Kindergarten readiness always seems to be the big question right about this time of year! Parents are busy making the decision: to go or not to go? Kindergarten registration generally begins in February, and parents want to have some idea of whether their child will be a successful student. By law, a child can enter Kindergarten if their birthday is before the end of February of the school year. So they can actually start when they are four-and-a-half-years old - whether they are ready or not.
Through experience and observation as an early childhood educator, I generally tell parents to hold them back for a year if they have ANY questions of their readiness, or their birthday is after December. Social skill development is by far the most important aspect to Kindergarten readiness. It doesn't matter in the long run if they know all the colors and letters, and can count to 50 -- all children will develop those skills easily. Whether or not they can get along well in a group situation will be more telling in the long run to their overall success in school.
Children who recognize the variances in social settings, and who can ADAPT to their environment and the expectations of both adults and their peers, will be the more stable, happy and well-adjusted students. Those who experience challenges in the playground in social settings are set up for failure for their entire academic life, it seems. Children who cannot defend themselves against bullies, or who are subject to getting pushed around or ignored by others are those children who experience more emotional trauma, and who do not succeed as well academically.
Learning to use language to solve problems, negotiate and communicate with others is a crucial social skill. Taking turns, waiting for turns and learning to be both patient and assertive (not aggressive!) are skills learned in early childhood. Children who have varied social opportunities, through attendance in preschools, Church groups, play groups or other means in which children are together in groups, and have informed, trained adult support tend to learn these skills well, and have them for life.
Research has shown that boys develop social skills slower than girls, but that they may be way ahead in gross motor skills. Boys are recognized to be about one month behind girls in physiological development at birth, and by age five, are six months behind. Because you have a busy, active boy doesn't necessarily mean they are ready to face the academic challenges of school. And because you may have a socially adept little girl, it doesn't necessarily mean she is ready to take on the other challenges that she will face in the schoolyard and the classroom.
Other contributing factors that can affect a child's readiness for school are possible birth conditions, low birth weight, early illnesses or ear infections, family stress, memory ability, attention span, ability to communicate, speech difficulties and attitudes towards learning. By taking these conditions into consideration, seeking treatment by talking to your pediatrician, and giving your child positive opportunities for growth and development, you can effectively assist your child with school readiness. Attending a preschool program is a valuable educational experience for children because it helps to teach them the social skills necessary to get along successfully in a group environment.
Learning socially acceptable behavior is important to overall success in peer relationships. In the preschool environment, children also learn early on to have respect for and to listen to their teachers, and to know what their expectations are, and also learn positive self esteem and self respect along the way. They are offered many different kinds of opportunities to experiment, create, explore and question. These are all skill building blocks to successful lifetime learning, and towards the development of a child who is well rounded, confident and secure.
Laura Kew is the past owner of Childsplace Learning Centres Ltd. (www.childsplacelearning.com), and the President of the Calgary Preschool Teachers Association. She can be reached at 241-6232.
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