A rainy Saturday afternoon in Eugene, Memorial Day weekend 2019. Family reflection.
If you are a preschool, kindergarten teacher, aide, parent, grandparent, everybody, this blog is for you!
Never did I think I would round out my teaching career in preschool, but I did. The kids taught me so much, a world of hand washing, bandaids, bugs, snails, glitter and a lot of books. Childhood is a precious time, what's the rush?
What if we had some barometers of what a ready kiddo might ideally need to know, be ready to do, to be successful in first big time school experience? Behavior to look for? Attitudes and skills to hope for.
Ready for Preschool? Ready, Set, Yes or No? And now that I'm reflecting, maybe this fits redshirting Kindergarten, too. Are we pushing kids so darn hard and fast now, that lots of kids are just not ready for preschool or kindergarten? Is holding back, waiting, a plus or negative?
Many Maslow based factors, such as poverty, trauma, homeless etc. at the top of my worry pile. Much more stuff of life now to deal with. So when I was recently asked to draft an article responding to a couple interesting questions for a publication, about preschool readiness, here's a little of what I wrote. I hope it's useful to you and someone else you know.
These questions really made me think, especially after spending the last couple years teaching in preschool.
Question One. How do you know when your child is ready for pre-K? Or when they are ready to graduate from daycare and go into preschool? Is there a certain age? Signs to look for?
I think readiness is in the eye of the beholder, and not necessarily age, birthdate or size. There is no one book, no expert to say for sure this child is ready for pre-kindergarten. I think it's really dependent on observation by parent and other caregivers. Daycare is not preschool, but it helps get a little one ready for the next step.
I support universal preschool because I believe all children benefit. But they really need to be ready to go. There'a a lot to it now. Like kindergarten used to be, and yes, kids are getting assessed now, too, trickled down into a torrent in some cases. Higher expectations. Learning through play best, developmentally appropriate everything, we know that, but now in some cases there is a prescribed curriculum and a lot of worksheets.
Preschool is different than it used to be, more academic. How do you feel about that? Maybe a good thing to be more competitive, getting an early start? Or not.
So ready for "big school"? First and foremost, listen to your kiddo. You’ll know, trust me. When a little one is talking about going to school, they are likely ready! Or at least 'wannabe's. Almost!
Random thoughts on preschool readiness. Think about:
How can you know, really know if a child is ready? Watching them play and interact with other children, already friends and new kids is a great start. But take a couple minutes to look at this quick checklist, or snapshot of stuff I observe.
Of course there's a lot going on here, mixed bag of cognitive and affective domains. Skills and attitudes. Every little is just spreading wings to fly.
- Kiddos are used to some sort of daily routine, but can be flexible, if needed.
- Kiddos have good (decent, developing) hygiene such as blowing nose, washing hands, brushing teeth, combing hair. Potty sequence, alone or with some help.
- Saying please and thank you is part of preschool culture.
- Empathy. No hitting, biting, hurting another. Be kind to others. Say sorry.
- Shows responsibility for tasks or directions.
- Kids can sit still, follow and participate with group in Circle Time.
- Works with partner or buddy throughout the day. Teamwork!
- Knows how to use basic silverware at snacks and meals.
- Kids have appropriate table manners, experiment with new foods.
- Follows directions for safety and learning. Cleans own messes and spills.
- Recognizes proper way to hold a book, turning pages, no ripping, or coloring.
- May recognize basic shapes as circle, square, triangle.
- Holds and grips large or regular size pencil, crayon and scissors. (If left handed, please have a mixed grip hand scissors available, school and home).
- Respectful of others’ things; shares, without or with prompting.
- Knows own name, age, where we live. (Country, state or town.)
- Can get own jacket on and off. Zipping coat zipper, a plus! Buttoning clothes! I admit velcro shoes easier.
- Naps or takes a quiet time break, without disturbing others.
- Likes to draw, sing, move, dance, cook, build, create. Cooking is so great.
- Enjoys recess, play time, outdoor education. Happy in and outdoors. Versatile!
- Can separate from parents or caregivers long enough to be at school.
If you think they’re not ready, you're likely right. The gift of time is a valuable gift.
This summer maybe:
I suggest you visit one or more preschools (or kindergartens) to take a look, check out their program and meet directors, teachers and assistants. Chat with other parents, and kids, if possible. Will your child fit there? Take your little. Watch your child interact with everybody available. Visit again! Is this a play-based school?
Read at Home
It's always a great idea to do a lot of lap time reading. There is no substitute for the bonding and experience you offer your little one. By watching your eyes move, listening to your voice change, observing you turn pages and properly hold a book, these readiness skills bloom into reading before you know it. Read with your child every day, much more than twenty minutes suggested time.
Help your child be independent by having chores, as age appropriate, to get ready to help at school. Maybe self-selected chore and a family selected chore. I think having work jobs is really important for all kids. Little ones are expected to help out at preschools, and kindergartens, as part of community.
Practice large and small, (fine motor) skills such as throwing a ball, cutting with a scissors, using a pencil, etc. Have fun writing, drawing, creating and playing. Holding a crayon is a good start, grip matters when starting to write.
Have fun with numbers
Recognizing numbers is fun and easy. For counting, everything is available, just look around. You might use some edibles, such as raisins, cheerios and little carrots for basic counting practice. I like to use my old abacus and read ‘Ten Apples On Top’, (Dr. Seuss) counting apple pieces. Take an egg crate and fill each section with a yummy that the child eats after counting.
Model joy of reading
Of most importance, model love of reading by reading to your child and for yourself. The joy of reading! Kiddos need to see us model our love of reading, in order to become readers.
Three kinds of print
Functional, environmental and dramatic play. Functional is how-to variety. Environmental is what we see around us, signs, labels, etc. Dramatic play is play-based fun (going to store, etc.). Put print throughout your house, labeling items. Point out road sign letters. Write. Lists, thank you's, anything you can think of. Children's first writing is inventive; they write what they hear. That's just great. Keep writing. Make a word or alphabet (or number) wall. Cover with butcher paper or cardboard, use washable markers or crayons., etc.
Print and language rich
Make your home print and language rich, with reading and writing centers. Look around your house, make a trip to the dollar store or garage sales. Stickers, paper, markers, paints, magnet letters (stick on cookie sheets) and numbers, etc. Playdough numbers and letters. Make a writing center, any tiny space works. Create a reading area, always ready for a reading fort made of blankets, a tent made of sheets, a bunch of pillows, stuffies, books, surefire fun.
Visit library often
Make a trip to the local library as often as possible. Having a library card and checking out books! Littles love the extra special learning activities many libraries offer, too.
Limit screen time. Play
Limit screen time and turn off television and kindle, instead enjoying developmentally appropriate activities together. Play with your child, have fun creating, drawing, illustrating, building, sculpting, reading and writing. Make clay dough, slime. Sing, chant. Puppets. Blocks, puzzles, games. Movement.
Phonemic awareness. The sounds
Get a head start on reading. Read books with rhyme, rhythm and predictable patterns such as ‘Brown Bear’ and ‘Chicka abc’. Chant the rhymes out loud, together. Use different voices, as sing song, tiny, etc. Rhythm instruments are fun to keep the beat, or use pots and spoons. Reading is very rhythmic.
To encourage understanding stories, ask your child to tell you what the story is about (plot!). Who are the main characters? Ask, "who is this story about"? Picture books like "Rosie's Walk" are great starter books, and you can act it out, even better." You can summarize with littles, too.
Take Book Walks
Do a ‘Book Walk’ before a new story, by looking at the covers, front and back and walking through the book, just glancing at the pictures. Ask a few easy questions, make some predictions or guesses what it will be about.
Children need to know how to follow directions. Sequence is a big factor also in reading, sequence of letters making words, and for comprehension, sequence of events. Play “Simon Says”, etc. I usually start with sequence for going to bed or getting up in the morning.
In closing, childhood is a precious time
While I want to see all children in school, I sometimes see behaviors not appropriate for this setting, my opinion, generally a lack of readiness. I take a breath and wonder why readiness for preschool is kind of lost in the two and a half, if potty trained deal, when there's way more to consider.
Anyway, I love being around littlest littles, and I hope I teach a lot of readiness skills, but I'm sure modeling character, empathy, sharing, tenacity, kindness, the things that really matter are even more important. And I want to see all kiddos in school early for all that, those important to life, soft skills.
Littles are little. Littles say the funniest things! Because they are funny! I asked a peanut, “What’s your mommy’s name? “ Reply, “Mommy”. Life at its simplest.
I think it’s crazy to put such high expectations on youngest learners that they stress out or we stress out. We know our beautiful young learners are not cookie cutter kids, but instead, we need to keep on making cookies. If there's enough time, once currculum is covered.
Let littles be littles. So yes, I am torn, I want children to benefit from all the grace and lessons schools offer, but only if littles are ready enough to be sucessful. Kids being kicked out of preschool is just a bummer to me.
I hope something I wrote rings true with you. Because there are so many differences in multi-age preschools, I offered a variety of skills and strategies on a wide spectrum. Our preschool serves childen aged two through eight, and as you know, that's a pretty darn big span. The old one room schoolhouse.
Are your kiddos ready for preschool? You be the judge. This jury is still out, strictly observational, just laughing my way through blocks, stickers, stuffies and sweet books.
Happy Memorial Day weekend to you and yours. God Bless America.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita