The Big Picture Out of Preschool: What Does Kindergarten Readiness Really Mean?

Eliza Clark
February 24, 2014

As the new year turns, parents of four and five-year-old preschoolers are looking back and looking forward and thinking: can it be that there is only half a year of preschool left? And then we're onto...kindergarten?!

And each one of us is also thinking: is my child ready for this? Am I ready for this?

Even though kindergarten is not necessarily so very different than a good pre-k program, it still feels like a big jump. The hours will be longer, no doubt, and the days more structured. But the biggest difference is that our little ones will be going to the same school as the really big kids! Preschool can feel like a cozy extension of babyhood.... Not so kindergarten. Sigh.

So maybe some of us parents are not quite ready, but that's not the truly important question, is it? Rather, this is a good time of year to begin asking whether or not our kids will be ready to make this big transition by the fall.

Your child's preschool teacher can give you most of the answer to this question, but as a parent it is useful to know what sorts of things a teacher looks for in a kindergarten kid. Overall, it is not so important that a child enter kindergarten with any particular set of knowledge, but rather that he or she be equipped and ready to learn in a school setting.

Self-care skills

Most kindergarten classes have a significantly lower teacher-student ratio than in preschool, so it is important that the children be able to handle their own basic needs. Among these: wiping their own noses; using the toilet independently; washing their own hands; taking off and putting on their own coats, hats, shoes; eating unassisted; cleaning up after themselves; and so on.

Social skills

Learning in a large group requires everyone's cooperation, so social skills are crucial. A child will do fine if he or she can separate comfortably from a parent or caregiver; follow an adult's directions; play well with a group of other children; sit and listen for short periods (circle time!); understand and follow basic rules.

Intellectual skills

Here is it important to caution that children learns letters and numbers and all the rest at dramatically different rates at this age, and generally most kids catch up to each other a couple of years down the line.  When entering kindergarten, the key is that a child be comfortable in a school setting and express curiosity and eagerness to learn.  Tell-tale signs of readiness are: an interest in books and reading; knowing some songs and rhymes; recognition and/or writing of some letters; pretending to read and write; knowing how to use pencils and scissors; expressing ideas through drawing; ability to retell a story; counting to twenty; willingness to try to complete a task.

From the Parents

  • Amy Sutherland

    I would like to echo how important it is to get reading to your children. It is amazing what the research on this tells us. Reading is not simply a good idea, it is one of the best things you can do with a youngster. Do it yourself, and find schools that focus on it (even the preschools). Websites often will list curriculum or teaching practices and patterns, so Google can be your friend here. As one example: http://inspirationstationelc.com/ Good luck! ~Amy

    7 months ago

  • Parent # 1

    Deneice / Neicy James she is not good as a daycare center director owner My child was dirty and left to run on the streets unattended I would never again trust her to watch my child if her daycare center is on this website beware she leaves her young daughter many times to watch and her teen age son which I didn't like either hope this saves someone

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    I love this article by Eliza Clark. As a teacher of kindergarten special needs students who was also responsible for screening incoming kindergarteners, I have to recommend to parents that you READ, READ, READ to your young children. This is critical! You won't find better quality time than this. As they grow, keep reading, then take turns, then they read to you. If they want to read the same book over and over, this is one way they learn to read! They will memorize the words, then decipher the sounds from the words and infer the sound structure of our language this way. You'll be amazed as you start to fill in the gaps with knowledge of letters and sounds at how much they learn to read on their own if they are ready. Not to push them, but follow their lead, like a conversation between you and your child about the book without struggles or fights at this age- or you will turn them off to reading. Make it a peaceful, enjoyable time for you to relax with your child- and have fun! I taught my daughter to read in kindergarten this way, and she loved it! She was one of the top readers in her class in first grade. However, not all children read at the same age. I learned to read at age 3 by my mother lap reading. My son learned to read at age 7 with the help of an Orton-Gillingham tutor when we started to fight over it. Now he's a Math major in college and doing great with a learning disability and attention deficit disorder! We read every night and he did fine in English and language arts classes in every grade in school. That's why it's important to start now! Most kids love stories. If they want to just hear the book and a different story every night (that was my son), that's perfectly fine, too. My son developed a great knowledge base this way, a great vocabulary and strong verbal skills! You can't lose reading to your children! As long as they are interested in the book and having quality time with you.

    over a year ago

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