All around Sonoma County, school districts are beginning the process of kindergarten enrollment. And,all around Sonoma County, mamas are lying awake in bed asking themselves, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” The saying “kindergarten is the new first grade” has become popular in recent years. Consequently parents think kindergarten readiness equals academics.
Yes, kindergarten is more academically demanding than it was 10 years ago. Most kindergartners will enter first grade knowing how to read consonant-vowel-consonant words, write stories using kindergarten spelling, and complete simple addition problems. However, kindergarten readiness is so much more than academics. Kindergarten readiness is really about social and emotional intelligence, as well as personal independence.
Four Essential (and non-academic) Skills for Kindergarten Readiness
Kindergarten classrooms are busy and there is simply not enough time to assist every child with every basic skill. The more basic skills your child can complete on their own, the more time they have for making friends, exploring the classroom, and running around at recess. Skills should include:
- Using the bathroom on their own and washing hands.
- Taking off and putting on jackets and sweaters.
- Blowing their nose and covering their mouth when they cough.
- Ability to open back packs, lunch boxes, and food from home (Bonus points if your child can actually get the straw into those Capri Suns!).
Kindergartners naturally want to please their teacher. However, self-regulation and self-control is an emerging skill-set in the five year old world. Teachers understand that the ability to control impulses and the capacity to do something that is required even when your child doesn’t want to, comes with a learning curve. Perfection is not expected but kindergartners should be able to:
- Sit and listen to a short story.
- Practice their patience tool and not blurt out personal stories while other classmates are sharing.
- Follow two-step directions, such as, hang up your jacket and go sit on the rug.
- Able to control emotions (within reason) when facing a challenge or a disappointment, and not act out physically towards another student.
- Keep their body to themselves. This looks like waiting in line at the top of the slide without pushing, or sitting on the rug and not petting their neighbor’s hair. This skill will be practiced all year in kindergarten (And again in first. Again in second grade. And quite possibly until the end of time.).
Ability to Communicate
Young kids love to talk. Talk about themselves, talk about awesome things they know, talk about ways we have failed as a mom. Kids love to talk. As parents we want our children to feel comfortable and confident in expressing his or her ideas and needs to others. In kindergarten this looks like:
- Sharing a personal story (even it’s just a sentence) about the weekend during circle time.
- Asking a teacher or adult for help when they have a problem.
- Contributing ideas and thoughts in a game of pretend or on a group project.
- Coming home and retelling parts of the day (In my home this is not spontaneous. I have to ask specific questions about activities, friends, and such.).
Fine Motor Skills
Much of the kindergarten year will be spent drawing pictures, cutting paper for projects, and learning to write. Correct letter formation can only be mastered if a student has the hand strength to hold a pencil correctly. The cute bee project will only look like a bee if a student has the dexterity to cut out a circle with scissors instead of a jagged box shape. Fine motor skills in kindergarten look like:
- Holding a pencil with a proper pencil grip.
- Knowing how to hold and cut with scissors.
- Coloring in the lines. Or at least beginning to. Coloring outside the lines a little is still quite common but giant scribble-scrabble across the page is less so.
Yes, kindergarten teachers love it when students can recognize some letters, numbers 1-10, and are able to write their own name, but most kindergarten teachers would agree that academic knowledge can be taught, while social and emotional intelligence is acquired through experience. Practice emotional, social, and independence skills and your child will be right where he or she needs to be for the first day of kindergarten!