I was reading Ayn’s post over at Little Illuminations about kindergarten readiness and I found myself inspired to write a comment that was as long as her original post so I moved back here to write about kindergarten readiness, which I know is on a lot of parent’s minds about now.
Ayn writes about her focus on self-help skills like putting on jackets, zipping up, and putting on shoes, as well as knowing vital information like their own last names, their parent’s first names, their addresses and phone numbers. I don’t currently teach most of these things, at least not consciously, although I did teach these skills as a parent. She’s inspired me to both make sure my kids know these things, but also to think about what kindergarten readiness skills I am trying to teach.
The ability to function effectively in a group
Most of my kids are heading off to Seattle Public School kindergartens, which means that they'll potentially be in classes of 20 or more, with a teacher and an assistant of some kind. If Woodland Park kids are going to thrive, it will help to have a little experience with navigating a class of that size. That’s one of the reasons I like larger classes in the context of a cooperative preschool. My ideal class sizes are 24 for the 3-5’s and 20 for the Pre-3’s. (This might sound outrageously large, and it would be in a traditional preschool, but because of our cooperative model we maintain a 3:1 child to adult ratio in our 3-5, class and a 2:1 ratio in our Pre-3 class, whatever our class size.)
Children who can focus on a single activity, even one in which they might not at first be interested or with which they struggle, for 20-30 minute stretches will be ready for the kind of curriculum that naturally emerges from the 10+:1 child-adult ratios found in kindergarten. As a teacher, when you alone are responsible for so many kids, you need them to have the capacity to engage in activities – even “challenging” ones – without a ton of adult guidance or persuasion.
We begin teaching this skill with circle time and our small group activities when the children are in the Pre-3 class, stretching them out as they get older. We extend these concepts even more in our Pre-K class by gently compelling each child to at least peripherally engage in each of our “station” (art, math, puzzles, journals) activities each session. Even when a child steadfastly refuses to participate in an activity, they are at least forced to argue against it, which is a form of engagement. Ultimately, they always have the choice to quietly read a book. Each year 2-3 kids give this option a try, but it rarely sticks for a full 20-30 minutes. Most of the kids gamely try everything, even if they struggle or it doesn’t engage them on a passionate level.
I like my Pre-K kids to be confident in front of an audience. I make sure each of them has a turn in front of the class at least once a week during their 4-5-year old year. Public speaking is like a muscle: exercise it, or it will whither. It doesn’t have to be a nerve-wracking experience. Raising hands is the entry level version of public speaking, but during their Pre-K year they find themselves in front of the room during their weekly “sharing time” (show and tell) as well as during “journals” (I read their journal entries to the class). By the time they “graduate” they will have had 3 opportunities to sit in the “birthday throne” to talk about their lives, and an unlimited number of opportunities to present their stories from the front of the room.
American’s consistently report “public speaking” as among their greatest fears, often ahead of “death.” Given how important that skill is, and how pervasive the fear, it only makes sense to work on it at a young age.
Identifying and engaging the basic concept of fairness is an important social skill that we actively teach at Woodland Park. Children who expect to be treated fairly and who seek to treat others fairly, will not only tend to attract more friends and grow up to be better citizens, but they will also be better equipped for standing up to bullying.
I want our kids to have a strong sense of what they know and to have the confidence to question adults when they are being told things that don’t fit their reality. The children at Woodland Park learn early that Teacher Tom often says things that are flat out wrong and it’s their job to set him right. When I say that I want them to question authority I don’t mean it in a defiant sense, but rather in the sense of our best educational traditions.
I’ve spoken to a number of kindergarten teachers, from both public and private schools over the years about what they’re looking for as far as “academic” skills. They are not expecting the children to be reading, nor are then expecting them to be familiar with mathematical algorithms. It’s enough that they know the alphabet, can write their own names, count to 10, and be able to cut on a line with scissors. I’ve never gone out of my way to teach any of those skills, but we’ve never sent a child off to kindergarten who hadn’t mastered them.
I suppose there’s a much longer list, but these are the highlights. Like Ayn, I’d be curious to learn what other readiness skills you’ve found important.
Ideally, however, as my educational ally Deborah Stewart points out:
. . . it is the job of our schools to get ready for their incoming kindergarteners, not the kids’ job to get ready for kindergarten. This is because kids come in such a wide range of skills and developmental needs.
But even still, we want to help children be prepared to be successful as they move ahead in school. The most important thing that I think Pre-K teachers can do is keep school fun and help their students love to learn. Encourage their curiosity, interest to discover and explore, and creativity. We want them to love learning and have a desire to learn more.
Ultimately, that's the kind of kid who will thrive in kindergarten and beyond.