“All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten!” A great book by Robert Fulghum … still holds true today – even in our high tech, fast paced world with an increased emphasis on academics and performance.
“Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.” (Fulghum, 1990)
So, what does Kindergarten Readiness really mean when Kindergarten is not mandatory? There are no federal or state entrance criteria, but we all know that kindergarten teachers really do have an “expected” entrance criteria: you must be able to write your name; you need to know your letters and sounds; you need to be able to count to 20 or 30 or 100; you need to be able to sit and attend, etc. So why are these skills so different than the ones Robert Fulgham talks about?
Here’s what I think… there is a bit of “the chicken or the egg” phenomenon – which came first? Increasing academic pressure coming from the state and federal level to compete with high performing countries around the world? OR Parents wanting their children to be the best, highest, brightest, most talented child in the class? Ultimately, the pressure educators feel from both parents and the K-12 institution has influenced what we are emphasizing in our early childhood classrooms around the country.
A look at the Early Developmental Index (EDI) data conducted in all of Orange County’s public kindergarten classrooms helps us understand the areas of development that are truly important to focus on in the early childhood classroom. The EDI measures physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge. Based on the data released in 2015 with 100% of Orange County public schools reporting data, 55% of kindergarten students are not ready or only somewhat ready in the area of overall social competence and 63% of students are not ready or only somewhat ready in the area of pro-social and helping behavior. Conversely, 74% of students are ready in the area of basic literacy skills and 78% are ready in basic numeracy skills (Children and Families Commission of Orange County, EDI Fact Sheet, 2015).
Intentionally teaching social skills and pro-social behaviors within the context of cognitive skills each day will support the social and emotional development we know is critically important in the healthy growth of all children. Data and research continues to support the direct teaching of social and emotional skills that enhance and support academic development throughout a child’s schooling. As early childhood educators, it is imperative that our primary focus be on skills that are the foundation to all other development.
So what does it mean to be “ready for school”? It means being socially and emotionally ready for the rigors of academic learning!