Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ready, Freddy?!

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So, in another twitter-related adventure, I stumbled across a website yesterday that talked about "Kindergarten Readiness." This has been one of my pet catch-phrases since grad school, so I dove right it. The list of teacher expectations was very thorough, and also, to me, without knowing a lot about the setting and environment in which the author worked, very high.  It did, however, make me think that it was high time for me to blog about this pet topic of mine: Kindergarten Readiness, And What It Means To Me. Dive on in, folks, the water's fine.

Let's just start with the fact that I think the whole concept of children needing to be "ready" for kindergarten is absurd. To say that a child is or is not ready for the first year of school suggests that it is somehow that child's responsibility to prepare for school. And the concept of "preparing for school" seems to lead, all too quickly, to things like worksheets for 3-year olds, and homework for 4-year olds, and expensive "kindergarten prep" courses, and all kinds of other silliness. To me, "ready for school" means, and should ONLY mean that the child in question is: well-fed, well-rested, adequately dressed. Any 5 year old (or, in the case of my province and our March 1st cutoff date, any 4.5 year old) for whom those things are true is Ready for School. If those things are NOT true, well, I think and hope we are all clear that it does not represent any failing on the part of the child.

All of that being said, last year, at my school, we identified a need to establish some kind of screening process for kindergarten students who are new to us. To be clear, we do not, and will not, screen children for spots in our preschool (3 year olds) or Junior Kindergarten (4 year olds)  because... well... THEY ARE 3 AND 4 YEAR OLDS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. However, we do want to ensure that when enrolling children "from the outside" (as in, who did not attend our junior-K program; not as in: OUTSIDERS! BEWARE!), those children are at a comparable level of development to the children who did attend JK with us. (To be even clearer: our preschool and JK are developmentally appropriate, play- and choice-based programs, where the priorities are social skill development and language immersion.) And I already hate how all this sounds because GACK! Screening for kindergarten!  Comparing 4 year olds' social skills! And I feel like I am suggesting that children who did NOT attend our JK are somehow deficient or of lesser quality, and that is so not the case, and oh God this is terrible and uncomfortable for all of us, isn't it? So let's just move along: for a number of good reasons, we needed a screener to assess incoming K students. And while I am not 100% comfortable with that, we are a private school and there were reasons, and we do not have unlimited resources to support really high-needs kids, and if we were a public school this would be unconscionable, and please don't hate on me, I KNOW. I KNOW.

(*Collective deep breath*) Okay. So. After many long discussions and sleepless nights, Camryn (my boss) and I came up with the following:

In the context of a meet and greet with the parents, Camryn gives the child a piece of paper and a big box of crayons, and casually asks the munchkin to draw a picture of her/himself while Mom and/or Dad chat with Camryn. When kiddo reports that the picture is done, Camryn asks him/her to talk about their picture, and asks if they can write their name on it, ALL VERY CASUALLY AND CONVERSATIONALLY SO NO ONE FEELS STRESSED. After that, parents go on a school tour with our Director of Admissions, and Camryn brings the munchkin down to my classroom to hang out with other children for a half-hour or so, and do whatever we are doing. AND THAT IS ALL. Basically, if kiddo can make deliberate marks with a crayon, respond appropriately to questions about the drawing, and interact with my class without smacking anyone, they are in. (Assuming that parents are also reasonable, pleasant, and on board with our school's mission, values, and philosophy.)

Now, I realise that describing my school's screening procedures is not the same as sharing my own "expectations" for students who arrive at my classroom door on the first day of school, but there is definitely a link between the two. Ideally, a child who is "ready" for my classroom:

  • feels excited about starting school, 
  • identifies his or her own name
  • uses writing utensils and scissors purposefully
  • takes turns in a game with other children
  • counts to 10 
  • will sit and listen to a story

That's it. That's all. Those are the only things I am willing to commit to in writing, and I am even hesitant to do that, because I have had children who can't do those things at the beginning of the year, and still manage kindergarten beautifully. So I also have to say, even with this short list in place:

  • If a child is scared about kindergarten, I will hold his hand until he feels safe.
  • If her own name is a string of hieroglyphics, I will point out the letter(s) that make it unique.
  • If scissors are new and unfamiliar, I will hold the paper while he makes his first cuts.
  • If taking turns stretches her self-control to the limit, I will play, too, and model how it works.
  • If counting stalls at 7, we will play counting games every day until 8, 9, 10, are familiar friends.
  • If sitting still is too hard, I will provide her a wiggle cushion, a fidget toy, a special spot, and I will read my very best stories, in my very best voices, until a story is a better treat than a treat.
  • And I WILL NOT grumble or complain that a child who struggles with ANY (or all) of these things "wasn't ready" for kindergarten.
Because, at the end of the day, doing all those things adds up to Doing My Job. Children can't walk in a straight line? My job to make up a game to help them. Can't get ready for recess on a snowy day in less than 20 minutes? My job to write a poem/chant/cheer to help everyone remember that mittens go last. Can't tell B from P? My job. Doesn't know what comes after 8? My job. Can't produce a rhyme for cat; the sound for G, a word that starts with M? My job, my job, my job. Yes, many children can do all of these things when they start kindergarten, but many can't. The ones who can't, learn from those who can. The ones who can, may not be able to weather minor disappointments without tears, or cope with being last in a line. It is also My Job to help THOSE children master THOSE skills.

It is my job to be ready, on the first day of school, to reach and teach, the children who walk in my door. And THAT, to me, is what Kindergarten Readiness means. 

It means that THE KINDERGARTEN, (and the teachers who teach there), are ready.


  1. You go girl! My brain was busting with this as well - you even got me blogging, no mean feat
    I believe in kindergarten
    I believe that the child who has confidence will rock this world
    I believe it is my pleasure to give them that
    I believe I am preparing kids for life, not school
    I believe that is crazy talk -
    I believe that I should be prepared for them, not the other way around
    I believe play, exploration, curiosity
    I believe in high hopes, failure, and persistence
    I believe in experiences before expectations
    I believe learning is subtle, explosive, silent, screaming, sneaky
    I believe we grow better scattered with others than planted in rows

  2. Great post! Thank you!
    I want to say that my school district also screens kindergarten students, but not for readiness to enter, merely to collect information about what a child is able to do and what she is not doing yet, in order that I have the "readiness" to meet them where they are. My job.

  3. Thoughtful and thought-provoking post! As a mother of a four year old, I applaud you!

  4. I love this! Our curriculum has gotten away from the developmental side of kindergarten. Sometimes I think we push too much, too fast. I have many children who come to me without the very basics, yet I am expected to have them reading, writing 3 sentences and solving addition problems in 172 days.

  5. Amazing because it is so true!!!!! As a CC of a independent PK-8 know what you are talking about. When I hear a K teacher tell me "so and so is not ready" it is like nails on a chalkboard. It is the job of every teacher to take children from where they are to as far as they can go. That is what teaching is. Thanks again for a great post.

  6. I love it! I would go a step farther and say this is true for all grades preschool through grade eight. Exceptions come with Algebra, etc. Teachers are hired to do JUST that...teach. We must acknowledge and respect where kids are when they come to us. This is true in public schools, but also true in the best private schools. Thank you, so much, for sharing.

  7. Today I ran across this:

    10 Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs

    The one that annoyed me the most is:

    "1. Writing

    * Help your child practice writing letters, especially the letters in her name.
    * Teach your child how to write her name with an uppercase first letter and the remaining letters in lowercase."

    Wait. PARENTS are now responsible for teaching rudimentary handwriting?

  8. Yay! Amy! Fantastic post! I especially thank you for that last paragraph!

    "Children can't walk in a straight line? My job to make up a game to help them. Can't get ready for recess on a snowy day in less than 20 minutes? My job to write a poem/chant/cheer to help everyone remember that mittens go last.." etc- that whole paragraph- wonderful.

    These are the hidden talents teachers hold in their pockets. These are the sets of skills that makes a great kindergarten teacher, which you clearly are.

    "Already ready" Thank you for always preserving the dignity of children and highlighting the profession of teaching. You are a gem.

  9. You are a very cool chick. Love Lornie

  10. Let's put the KIND back in KINDergarten...

  11. We now have 80+ standards to teach in 182 days, many of which are not really "age appropriate" who can truly be "ready" for that?

    I found you on Twitter. Nice Blog.
    I have a Blog too.
    Would love for you to pop by.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Well said! I found you through the same post that started you off on this blog. I thought my 4 year old was ready for kindergarten until I read the previous blog....then had a mild panic your blog, and now feel much better. I wish my child was joining your kindergarten class in September!