This time of year, we begin to hear the buzz of parents, teachers, and others discussing kindergarten readiness. “Is my child ready academically?” “Is my child ready socially?” Teachers work hard all year to prepare little ones so that they are ready for kindergarten. Parents depend on information from their child’s preschool teacher to assure them that their child is ready for the next step in their educational journey. Parents also seek opinions from family members, friends and fellow dance and soccer parents. “Should I hold him back since he has a summer birthday?” “Should I send her even though she seems immature socially, yet ready academically?” What can you do to help educate the parents of children in your preschool program about kindergarten readiness?
As early childhood professionals, we know that children will be screened for readiness in five critical areas known as Learning Domains and that there are developmental standards that a child will need to meet in each domain before they can begin kindergarten. Teachers in preschool programs work with children on these during the day, but do parents in your program feel equipped and understand the importance of also working with children at home?
So much learning takes place when children are engaged in play. Encourage parents to find simple moments in each day to help children become “kindergarten ready.” You can share this list with parents of things they can do at home to promote school readiness.
Keeping the lines of communication open with parents is key to successful school readiness. Sharing the results of screenings and assessments helps the parent understand where the child is developmentally, and what areas need to be improved. Keeping parents informed of the a child’s progress helps them reinforce what they are learning. There are many resources that you can share with parents. Five to Thrive is our local campaign to promote kindergarten readiness and registration information. Share the “Readiness Check-up Quiz” where parents can assess their child at home to see if they are developmentally on track.
About two months ago I wrote about my personal transition experience, and I am happy to say that things are working out for me in my new space. I feel like I am fitting in! While I offered some tips in that blog about helping children to transition, I realized I missed the opportunity to share how to help parents through transitions, too. It is sometimes as difficult for moms and dads as it is for their children!
We often talk about helping families adjust to the center for the first time. There are forms to fill out, teachers to meet and children’s schedules organize. However, there are other times that can be just as stressful for families. For some parents it feels like they’ve just dropped off a tiny baby, and suddenly their child is walking into the toddler room! Their baby is getting to be a “big kid.” These transitions are ones that we frequently miss, because for us, they are a natural part of life in child care.
We should stop and think about these changes from a parent’s perspective. We should ask ourselves: What are they really feeling? Why are they feeling this way? How can we help make it easier? When a parent feels strong emotions about a transition, I often tried to look at some of it as a good thing! The families feel so comfortable with their current situation and are so happy with the quality of learning and care their child has been receiving that it’s hard to leave! It was very hard for that parent to leave their 6-week-old infant with a stranger, but now you and that parent have a relationship. You’ve shared stories about the baby’s day and nights, celebrated about milestones and cringed along with the parents when she get her first incident report. These families trust us with their little ones, and we need to trust them, too.
We know when a child is ready for the next room because we’ve worked with children, we know all about their development and how to best support their learning. But how much of that knowledge are we sharing with parents? Discuss with them how their child is ready, and how their child will thrive in a new space. Encourage parents to observe the new classroom. Answer their questions about why things are different, and base it on what you know about their child. You can also encourage parents to talk with other parents whose children have recently transitioned to a new classroom or to elementary school. Just like their babies, just like I did in my new position, parents need a little hand-holding sometimes, too. We all do.
What does it mean for a child to be ready for kindergarten? Everyone, from families, schools, politicians and community members, has a different idea about what it means for a child to be ready for school. One thread I hope they all have in common is that idea that readiness to learn is based on relationships. If you ask a kindergarten teacher what she needs packed into a child’s backpack on the first day of school, most will say a love for learning, self-regulation and curiosity. All of these things are taught through relationships.
Because all children learn at different rates, early childhood professionals must meet each child’s developmental needs at their pace. We have to get to know them, to understand what they need and how they need to learn. There are very few children who enter second grade without knowing their letters and sounds, but each child should be given the respect and support to learn them in their own time and in their own way.
It’s just as important for schools to be ready for the children that are entering them as it is for the child to be ready for their first day of school. Change is hard for adults, and it’s hard for children, too! There are a few simple things we can do to ease the transition and boost children’s confidence:
Because many early childhood classrooms have children going to multiple schools, it would be beneficial for children to know which of the friendly faces from their class they might see at their new school. Make a picture and name chart that lists all the children going to the same school. Children will see they won’t be alone!
Attend open houses at the new school either as a class.
Create a photo book of all the people that the children will encounter at their new school. This should include teachers, principals, office staff, custodial staff and the lunch crew. Once the photo book is created for each school the children will be attending, it can be kept in the book area year after year.
Read picture books about children going to kindergarten and leave plenty of time for questions.
Allow children to practice carrying items on trays during activities. The lunch room trays can be tricky to maneuver in the beginning of school.
Beginning kindergarten is a transition for everyone involved. Providing developmentally appropriate activities for children that build their confidence, their curiosity and their love for learning is the key to success… and you’re building on that relationship that will help them to be school-ready, too!