“Kindergarten readiness is a generalized concept, to help adults try to determine whether a child has the prerequisite skills, knowledge, and understanding to thrive in the formal world of structured education. It's not an exact science, and there's no perfect way to size up a child's readiness to take that big step forward.” ~Dr. Melissa King
(Transcript available below)
START OF TRANSCRIPT
Heidi Higgins: Hi there. I'm Heidi Higgins and you are listening to K12 On Learning. The first five years for a child are vital and important for learning social skills, basic language, numeracy, motor skills, and so, so much more. Today in the podcast, we're going to learn the skills needed to assure a young child is ready for kindergarten. You will hear from early learning specialist, Dr. Melissa King. And asking questions today is special guest host, Letise Dennis, from Stride K12. Letise is one of the leaders on the social media team and also the mom to three wonderful children. I'll let her begin by introducing Dr. King.
Letise Dennis: I'm so excited to be here today with Dr. Melissa King, who is joining us to discuss kindergarten readiness. Dr. King has actually been with us at K12 as the director of early learning. She helped to develop our Embark Program. She's also the author of many published books and journal articles, as well as teaching graduate courses at the University of Virginia, George Mason University and Kaplan University. And what else have you taught?
Dr. Melissa King: I also spent about 20 years in the public schools teaching everything from pre-K all the way up through grade eight, so I've had a lot of experience with all kinds of kids at all ages and loved every minute.
Letise Dennis: For a lot of parents, the leap into kindergarten can be an emotional and stressful and very uncertain time, so I'm so excited to hear your advice for us parents who might not be sure if our kids are ready or not, or might be struggling with this transition in our lives.
Dr. Melissa King: It's funny you say that because it's been a long time since my own children went to kindergarten but I remember those days when each one of them stepped on the bus and took their first foray into the world of formal schooling. And I think many of us as moms shed a few tears because we realized, that's when they're really going off on their own so it is a time of great importance.
Letise Dennis: It definitely is. Okay, so now let's just jump into it. So help explain to us, what exactly is kindergarten readiness?
Dr. Melissa King: Kindergarten readiness is a generalized concept to help adults try to determine whether a child has the prerequisite skills, knowledge and understanding to thrive in a formal world of structured education. It's not an exact science and there's no perfect way to size up a child's readiness to take that big step forward, and each child is unique and special. We must always remember not to judge any child against the level of performance of another child. It's not a contest.
We also need to remember that parents, like yourself, and families are a child's first teachers and they know their child best. Research tells us that the first five years of a child's life set the foundation for all that follows. In fact, 85% of brain growth occurs during that critical period. In addition, a child's basic personality and emotional template is established during those five years so we really do need to be paying attention to what's happening and what children are ready for next.
Experts describe the progression of child development as a continuum or a general sequence of skills and competencies that emerge in a particular order. However, the timing and the exact chronological age when any child reaches those milestones may differ, so there's variation from child to child. So when we say kindergarten readiness, we're really referring to a set of basic benchmarks that are typical for many young children in our society. But remember, it's not a race, therefore, decision about a child's readiness for kindergarten should be based on whether that particular child meets certain identified criteria, demonstrates certain behaviors that are generally observed in other children. It's not a formula but it's a set of descriptive characteristics. That's usually what we say about kindergarten readiness.
Letise Dennis: I like how you said that it's different for every kid. I know in my experience with my three kids, they were all three at different stages of readiness to go off and they all did well, so it's definitely dependent on the child and not the formula, like you said. I like that point. All right, Dr. King, can you talk to us a little bit about the domains of kindergarten and why each one important?
Dr. Melissa King: Sure. The domains are sets of skills, behaviors and common understandings that characterize kindergarten readiness, and there are two big sets. One is what we call the fundamental benchmarks, and that includes social-emotional learning, language development and physical development. And the other big domain is what we call the academic arena, and that includes early literacy, emergent numeracy, and approaches to learning and cognition or thinking. So let's take a look and see what's covered in each one of those subsets.
So social-emotional learning, also called SEL, is an individual's capacity for self-regulation, empathy and self expression, self confidence, and level of independence, and this is a very important area for parents and families to think about when making decisions regarding a child's readiness for kindergarten. It's often overlooked or understated, but it probably is one of the most important areas. Included in SEL would be the child's ability to pay attention and focus on a given task such as putting a puzzle together for a certain length of time without getting too distracted, following directions and persisting with a task such as buttoning a shirt or zipping up a jacket, playing cooperatively with others and managing frustration that might come up such as when another child doesn't want to of share their toys.
Does the child have the skill to be able to manage that kind of common frustration that happens, and how well can the child control their own impulses and respect boundaries? Such as refraining from an angry outburst when things don't go the way that they want them to and accepting no as a response in some situations when there's a certain behavior that's not allowed. So that's what we call the domain of SEL or social-emotional learning. Very, very important.
Letise Dennis: Right.
Dr. Melissa King: Language development is another big one and language development includes receptive language skills, that's listening and understanding what language comes to you, comes into your brain. The second aspect is expressive language, and that's your own verbal ability to verbalize and vocalize your own ideas, thoughts, feelings, and needs. And basic communication is another one, so does the child understand that the purpose of language is to negotiate that space with others and to be able to express and to exchange ideas with others? So we want to make sure that any child who enters kindergarten has a capacity to be able to communicate basic needs and to be able to express themselves with others.
So the other fundamental area in those basic benchmarks is physical development, and that would include both fine and gross motor skills, coordination and balance, use of tools and self care. So some examples might be the child's ability to stack blocks one on top of the other, the child's ability to use crayons, to have success with buttons and zippers and snaps, being able to copy simple shapes and figures on a piece of paper, using basic tools such as a spoon, a toothbrush, maybe even a pair of scissors. And in the gross motor skill area, being able to catch a ball, throw a ball, run, hop, jump, skip, or even ride a tricycle. So those are all included in that domain of physical development.
When we look at the academic domains, the top of the list is early literacy, and that includes some very, very important components that will make it possible for the child to learn to read and write. So first off is just the child's phonological awareness, and that means the sounds of the language. Are they sensitive to the music, the intonation patterns, the actual sounds of letters and words? Can they put those things together in understanding and using language? Their knowledge of print and writing conventions, can they understand that if I draw this shape or I draw this symbol, I'm actually communicating something to someone else? So we have shared meaning with that when we use written conventions. The child's ability to draw things to express ideas. I want to draw my dog, and whether or not that looks like a dog is not the point but it's the child's understanding that they can take that idea and put that idea down for someone else to also see.
And then another big subset in early literacy is the child's response to literature, and this is really important. So you want a child to stand how to hold a book properly and how to turn the pages, moving from the beginning to the end, understanding that print goes from left to right in the English language. They should also be able to make predictions about stories and maybe retell a story. In this one of the bears in the night, they got out of bed and they made their pathway over to see the owl on the hill. So can the child listen intently and then retell that story? Is the child familiar enough with listening and following along that they can then paraphrase and say back to a person who is listening with them what actually happened in that story? Make their own narrative.
Also, the child should be able to discriminate and identify individual sounds that are part of our language. Babies and infants actually have the capacity to understand every sound from every language and to make every sound from every language. It sounds really phenomenal but it's actually true, but they refine that understanding when they're exposed to particular languages. So in our case, it's the English language. And so when children have that capacity, we want to make sure that we take advantage of the moments we have that with them to build that common understanding of how our language sounds.
Children who are moving into the kindergarten year should be able to recognize and names some of the letters of the alphabet, but not all, and that's different than saying A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and singing the song. Most children learn that by rote and most children think L, M, N, O, P is one letter.
Letise Dennis: Yes.
Dr. Melissa King: So we want to make sure that when we talk about print conventions and letters, that they understand that that letter A is something. That's a discreet entity and I can find that letter in a book or on a piece of paper. The child should also be able to write their own name, it doesn't need to be perfect and the letters don't need to be the same size, but they should understand, if my name is Lily, it's an L-I-L-Y on the paper and probably recognize their own name.
When we move into emergent numeracy or what most people commonly think of as math, we're talking about the child's awareness of patterns and order. Being able to distinguish and compare relative quantities, recognizing basic shapes, circles and squares and triangles. We're not talking hexagon here but we're talking the basic shapes. They should be able to sort things and they should be able to count from one to 10. Many children entering kindergarten can count beyond that but it's not necessary. They're going to learn that. What's most important is that they understand conceptually that as I move from one to 10, those numbers represent a known quantity, and as I count from one to 10, guess what? 10 is bigger than one. There's more stuff in a group of 10 than there is in a group of one. When we talk about emergent numeracy, we're not talking only about numbers. We're talking about some of those more basic concepts that children need to have in terms of logic and analysis.
And the final subset I want to talk about is approaches to learning and cognition. So at this point, when a child is about five, they should have the capacity to solve some problems, basic problems. They should be interested in participating in group activities and some of those activities might help them solve problems. They should also be asking questions to seek new information. Part of this subset is a child's own enthusiasm for learning something new, their eagerness to find out more about the world. So we want to stimulate those growing brains, we want to give them lots of experiences that give them positive feedback so that when they do have success, they want more. We want the child to be interested in learning.
We also want to encourage creative application of those ideas, so imagination is part of it and we're always looking to allow young children some space to go beyond what is and to think creatively and be curious, so that's what we're looking for when we talk about the domain of thinking skills.
Letise Dennis: Okay. Well, thank you for that explanation. Do you find that for any of these domain sets, that children that have siblings that are part of a larger family rate higher or lower in these assessments, or even children that have been to preschool or not?
Dr. Melissa King: It's a great question and I'm really glad you asked it because parents would often like us to say things like this. But I'm going to go back to what I said in the very beginning about each child being unique and special, and even if you had 10 children, they would all be dynamically different. And birth order or size of the body, all of that is really not what we're able to say anything definitive about, meaning that this child is going to succeed or that one isn't. So every child deserves to be observed and understood for who they are, and one of the toughest parts about being a parent of young children is being able to accept that and know that what I got used to with the first child is very different with the second child. It's not really wrong that that child is different. It's just that I have to learn all over again how to interact with that child because they're very different than the first one.
We have different dispositions and a lot of that's in their DNA. Children are born to be different. So in reference to your question, I think that we should be careful about expectations like that. We should understand that every child is an open book when they enter the world and we want to give them rich experiences that help them to succeed and do their best.
Heidi Higgins: Thank you for listening to K12 On Learning, sponsored by Stride. To learn more about online public schools, powered by Stride K12, Stride career prep programs that foster lifelong learning, or any of the private school or individual course offerings, please go to stridelearning.com or k12.com. Special thanks to Tree-K Studios for providing the music for us. Remember to subscribe to this podcast and feel free to leave us a good review. We hope you'll join us next time for K12 On Learning.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
Meet a Leader in online education.
See why over two million students have chosen Stride K12-powered schools.