What skills do kids actually need for Kindergarten readiness?
Inside: Kindergarten readiness is a big buzzword these days – but what does it mean? What makes a child ready for Kindergarten?
I know why you’re here.
You’re looking for a magical, unicorn type answer to the age-old question: “Is my child ready for Kindergarten?” Or rather “Will my kid be successful in Kindergarten?”
It’s a big deal sending our kids off in the world and we may wonder if we’ve set them up for a good time or if this is going to be total bust.
The truth is: kindergarten readiness isn’t as academic as you might think….
RELATED: We made the decision to delay kindergarten. Find out what this means for my son’s future HERE.
Why we shouldn’t look to academics for the answer
There seems to be a fixation with Kindergarten readiness, but sadly – mostly focusing on getting kids ready with the wrong skills in mind.
We want to make sure our children are set up for success but we often OVER value skills we can quantify and measure (like counting and reading) and UNDER value the truly important skills which are much more abstract (like social skills).
How often, when talking about Kindergarten readiness, do we hear:
- Can they count to 10?
- Do they know their letters?
- What about sight words?
The problem with these academic questions is that they don’t tell the full picture of the child.
And most of these academic skills are LOW LEVEL and basic.
We aren’t raising basic kids.
Let’s look at Kindergarten readiness from a new lens
Instead of worrying about basic academic skills, let’s focus on more pressing skills to help your child be successful in Kindergarten and life.
Early childhood is the most critical time for learning life skills and social skills – why are we so focused on whether they can count to 10?
At the end of the day, their development as a person in Kindergarten is much more an indication of their future success than any academics (this has been WIDELY studied and documented).
So let’s hold off on checking basic skill boxes like “knows shapes” as an indication of kindergarten readiness, and instead, make sure your child is learning to do these skills…
RELATED: Curious how I helped my kids be school ready? Check out Playing Preschool – my play-based program!
The Busy Toddler Kindergarten Readiness “Check List”
FOLLOW A MULTI-STEP DIRECTION
Can your child follow multi-step directions? “Take off your coat, put it in the closet, and join me at the table.”
School is full of multi-step tasks and so is life. Being able to remember a set of instructions – and finish a task fully – is huge. So is being able to take direction from another person.
ASK AN ADULT FOR HELP (that isn’t a relative)
There are lots of adults in school and being able to ask for help, talk to, and listen to them is a big deal.
Problems arise at school and often times outside of the classroom. Your child being comfortable with going up to a volunteer or recess teacher (whom they might only vaguely know) is going to be critical.
Encourage your child to talk to adults.
TRY 2-3 STRATEGIES TO SOLVE A PEER PROBLEM
It’s easy when Mom is around to walk right up to her whenever there’s an issue, have her swoop in with solution ideas, and magically fix it.
But that’s not how school or the real-world works.
Our kids need to have a tool box of ideas for how to solve a problem with a peer BEFORE they need adult intervention.
Have you taught your child to do this? Have you let them solve peer arguments? How do they handle disagreements with friends?
ASK QUESTIONS WHEN THEY NEED MORE INFORMATION
I always tell my kids (and I used to tell my students) that smart people are smart because they ask questions.
They don’t sit there. They don’t hang their head when they don’t get it.
Instead, smart people ASK. They seek information.
Make sure your child is asking questions, especially for clarification if they don’t understand something.
SHARE AND TAKE TURNS ON COMMUNAL TOYS
Obviously, there’s a lot out there about not forcing kids to share, and I get that. You won’t see me sharing my iPhone or car with someone. Some items are just yours.
But at school, most toys and equipment are communal. It doesn’t belong to any one child. It’s different than it is at home where toys may have a clear “owner”.
For the school setting, ponder this:
Does your child know how to share?
Do they know how to take turns?
Do they know how to ask for a turn and not grab or steal a toy?
Do they recognize when someone is waiting for a turn?
WIN AND LOSE GRACIOUSLY
This is a big one.
Kids have to learn how to both win and lose respectfully.
Please let your child lose. Don’t let them win at Go Fish every.single.time. They will not win at everything in school and how difficult would it be to teach a class of 20 children who are all used to winning?
In life, we don’t always win.
This is a lesson we learn in childhood, but what happens to the kids who don’t learn this lesson? How is their self-esteem later in life? Have they accidentally made a connection to self-worth and winning?
Conversely, we need to teach children to WIN graciously and respectfully. They need to understand that winning is part of the game, but the fun was in the playing.
LISTEN TO A STORY WITHOUT INTERRUPTING
This is a tough one, but one that is asked of Kindergarteners all day long, especially in today’s world of direct instruction kindergarten (something I vehemently oppose and wish to everything I could change), 5- and 6-year-olds are asked to sit and listen A LOT.
Help your child develop these skills.
Read picture books at home and ask them to wait until the end for questions.
Try reading a chapter book without pictures to get them really in the “sit and listen” mode.
Limit screen time to help children grow a longer attention span.
It’s a hard skill to learn (and hard for me to advocate for when children that age should be running and playing, but thus is sadly the reality of American Kindergarten).
BE ABLE TO SELF-ENTERTAIN
School isn’t the most exciting place all the time.
The playground is awesome. Playing with toys is super fun. Sitting at a desk learning to write letters? Not so fun sometimes.
Kids need to have an ability to self-entertain, to be able to keep themselves occupied when the going gets slow.
This means limiting screens (TV, iPads) that do the work for the child and take the child away from play – it literally is rotting their brains like Mom always said it was.
This means cultivating their independent play skills.
Remember, a child who is bored at school is not necessarily an unchallenged child or a gifted child. All children get bored at school regardless of their academic skill level.
Part of what makes for a bored child at school is a child who has missed out on those self-entertaining and independent play skills.
KNOW HOW TO FAIL AND TRY AGAIN
This has fair reaching implications into adulthood and is so important: let’s have resilient kids.
Let’s raise kids who know that failing happens, that failing isn’t the end of the world, and that failing means you get to try again. It’s OK to fail.
Help your child learn strategies to handle the disappointment.
Help your child understand that failure isn’t a reflection of who they are as a person.
Help your child see the chance and beauty in hard work and trying.
Here are some other awesome and simple skills that are fantastic to have before entering Kindergarten:
(in case you did want some “checklisty” type items)
- Put on a coat. Bonus: zip it up without adult help.
- Be able to put on shoes correctly (tying shoes is tough, no worries there).
- Be fully toileted which means knowing how to wipe…
- Know their first and last name. Bonus: know YOUR first and last name.
- Be able to recognize their name in print.
- Be able to write their first name (all capitals and backwards letters is fine).
- Know how to use scissors.
- Know how to use a glue stick.
Remember, the best way to introduce and hone all of these skills is PLAY
You can’t drill and kill a child to learn to handle losses.
There’s no worksheet that explains sharing.
YouTube videos are not going to empower your kids to be resilient.
Focusing solely on academics robs our kids of the real learning that needs to take place in early childhood. Those play-based skills and values that end up carrying them throughout their life.
As you get your child ready for kindergarten, focus on the person they are rather than the academics they know (or don’t know).
There are lots of things kids will learn in Kindergarten and so many skills to master.
Just don’t lose sight of the WHOLE child – who is worth so much more than counting to 10 and the ABCs.