If you have spent any time on social media in the last few weeks, you have been bombarded with the “first day of school” photographs. I am of the age where many of my friends are not only sending their child to ‘a’ first day of school, but to ‘the’ first day of school – to kindergarten. Parents attach brief messages above the pictures, such as:
“I can’t believe my baby is going to school!”
“When did this happen?”
“Are they ready for him?!”
“I hope she survives her first day of kindergarten”
Some of these comments make me laugh, because I am quite confident their children will survive the day. I am more concerned about whether their parents will survive!
The transition to kindergarten was once viewed as an event that happened solely to the child. Over the years we have come to understand that the transition is very much a familial process. As primary managers of a child’s life, families become busy with making sure their child is “kindergarten ready” – but, ready for what? This is the question Dr. Beth Graue raises in many of her articles about Kindergarten Readiness. Kindergarten Readiness is a term we throw around in early childhood as if we can all define it or even agree on one definition. And, in fact, it turns out that stakeholders rarely agree on what it means to be “ready” for kindergarten.
Most parents tend to focus on the academic aspects of preparing for kindergarten, while many teachers value the social aspects of readiness (if you have ever been in a kindergarten classroom, you know why). Some online educational sites provide checklists or guides for what a child should know or be able to do as they enter the kindergarten classroom. For example, can your child…
- Count to 10?
- Bounce a ball?
- Identify rhyming words?
- Begin to follow rules?, etc…
You can even download kindergarten readiness apps to practice the list of skills as you prepare children for kindergarten.
However, what it means to be “ready” is a constantly evolving and moving target. Schools and districts often determine the expectations for students. Based on the recent adoption of Common Core Standards and other curricular changes, the expectations continue to rise. Parents can no longer depend on their memories of kindergarten or what was expected for older siblings, because those expectations expired and were replaced by higher demands. This makes parents, teachers and communities anxious about adequately preparing children for the first day of school.
Some early childhood centers have hired curriculum specialists to make sure their curriculum aligns with these new expectations. And when I say ‘some’, I am referring to centers that serve higher income populations. It is unclear how other centers will (or are able to) respond to these changes. As someone who is just now entering the world of early childhood care, the costs associated with enrolling at a high-quality center reserve it for a privileged group. Educational programming from birth to five is expensive and inaccessible to many. But this access can set children on a trajectory for who is “ready” in the eyes of the school and who is “unready.” Readiness does not spontaneously happen overnight, it requires years of investment in all domains of development. Those investments are a shared responsibility by the family, school and community.
There are many debates occurring in the field of education. However, I believe we are all on the same side of this issue. We want children to arrive cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically prepared to thrive in kindergarten. Yes, the answer is readiness, but the question is how ready are we (schools and communities) willing to support families’ preparedness for school in a more equitable way? I hope the dialogue shifts from labeling children as ‘ready’ or ‘unready’ and encourages stakeholders to make sure they are ready for the task of supporting the optimal development of young children. Maybe at that point the Facebook posts can be a little less dramatic about the first day of kindergarten, but I am not holding my breath.
Graue, E. (2006). The Answer Is Readiness-Now What Is the Question?. Early Education and Development, 17(1), 43-56.
This post is brought to you by Dr. Kyle Miller. Kyle is an Assistant Professor of Child Growth and Development in the College of Education at Illinois State University. She teaches courses in child development, elementary education and research methods. Her research interests include the areas of memories of school, strengthening home-school relationships and visual methods. She is a former teacher and school support coordinator. You can read Kyle’s past posts on our blog here, here, here, and here.