Helping Kids Prepare for Kindergarten

IMG_7348Do you remember being in Kindergarten? I do. I entered Kindergarten in the fall of 1974 and I can remember exactly what my teacher looked like. She had perfect 1970’s hair, super long, shiny, dark hair, parted down the middle. I adored her. My one memory of an actual day in her class was the day I made her cry. I really wanted to go outside and play with my best friend instead of being in class and I proclaimed out loud, “I hate Kindergarten” and, to my dismay, she burst into tears.

Kindergarten readiness is a big deal. It sets the stage. A child’s experience in Kindergarten can shape their view of school in general. So, it begs to reason, if they are struggling right off the bat compared to the other kids around them, it’s going to be hard. Over the summer, our work at the Children & Family Resource Center has been focused on helping preschoolers make their transition into Kindergarten. We’ve been working with some of these babies since before they were born and we stand by their parents, full of pride and joy, because we know they are ready.

Being ‘ready’ for Kindergarten is not a test of knowledge, it’s really a measure of a child’s developmental readiness to learn. It means that most of the basics are in place and the child is ready for more complex learning. I’ve heard many of my teacher friends say “We can handle the academic part, that’s our job; if children are just ready to learn.” A teacher’s ability to teach gets hampered by shoes to tie, noses to wipe or coats to put on. So, what exactly does being ready mean? It means that the child has:

• Self-care skills: they are potty-trained, they can wash their hands, get dressed, eat without assistance (can they get the straw in the juice box?, etc., can get coat on and off, \ and at least get Velcro shoes on and off without help;

• Language skills: can complete sentences of at least five words can follow two-step directions, answer simple questions like “what is your name?” or “How old are you?”

• Cognitive skills that indicate school-readiness are things like: knowing how to hold a book the right way (indicates reading preparedness), name four colors, count five objects, or recognize their name.

• Gross motor skills (able to run, jump, walk up stairs);

• Fine motor skills (can cut with safety scissors, fit pieces into a puzzle, hold a pencil correctly, draw or trace simple objects like lines, squares or circles.

Children develop these skills through their experiences in early childhood. Enriching home and child care environments give young brains the opportunity to develop these skills through play and through positive, nurturing adult interactions. Growth and development happens so fast in these first years, that all of these skills may not be present given a child’s age (there can be a big difference between a child that is four years and one month old compared to a four year old who will soon be turning five). Consideration must be given to age and the presence of any special needs. Parents and early childhood educators are key to providing environments and encouragement to help the children they care for develop to their own full potential.

The Children & Family Resource Center’s PREP program provides free developmental screenings to Henderson County’s three, four and five year olds enrolled in local, licensed child care programs and half-day preschool programs. The PREP Program uses the Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning™ (DIAL), a research-based, assessment tool to evaluate children in three early childhood areas of development. The assessment takes approximately 30 minutes per child. Last year, 1,230 children were screened and 88 children received follow up tutorial services to help address those delays.

In the coming days Kindergarten teachers throughout our county will be doing Kindergarten screenings of children before the first day of school. This will give the teacher a good idea of where each student is starting out. During the first weeks of school, children will also be assessed for cognitive development so teachers can identify areas where work and attention is needed for each child.

Some of our most recent school data showed that 53% percent of Henderson County kindergarteners are at risk for reading achievement in terms of letter naming and initial letter sounds based on an assessment administered in the first 21 days of the school year, compared with 42% of state kindergarteners. 59% percent of kindergarteners are at risk for reading achievement in terms of reading comprehension based on an assessment administered in the first 21 days of the school year, compared with 53% of state kindergarteners. These are cognitive measures and the good news is that our teachers were able to move the majority of students to grade level.

If your child is not enrolled in a local child care program and you would like to have your child screened through our PREP program, please call the Children & Family Resource Center at 698-0674 to set up an appointment. There are many online resources and checklists to be found by googling “kindergarten readiness” with suggestions for ways you can help your child develop certain skills. The Children & Family Resource Center also has a Pinterest page where you can view some of our favorites.

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