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Let’s Rethink “Kindergarten Readiness”

A great family moment. Skating together on their own for the first time.

A great family moment. Skating together on their own for the first time.

Considering it is kindergarten registration at our school next week, I wanted to share my personal thoughts.

I have never taught kindergarten nor have I ever run a preschool program.  I have been an elementary educator for 8 years and am now a father of two wonderful girls that so many people think we should be getting them ready for kindergarten.  I read so much from childcare “experts” that push parents to get their kids “kindergarten ready” and this often focuses on skills like letter recognition, counting, colouring, sitting still, etc.  Preschools and daycare centres market themselves as the “best places to get your child ready for kindergarten”.  Parents feel the need to give their kids the edge by getting their children into the “best preschools”.  (I LOVE the preschool our kids go to… not because they are focused on academics but because they love and care for our kids and give them an opportunity to be happy learning and exploring with others – and to be clear, I don’t blame preschools for marketing themselves – they are a small business and often must do what the market demands).

When did we “realize” that pushing children to learn outside the home at a young age best prepared them for kindergarten? I have yet to meet a kindergarten teacher (and I have had the privilege of meeting some amazing ones) that says to a parent that their child should have this ideal list of skills prior to entering kindergarten.  Yet, so many articles say “kindergarten teachers all want…”.  What message does this send to parents if we say a child should know how to print and spell their name and their child comes to school not knowing how to do this?  “Thank you for bringing your child to our school… but she cannot print her name so you have failed as a parent to get your child ready for kindergarten.”  We would never say this but how many parents feel this? How many parents are so stressed out to get their child ready for kindergarten that they miss out on the wonderful moments of love, exploration, curiosity, and play?

A kindergarten teacher said to me, “The only thing I ask of parents is that they give their child all the love and care they can provide… I will teach them once they arrive. It is up to me to be ready for your child”.  Of course we want to encourage read alouds, exploration, outdoor play and so many other joyous parts of being a parent; however, we don’t need (as parents) to feel pressured to sit at the table going through a kindergarten readiness workbook trying to ensure our kids learn how to sit still and do worksheets so they have a better chance of “graduating” from kindergarten.

As a parent, I have been blown away by the constant comparatives of our children – percentile scores, toilet training (some call it the real life “pissing contest”) and other quests to achieve milestones earlier than the “norm” (who’s Norm?).  Parents are constantly inundated with marketing ploys and information to give their child the “edge”.  I get it – we want our kids to be successful.  I also know that there is such strength in parent/family attachment.  I worry that the pressure to give kids an edge actually affects parent attachment in our kids.  Through pressure to get kids involved and schedule them in activities so much, we actually encourage attachment to someone else and take time away from family time… time which we will never get back.  I am not saying we don’t get our kids involved in activities they enjoy; I am saying let’s do this for the right reasons.

The current reality for many of our families is that both parents work.  This makes time with family that much more important.  I never want to tell parents what to do but I feel that we need to relax a bit and stop worrying so much about giving our kids an edge and preparing them for kindergarten.  Education is a life-long journey and the years of parenting kids seems to fly by at an incredible rate.  Let’s give parents a break from the stress of always being told what to do to be the “best parent”.  Let’s stop forcing families to constantly compare the development of their “baby” to some arbitrary “ideal” academic standard for preschool aged children.  Let’s rethink the pressure of things like “kindergarten readiness” and instead promote ways that families can spend more time together playing, reading, imagining, exploring, and living in that moment… because we all know how quickly these moments pass.

I would love your thoughts on this… as I am still trying to figure things out for myself as an educator and a parent.

A plug for my friend Scott Bedley who, along with his brother Tim, have created an opportunity to start a conversation around the importance of play.  February 4th is Global School Play Day and this is a great kick off to encourage schools and families to embrace the joys of creativity, exploration, friendships, and learning.  It is a reminder to put down the devices, put aside the schedules and be in the moment.

 

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of James Hill Elementary School (K-5) in Langley, BC, Canada. Passionate about strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.

35 Comments

  1. Chris, I totally agree with you! I think about my own two – DD walked at 9 months, DS at 18 months. They both walk really well now. In our push to ‘hothouse’ our children, we are losing sight of the fact that development is individual.

    At 4K screening I was told my not quite 4-year-old was easily distracted because they had to repeat questions. When I asked if he had been up and running around, I was told know but that he was constantly looking around the room – a room covered with poster covered walls, and shelves full of toys. I would’ve worried more if he’d NOT been distracted.

    We need to let them be little. Let them play. Let them be kids.

  2. Chris,

    Always love your blog and your views on education. I have to admit: I am guilty of encouraging learning prior to our students entering Kdg. Why? I feel pressure as a principal from the increased rigor from our new standards; however, it easy to forget the families that are working countless hours or the single-parent homes that don’t have the time.

    I myself am guilty as well as worrying about “norms” with my own son who will enter Kdg this coming August. We read every night and we do some silly games that incorporate rhyming, reading, counting, etc… We are losing sight of kids being kids. In Ohio, we already give a standardized test that must be given the first two weeks of school, to determine whether the student is on track to be a reader in 3rd grade? To me, this is insanity; however, the new 3rd grade state assessment has to be passed or a child is retained, so it scares the daylights out of me as a father and a principal.

    Thanks again for a great blog. I always appreciate your honest insight. You can follow me on Twitter @PrincipalCMill

    • Hey Chad – thanks for adding a personal touch and the dilemma that so many face when “rigorous” standards are placed upon our children (and adults). We are lucky we do not have the testing and high stakes here in Canada (so far). Looking forward to connecting more on Twitter!

  3. My favourite point of bragging was “able to walk.” My experience is that it is a skill that pretty much everyone figures out in life whether that happens at 18 months or 24 months – does it really matter? For some parents it was like the Super Bowl of childhood development.

    What I see as a trend is that most people publicly make comments that are similar to yours but then do differently. We actually know it is probably not the best, but we can’t help ourselves from getting caught-up in “keeping up with the Jones'”

    • We all just try to “keep up with the Kennedys” in BC. 🙂

      Ah, yes… the walking award. It is so funny having twins because one walked much sooner than the other… and the one who didn’t walk actually could but she was just so happy being picked up. She had it all figured out… haha.

      Thanks for starting many conversations with your post.

  4. “Through pressure to get kids involved and schedule them in activities so much, we actually encourage attachment to someone else and take time away from family time… time which we will never get back.”

    I love this line, and the picture of your girls skating! When our children were young, we did a lot of activities together as a family, but they did very few scheduled activities. They learned their letters and numbers through play and daily routines. I don’t think I could articulate it then, but now I realize that it was important to us because if we wanted our children to know and live the values that are important to us, they needed to spend most of their time with us. Once they could tell us that they were interested in trying out a scheduled activity, we let them try as much as we were able, but it was their choice and not ours. I really enjoyed your post.

    • Het Terri, thanks for your personal narrative on this topic. I think attachment is a big area that is being ignored with the push to get kids involved in so many things as well as into learning centres prior to kindergarten. For many parents, they are both working and spending time together is a challenge so preschools, daycares, and activities are the only option for them. We are lucky in that I work during the day and my wife works in the evening (although we don’t get much time together during the week) so our kids often have one of us around with them. We also have our kids in a great preschool that is very warm, nurturing, and play based. Families do the best they can… and I really hope that we can get family attachment on the forefront of decisions that we make as a society and as an education system.

  5. There are too many “experts” who think that pushing skills and concepts on young children at an earlier and earlier age gets them “ahead.” It does exactly the opposite.
    Children need to play, roll around, turn themselves upside down and back up again, pretend, imagine… so many things that preschools and kindergartens used to do (and which the good ones still do). This isn’t just about letting children be children. The benefits of play, movement, music, etc. far outweigh anything else.

    Children need play for context! Argh. I can’t believe that we still have to argue this point when there is so much research – good research! – to support it. I’m loving teaching K/1 this year, and we play and do a lot of fun things. The beauty of where we are is that each child in my class comes to me with different needs. My job is to meet that child where he is and help him learn more deeply at a rate that is developmentally appropriate for him. Some days, dance parties are the best thing we do all day.

    I’m glad that you are an advocate for your darling girls, friend. 🙂

    Oh- and there’s this about preschool: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/03/why_preschool_shouldnt_be_like_school.html

    • Thanks, Michelle! Although I have concerns about the push for kindergarten readiness, I am also inspired by teachers like you (and many preschool teachers) that put the focus on care and play. Someone said to me that the push for K readiness is partly based on all that is happening in the US around common core and standardized testing… I am thankful that we do not have that in Canada but still concerned about the push to get kids an “edge” which pushes care and play to the background. Thanks for all you do and all you share!

  6. I had prepared a little rant that somehow got lost – maybe that’s a good thing…LOL
    Bottom line: It’s about learning not about winning. We always need to keep this in mind.

    • Doh! I do enjoy your rants…

      Yes, if the focus is “winning” in the short term, it can end up hurting (or losing) in the long term.

  7. I agree there should not be a measuring stick as to whether a child is ready. Ultimately for me the decision is going to be what will benefit my child the most. Another year of a small group setting in a fantastic daycare or heading off to kindergarten with a wonderful kindergarten teacher.

    • Hey buddy – yes, each family needs to make the decision that is best for them. My worry is that the societal push to do certain things causes parents to do what others say they should rather than what they feel is best for their children. As a new parent, you can likely relate to the constant comparisons that exist for kids and parents… makes a hard, important duty that much more difficult.

  8. Chris,
    Thank you for this great post. I love that you are doing the important things with your girls before they go to kindergarten. Playing, skating, being outdoors, reading aloud, exploring, discovering, questioning, having fun, giving, loving…These are important for life and kindergarten.

    Your post reminded me of the BGUTI principle that Alfie Kohn talks about. Some people do sit their children down with readiness workbooks when they are too little. “Better get used to it, because you’ll have to sit still and do workbooks NEXT YEAR!” Exactly, next year will come soon enough. This year, they don’t need to sit still and do workbooks. (Hopefully never, but that’s another post.)

    Thanks for sharing,
    Denise

    • Hey Denise, thank you for chiming in. Yes, sometimes I wonder why we prepare kids for things that are not ideal… by doing the things that are not ideal.

      We are so busy that we have to carve out family days… and I love it (and so do the kids). I am thankful for the many moments that the weekly family days help is to share.

  9. This is a “Yes, but no,” topic for me.
    No:
    Using those early years as good manners boot-camps should be the primary focus. Honestly, behavior alone should be the litmus test for readiness. I’m sure that’d upset tons of parents if instituted! Imagine the reaction to, “I’m sorry, but your child is too much of a little horror to be allowed to start kindergarten. Maybe next year.”

    Yes:
    There are plenty of studies that show quality time does far more for kids than study time. Yet, there is no reason that quality time can’t also improve their minds. In fact, if the family culture is one of life-long-learning, that value will get passed on whether intentional or vicarious.

    • Thanks for commenting. Manners and behaviours are very important not just for kindergarten but in life. Self regulation is becoming more and more important in schools as kids are struggling with regulating energy and emotional levels. One thing that Gordon Neufeld says is that when kids spent more quality time with their parents, they often learn better behaviour and self-regulation skills. This is a challenge when both parents work, of course. It would be interesting if there was a societal focus on play, creativity, self-regulation and problem solving rather than mostly the academics to get “ready for K”. You are right that learning can be fun… and we need to encourage each other to carve out this time to make this happen.

  10. I love the Q about what kids “need” before they enter Kindyland – I always figure that knowing their name is important, who is picking them up is always good, and of course the Robert Fulghum book’s advice to play nice, dream big and stay curious!

  11. Yes! Yes! Yes! I am a K teacher and totally agree with you on this! To me kindergarten readiness has to do with parents helping their kids learn to self-regulate and that best happens through spending time with your kids and loving them!

    • For sure… I think awareness of care and play (and self-regulation) might be a good goal for our communities to consider not to get them “kindergarten ready” but because it gets our kids on a path to a caring community.

  12. I love this post. I am a kindergarten teacher who is asked many times to give presentations to parents on this topic. My main focus is to help relax parents to help them understand that my job is the academics, theirs is to foster a sense of curiosity, read and talk with their children. Let’s not rush life, let preschoolers play, use their imaginations, sing and dance and learn to play with others.

    • Hey Margy – I love what you just said… not sure any comment from me would add anything so I hope people read your words! 🙂

  13. Hey Pal,

    This was a timely post for me, given that my kindergartener is having trouble at school right now. According to the teacher, she’s just not working very hard. According to my daughter, she’s bored by what she’s being asked to learn.

    I have a feeling that being a parent is going to really push me as a practitioner. I’m not sure that I can blame my daughter for being bored by school — and while I want to see her “succeed,” I’m not sure that I care about the traditional definitions of success that matter so much in school.

    I’m challenged.

    Hope you are well, by the way!
    Bill

    • Hey buddy! Well said, being a parent has made me a better educator. Also, talking with parents of kids (often that struggle) has made me a better parent and educator.

      It is so tough when I get to see amazing things that happen in so many classrooms. I hope I can have an effective relationship with my kids’ teachers so we can talk about how to best support them.

      Yes, the “traditional model of success” is being questioned and for good reason. I am so excited to have our kids go to school when the potential for positive change is so high… but I am also scared as to what happens when there is a misalignment of values and practices.

      Going to be a great journey!

  14. I teach Kindergarten and constantly feel like I’m teaching a First Grade curriculum to my students. (In fact I DID teach First Grade for 5 years and am supposed to be doing many of the same things with my K students. The Common Core and huge pressure to have “data” on kids is forcing K and Pre-K to become more like First Grade.

    I’ve seen many kids who couldn’t read as well as their peers in 1st grade and were labeled as “problem readers”, only to take off when they got to 2nd grade.

    Kids are going to learn to read. They’re going to learn to write. Everyone needs to calm down.

    • Hey Maria – someone said to me recently, “as a system, we create failure”. Some kids may develop later yet they are told they are failures (and teachers are punished for their scores).

      Interesting that reading is taught much later in some countries and they end up fine. I wonder how many “failures” we create in our system?

  15. My twins are heading into high school next year so I can honestly say they have survived and thrived in Elementary school and gasp – I didn’t even send them to pre school! I worked part time at that time and wanted to be with my children. We did lots of activities including library story times, gym classes, community center classes with same age peers. And we just “were” – walks, park time, lots of reading, time with family. The only “ready” I though about was to do with security (love, connection, happiness) – not about school skills. My children were ready to learn because they were already learning – they were curious, had background knowledge from experiences, could risk take because they were secure, etc. Children should be ready to be happy and supported in a learning environment not to be “skillified” – I think when we think about K as all about skills to be learned, we think they need to come in with skills. When we think about K as a place of learning and discovery, we think very differently about what “ready” looks like. Great post, great questions. Enjoyed all of the comments.

  16. As a parent of young children (two in school, one a kindie now, one not yet) with a wife (a teacher who used to teach KD) I am led to understand that what the teachers are looking for is children who can handle the social stress of being in a group and are trained in simple tasks (like toilet trained, able to do a zipper etc..).

    KD is an introduction to school and the teachers want kids who understand sharing, are empathetic (don’t hit or take things from peers without permission) and will not panic when their parents leave. During KD parents are expected to be involved in the teaching of their kids (sharing books because most kids at that age are not developmentally ready to read, working on numbers etc). Research shows that all this extra work people put into their kids to get them Kindergarten ready evens out by early Gr 1-2 but you will never get that fun pre-school time back with your kids.

    To summarize for a KD teacher a “kindergarten ready” child is one who is happy, friendly, empathetic and self-confident. Skills will come but the basic building blocks of good personality and behaviour is all they hope to see.

  17. Just a comment: Kindergarten is not required by law. so if a child is not “ready” it doesn’t have to be an issue.

  18. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading this! I am a Kindergarten teacher and completely agree with what you have written. If you have a good Kindergarten then your child will learn. The teacher will engage with the parents and the child’s education will be a partnership between the family, school and community. There is no need to ‘ready’ a child as they all develop at very different speeds. Even commonly accepted developmental milestones are often a bit too rigid! This aim to have the ‘best’ child is actually detrimental to the child’s development. These Parents tend to ignore the social, emotional and behavioural aspects of development in favour of academic success. Placing so much unnatural stress on such young children is a sure fire way to issues in later life and no guarantee of academic success.

  19. I have felt like a complete failure lately, because my son does not read or write. We have taken him to museums, zoos and aquariums, and he loved to learn. Now he is in Kindergarten, and it seems he is way behind the other children. We did not do pre-K, and it seems like such a competition among the parents. I am a teacher, and it just seems I should have known better. I just wanted him to love to learn. Now he is frustrated. 🙁

  20. Well written article Chris. As a teacher I completely agree the best we can do as parents is spend time with them and love them. Learning happens when you spend time with your children – in the forest, in the pool, on walks, – exploration. I’m so thankful that both my kids were before the full day kindergarten – because they both napped in the afternoon. Kids need to rest and reflect on their days – not spend time memorizing which is the lowest form of learning.

    • Yeah, my wife and I had many conversations about full day K last year. There were many days when we wished it was half-days… but we also acknowledge that we are privileged that my wife works in the evening so she could be with the kids in the day. So many families do not have this options so it becomes a choice of daycare vs kindergarten. We were so lucky to have a K teacher that put SEL first with our girls too – they had a wonderful year. All the best to the new year for you!

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