I frequently get calls from parents requesting intervention for children with no obvious difficulties but rather they want their children to be “more prepared” when they enter their formal schooling. I also get referrals from teachers who are concerned about children and need to cover their ass (CYA). Consequently we are caught in a conundrum of too much, too little or too late.
The final part of the school year brings with it, renewed anxiety about school readiness and what children should know.
A post originally written 2010 in and recently republished, entitled “What should a 4 year old know?“ highlights the competitive nature of the society in which we live. More importantly, it offers some insights into what parents need to know.
- The pace that each child learns to walk, talk read and do algebra has little bearing on how well he will do it in the future.
- The single biggest predictor of academic achievements is reading to children.
- Being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours.
- Our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them.
- Our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need tablets, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US!
In saying all of this, merely being present is not sufficient. The first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young children’s earliest experiences and environments set the stage for future development and success in school and life. Early experiences influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behavior and emotional health.
The following interrelated areas need to be evaluated for school readiness
1. Physical Well-Being and Motor Development
This refers to fine motor skills and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills include control and manipulation of the smaller muscles in the hands and fingers, while gross motor skills describe the coordination and strength of larger muscle groups.
2. Social and Emotional Development
Social interaction is an important indicator of school readiness. Children who have developed maturity in this area, like to play with several different children, but can also work and play independently when required. They make friends easily and are invited by other children to play. They adapt well to different environments, and are able to separate from their parent easily. They can stand up for their rights by using their language skills to negotiate an outcome. They are confident in social situations, and relate well to their teachers and other adults.
3. Approaches to Learning
Children should display enthusiasm and curiosity when approaching new activities. This also includes motivation, persistence, frustration tolerance and initiative. Children with a positive approach to learning are better able to attend to and actively participate in learning activities, show interest in new and difficult tasks, and demonstrate persistence in the face of challenge.
4. Language Development
They use words rather than body language to express a feeling or a need, The child is able to communicate well with their peers, and speak clearly enough to be understood by others. Their vocabulary is well developed, and they use language creatively to describe what they are doing.
5. Cognition and General Knowledge
In addition to a basic knowledge of numbers, letters, and colors, cognition involves the thinking skills that children learn to make sense of all the general knowledge they acquire. Cognitive skills enable children to make meanings, patterns, and relationships in their learning, for example, the ability to understand how to count objects in order to pick up four blocks. Among the most basic cognitive skills are perception, attention, imitation, and memory.
At the end of kindergarten/nursery school, not all children are equally prepared to start school. Social-emotional readiness is one of the most important factors for school readiness as learning is a social process. Those who are less prepared are more at risk during their schooling later on. Research results have shown that that lower levels of school readiness at the end of kindergarten were associated with poorer school performance in grade 1, which can mark the beginning of scholastic difficulties. (Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development; QLSCD 1998-2010)
The emphasis and pressure of formal education seems to be growing, and with it, we are gradually reducing children’s opportunities to play. Learning and playing are being unnecessarily separated.
Children need to play in order to learn. Playing teaches many of the most important of life’s lessons including creativity, which cannot be ‘taught’ by any formal means, but has been identified as one of the most important skills for later success in life. Whilst we need to be aware of the underlying skills necessary for formal school, we should not fore-go play in our endeavor to learn.