READINESS FOR KINDERGARTEN
SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
AUTHOR: Joanne R. Nurss
SOURCE: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education
ABSTRACT: What social, language, perceptual, and motor skills do
five-year-olds need to be ready for kindergarten? What effect does the
kindergarten curriculum have on the child's readiness? Is chronological age a
factor? What is expected by the end of kindergarten?
KEYWORDS: School Readiness, Kindergarten, Early Childhood Education,
Kindergarten Children, Preschool Teachers, School Entrance Age, Cognitive
Development, Physical Development, Social Behavior, Language Skills
Readiness is a term used to decribe preparation for what comes next: readiness
for kindergarten involves both the child and the instructional situation. Any
consideration of the preparation a child needs to be successful in
kindergarten must take into account the kindergarten program and the teacher's
expectations of the child.
SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL EXPECTATIONS
Kindergarten teachers expect that the children will be able to function within
a cooperative learning environment in which the child works both independently
and as a member of small and large groups. Children are expected to be able to
attend to and finish a task, listen to a story in a group, follow two or three
oral directions, take turns and share, and care for their belongings. They are
also expected to follow rules, respect the property of others, and work within
the time and space constraints of the school program. It is important that
children learn to distinguish between work and play, knowing when and where
each is appropriate within the definition of each (Bradley, 1984; LeCompte,
Teachers expect children to develop certain physical skills before they enter
kindergarten. Children are expected to have mastered many large muscle skills
such as walking, running, and climbing, and fine motor skills requiring
eye-hand coordination, such as use of a pencil, crayons, or scissors. Fine
motor skills are used when the child begins to write its name and to make
attempts at written expression. It is assumed that children have acquired both
visual and auditory discrimination of objects and sounds. Such discrimination
skills will be used to learn the names and sounds of letters and the names and
quantities of numerals. Children are expected to have developed the concepts
of same and different, so that they can sort objects into groups whose members
are alike in some way. Usually the kindergarten teacher expects the children
to recognize and name colors, shapes, sizes, and their own names (even though
these concepts are often part of the curriculum early in the school year).
COGNITIVE AND LANGUAGE EXPECTATIONS
Most five-year-olds can express themselves fluently with a variety of words
and can understand an even larger variety of words used in conversations and
stories. If children have been exposed to books and heard stories read and
told, they have begun to develop an interest in what print says and how it is
used to express ideas; a concept of story and story structure; and an
understanding of the relationship between oral and written language.
Many school systems and states have raised the entrance age for kindergarten
in hopes that the older age of the class will increase the likelihood of the
children's success. However, research does not support this action. Most
studies show that chronological age alone is not a factor in success in
kindergarten (Meisels, 1987; Wood, 1984).
Many children now have a prior group experience in nursery school,
prekindergarten, or day care. In the past, when kindergarten was the child's
initial school experience, its focus was on the child's social adjustment to
school. Kindergarten was usually a half-day program whose curriculum and
activities were separate from the rest of the school, and whose purpose was
to prepare the child for first grade. Now kindergarten is an integral part of
the elementary school's curriculum and the focus has shifted from social to
cognitive or academic (Nurss and Hodges, 1982). Many states fund full-day
kindergarten programs on the assumption that five-year-olds can benefit from a
longer school experience. Kindergartens vary in the degree to which their
cognitive skills are strengthened through a developmentally oriented program
with language-based, concrete activities. In many kindergartens, language,
cognitive, sensory-motor, and social-emotional skills are addressed through
play. Small group instruction, learning centers, and whole group language
activities are used as systematic, planned opportunities for the children to
develop in all areas.
In some cases, however, the kindergarten uses structured, whole group,
paper-and-pencil activities oriented to academic subjects, such as reading and
mathematics. The curriculum in these kindergartens often constitutes a
downward extension of the primary grade curriculum and may call for the use of
workbooks which are part of a primary level textbook series. Many early
childhood professionals have spoken out on the inappropriateness of such a
curriculum and have urged widespread adoption of a developmentally appropriate
kindergarten curriculum (Bredekamp, 1986).
The question of readiness for kindergarten depends in part on which type of
program the child enters. Different approaches to reading and writing, for
example, make different demands on a young child. A child may be ready for one
type of instructional program, but not another.
A further issue is that of the expectations of the teachers and school system
for what the child will accomplish by the end of kindergarten. As expectations
become more academic and assessments more formal (for example, standardized
tests that compare children to a national sample of kindergarten children)
pressure increases to retain children who do not meet expectations or to place
them in a transition class between kindergarten and first grade. The
assumption is that children who have not achieved a minimum level of cognitive
and academic skills prior to first grade will benefit from another year of
kindergarten. While that may be true for some, it is not true for many others
(Shepard, 1987). Developmentally appropriate programs assume that children
vary upon entrance; that all children progress during the program at their own
rates and in their own manner; and that children will continue to vary at the
end of the program.
Readiness for kindergarten depends on a child's development of social,
perceptual, motor, and language skills expected by the teacher. It also
depends on the curriculum's degree of structure, the behavior required by the
instructional program, and expectations of what is to be achieved by the end
of the program.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bradley, Gwen. "Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Kindergarten." PTA TODAY 9
Bredekamp, Sue, Ed. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE. Washington, DC:
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1986.
LeCompte, Margaret D. "The Civilizing of Children: How Young Children Learn to
Become Students." JOURNAL OF THOUGHT 15 (1980): 105-127.
Meisels, Samuel. "Uses and Abuses of Developmental Screening and School
Readiness Testing." YOUNG CHILDREN 42 (1987): 4-6, 68-73.
Nurss, Joanne R., and Walter L. Hodges. "Early Childhood Education." In
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, ed. Harold E. Mitzel, 5th edition, Vol.
2. New York: The Free Press, 1982.
Schickedanz, Judith A. "The Acquisition of Written Language in Young
Children." In HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, ed. Bernard
Spodek. New York: The Free Press, 1982.
Shepard, Laurie. "What Doesn't Work: Explaining Policies of Retention in the
Early Grades." PHI DELTA KAPPAN (1987): 129-134.
Wood, Chip. "Predicting School Readiness: The Validity of Developmental Age."
JOURNAL OF LEARNING DISABILITIES 17 (1984): 8-11.