Friday, July 12, 2013

Kindergarten Readiness. Is there a skill set to measure?!

As I was browsing Pinterest last night, looking for good mommy-daughter ideas & tips on being a super fun mom, I came across this list of 71 Things Your Child Needs to Know before entering Kindergarten.
Out of curiosity, I read it.  But I'm not so sure this is a list I'd pass around to rising kinder parents.  There were some good skills to practice like asking for help, transitioning between activities, interacting with others and showing meaning through pictures.

As far as academics are concerned, this list suggests that children should be able to recognize & match all 52 letters {26 capital & 26 lowercase}, identify numbers 1-10 and count to 20.  It also suggests that children should be able to demonstrate skills requiring prior knowledge in color, shape & size.

I don't know about you, but that is not the norm in my classroom.

As a child's first teacher, I have to say that one of the biggest missing links in our education system is the lack of benchmark for kindergarten readiness.  Should they have alphabetic knowledge?  Should they be able to recognize or write their own name?  Should they able to count and work with amounts?  Or all these all skills that we as kindergarten teachers are expected to teach them?  It used to be that kindergarten was the place we taught the basics and if our kids didn't come in knowing anything, we opened our arms for a welcoming hug, gave them a smile and were thilled to start with a blank slate, imparting as much knowledge as we could from day 1.  At the end of the year when those children demonstrated growth and were able to read simple sentences, we would marvel {and probably cry} at how much they had learned and the progress they had made in our classrooms.

Currently, if we don't take those blank-slate children through multiple reading levels where they are using higher level strategies, reading blends & dipthongs and comprehending books with 100+ words independently, they don't meet our EOY {end of year} benchmarks.  Do our policymakers and government officials really know what that means?  It means they fail.  It means that all of their progress of learning letters and sounds, learning to decode and break apart words, blending sounds together, identifying high frequency words, pulling meaning from picture & context clues and choosing appropriate reading strategies to figure out new words is not enough.  That regardless of all of the work they did, coming to school excited to learn everything, it is not good enough for us.  While we may not be able to do anything about our report cards or test scores, I refuse to reflect that value system onto my kids.  What they accomplish in a year is incredible and deserved to be recognized, regardless of where that year's growth falls on the very wide spectrum of scores.

The problem is that we don't have a level playing field.  We have kids come in who already exhibit reading skills sitting next to peers who have never picked up a pencil, book or pair of scissors.  With Common Core, emphasis on test scores and competition in education pushing benchmarks higher and higher with each coming school year, we are so focused on an ending point that we are forgetting where our children are starting from.  And I don't mean the BOY {beginning of year} assessments that most elementary teachers are required to give each fall.  I mean where they're really starting from.  As in, Day 1 of Kindergarten.  The only requirement to enter kindergarten is a child's age.  That leaves everything else - all skill levels - wide open.

Now, please don't misunderstand me.  I am not at all trying to say that my job should be made easier or make this about the work load of teachers.  In a flat-out, patting myself on the back gesture, I know that I kick you-know-what at this job because I work that same body part off day after day to jump through hoops, finish paperwork, read about new policies and implement new programs.  Once I finally have that check-list narrowed down {because it's never ending} I use whatever time I have left at home, after spending some time with my family, to actually plan lessons and activities for the classroom.  And I love my kids.  And I love teaching my kids.  It's just feels as though we've lost that as the focus in the mumble jumble of everything else.  If we really want to measure the growth of our children, we need to know where they're starting and think about doing something to level the playing field.

Maybe that means investing more money into pre-K programs.  Maybe it means implementing classes to teach parents how to work with their children at home.  As a teacher, I'll start using academic vocabulary with my daughter the day that she's born because it just comes naturally to me to talk about colors and communicate even in the most mundane daily activities.  But we all know that's not the case with parents across the board.  And it doesn't make them bad parents and it isn't their fault.  {Please hear me here.}  But we can't expect all children to come to kindergarten with a background of academics if we don't show parents how to start those conversations at home.

It's been made apparent that our opinions don't count for much at the district, state and national levels but luckily, some of our parents still value our experience and knowledge.  So, like with much of everything else we'll face this school year, it has to begin with us.  What do you think is missing?  What do you think is important for students to know when they enter your classroom?  And if you have simple strategies on how families can do that at home, feel free to list them!  Let's come up with our own list - for we truly are the experts - that we can pass out to your rising kindergarten families.

Thanks for listening to my rambling and please do chime in with your thoughts.  For now, I'm back to Pinterest to make some Dunkaroo dip to snack on while I spray paint frames for baby girl's nursery.  :)


  1. Great post. Minders teachers manta is You Get What You Get. Every year we open our doors and accept them all. It is remarkable to see the growth. To level the playing field, we also need to make kindergarten mandatory, at least in my state. Isn't it absurd to have standards for an optional grade?

  2. I want them to know how to play, how to talk to friends, how to explore new things, how to listen when someone is talking, to take turns, to wait patiently for attention, and to speak about what is new and exciting. I am willing to teach them if they are ready to learn. I am afraid our preschools are giving up on play and sitting kids down to complete worksheets so they can be ready for Kindergarten. Sigh. It creates so many problems if kids can't play!

  3. I soooo agree with this post!! I've read that list and it made me sad. They're still babies when we get them and it's my job to teach them some of those things! Wait until that sweet girl is born and this list will make you even more sad. I get super sad thinking about my little one being rushed out of being a little kid :(

  4. Great post! As a daughter and granddaughter of Early Childhood Preschool Directors I truly wish our government would invest more into early education and preschool programming. Those years are sooooo important!! It breaks my heart to think of little ones showing up for the first day of kindergarten and all ready being behind. :(
    Short and Sassy Teacher


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