Kindergarten Readiness: Preparing the Whole Child
Natacha Moreno, M.S., CCC-SLP
National studies show that one-third of all children starting kindergarten arrive unprepared, and over 200,000 entering 'the child's garden' must return the following year. What can parents do to make sure their child arrives at school ready to learn? The key involves looking beyond academic skills and addressing the "whole child," specifically, the aspects of social, emotional, and physical development.
While knowing some numbers and letters is good, it is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing a child for his/her school career. Beginning kindergarteners, for example, are expected to perform tasks involving self-care, fine and gross motor movements, appropriate listening and conversational skills, and cooperative interaction with peers and adults.
It takes a great deal of care to prepare the "whole" child for school. The encouraging news for parents is that they are not only the most influential teacher in their child's life, but they also provide the most effective learning environment for their preschooler - home sweet home. Here is a sampling of teachable moments in everyday living, as well as tips from experts in each of the readiness areas.
Health and Development -- Pediatrician, Dr. Deborah French says, "A very complete physical exam looking at the whole body from head to toe is really necessary before the child starts kindergarten." It's important to establish that the child has adequate vision, hearing, and fine and gross motor development. In the home, promote independence in areas of self-care during mealtime, dressing, and using the restroom. Also encourage good habits like chewing with the mouth closed, covering the mouth to sneeze, and hand washing.
Social and Emotional Issues -- "There are different ways we learn social skills," says family psychologist, Dr. Eric Rosen, "nobody is born knowing how to handle all the different scripts that come up socially and so a lot of it comes from what we learn around us." The bottom line for parents: be an example of patience, kindness, courtesy, and self-respect, and promote the same behaviors in your child. Conflicts that come up between siblings or friends are perfect opportunities to coach a preschooler to resolve disagreements in a socially acceptable way.
Speech and Language -- "I think in terms of vocabulary building, it's just so important to talk to your child about what's going on in your day to day activities," suggests speech-language pathologist, Clare Lashley. In addition to acquiring new words, frequent conversations with your child allow opportunities to teach proper language. Relative to speech, Lashley says anything less than 80% intelligible at 4 years of age is cause for concern and should be discussed with the pediatrician.
Emerging Literacy -- Read together often, and make it a fun, interactive experience. For pre-writing skills, occupational therapist Olivia Shindel says the first key is "encouraging the child to try all types of paper and different writing utensils." To promote print awareness, allow the child to observe when grocery lists, thank-you notes, and messages are being written. Also be aware of environmental print. For example, point out that the letters on a STOP sign are joined together to make the word stop. Discuss how each letter makes a different sound.
Concept Development -- "To me, concept development has a lot to do with modeling, a lot to do with hands on experiences," says kindergarten teacher, Karen Holbrook. Something as simple as sorting the laundry allows the child to learn categorization by sorting items by color, shape, and sizes. Games like "Simon Says" can be used to teach body parts, as well as concepts like in, out, over, and under. As far as teaching counting is concerned, well children are more than happy to count out 10 m&ms, or any other snack item!
By addressing all of these readiness areas in the home, parents can prepare their child academically for school, but more importantly, build upon all the aspects of development that support learning. Rest assured, a parent's love and approach to the child as a "whole" person is the winning combination for her success not only in kindergarten, but in the school years that follow.