readiness. (from “Social Interpretations of Readiness for Kindergarten” M. Elizabeth Graue, 1992.)
Teachers and parents often define kindergarten readiness differently:
School parents and other decision-makers do not have the same experience or perspective to assist them in assessing a child’s readiness. Because kindergarten teachers are shoulder-to-shoulder with kindergarten students every moment of their kindergarten experience it seems fitting that they should be up-front in profiling what needs to be in place for a child when entering kindergarten. (From “Kindergarten Readiness – Using Age or Skills in Assessing a Child’s Readiness”, Leslie Barden Smith, 2005)
According to this same study, parents were more likely to define kindergarten readiness in academic terms such as a child being able to write his or her name or being able to count to 20 while kindergarten teachers tended to define readiness as the following:
- Ability to sit and listen for approximately 15 minutes
- Respect for peers
- Following 1-3 step directions
- Demonstrating appropriate classroom behavior
- Demonstrating personal responsibility and communicating personal needs
My takeaways? Don’t worry too much about academic skills (writing your name, identifying letters of the alphabet, or counting to 10). Focus on helping your child master pro-social skills. If you child can listen to simple 3 step directions, sit during story time, and behave respectfully to students and adults, it is more important than if they can write their name at this time.
- Can my child sit quietly for 15 minutes at a time (e.g. during story time)?
- Does my child get along with others, with some help from adults?
- Can my child follow simple 1-3 step directions?
- Can my child behave in classroom appropriate ways? (e.g. not yelling, raise his or her hand, follow class rules.
- Can my child take care of his own personal responsibilities (e.g. put on shoes and coat, open and eat lunch, go to the bathroom, blow his/her nose in a tissue)? Can he or she politely communicate with teachers and staff when necessary to get his or her needs met.
What do you think? What skills, knowledge and attitudes do you think are important for children to learn before they enter kindergarten? Kindergarten teachers: Please chime in here and share your thoughts!
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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