Kindergarten Readiness in Oklahoma
Tulsa mother Jo Armstrong says wherever she goes and whatever she is doing in the summer, she likes to involve her twin 5-year-old sons, Cooper and Kerr. The boys attended Monte Cassino School for all-day pre-kindergarten last year and are excited about being kindergarteners at the school in the fall.
“If we’re at the grocery store, I like to try to trick them on which veggies are which and let them help me bag produce. If we invite the grandparents over for dinner, then we need to add two more ears of corn to our family of four. I also like to quiz them in the car on math questions. As long as they still think it’s fun, I’m going to take advantage, she said. When we drive around town, I like to ask them to read different signs. They won’t get it every time, I know that, but as long as they‘re trying to sound it out and then I can tell them what it is, I feel like they are learning.”
Between children attending early learning centers or all-day pre-k, many children and parents develop a weekday school routine of sleep, eating, playing and downtime by the time kindergarten arrives.
All day pre-k also offers young children the opportunity for more social interaction with their peers. Thus, many kindergarteners are entering school prepared with social skills.
Yet, while pre-k does engage children in early learning fundamentals, many parents wonder if their child is intellectually ready to dive in to reading, writing and math.
What is intellectual readiness for a kindergartener? A typical list includes knowledge of colors and shapes, knowing numbers through 10, a familiarity with the letters of the alphabet, especially the letters in his or her name, and an awareness of the sound letters make. Also, children who can assemble puzzles, answer questions and use their fine motor skills to color, cut paper or hold a pencil will be able to hit the ground running in kindergarten.
Due to different experiences, cognitive abilities and backgrounds, children enter kindergarten with widely varying skills, both social and academic. In Oklahoma a child must be 5-years old by September 1 to enroll in kindergarten. While some states mandate that school districts conduct screening or readiness assessments on entering kindergarteners, Oklahoma does not.
Heather Zemanek, pre-k and kindergarten principal at Jenks East Elementary School, says children begin kindergarten with varying levels of social-emotional development. Students, she says, who enter kindergarten with strong social-emotional skills seem to be more confident and eager to learn.
“Children entering kindergarten have a wide range of academic experience and understanding,” she said. “Some children are already readers while others are just beginning to develop letter and number recognition. Kindergarten teachers are ready to meet each child at their level. “
Reading appears to be the foremost topic of conversation among kindergarten parents. Zemanek encourages parents to create a foundation for learning by reading to their children. “Parents can make a powerful difference by working as a team with the teacher and school during the year,” she said. “Communication between the teacher and parent is a key factor in student progress. One easy thing parents can do with their child before they come to kindergarten is read with and to their child often. It is through this interaction that a child develops a rich vocabulary and a love for learning.”
Executive Director of Tulsa Educare Caren Calhoun says every child enters kindergarten at different developmental levels and masters concepts at different times.
“A parent may think that a child is not eager to learn if the child is not focusing on their letters or numbers but instead focusing on exploring bugs and experimenting with floating or sinking,” she said. “Both of these concepts describe a child that is eager to learn but at different development levels and with individual interests. One child may excel at a certain concept while the other may struggle with the concept.”
Calhoun emphasizes the first five years of a child’s life are the most important years for learning because during that time the brain is growing rapidly. Eighty percent of the brain, she says, is developed by age 3.
“Children should be talked to, sung to and read to from birth,” she said. “Studies show that children that are exposed to fewer words at home arrive at school without the basic literacy skills and are already behind their peers when they enter school. Unfortunately, this leads to struggles with reading later, and these children usually do not catch up with peers.”
Calhoun encourages parents to stimulate their child’s literacy development by having a plethora of books at home, visiting the local library and reading to their child often.
“If parents provide an enriched environment of talking, reading and singing, the child will grow up to become a reader. A child does not need to arrive at kindergarten reading or even understanding everything about each letter and sound, but if the child has a love for reading and books, the rest will follow. The child is developmentally ready,” Calhoun said.
Zemanek echoes that sentiment — “Read, Read, Read! Spending just a few minutes a day reading to your child makes a positive impact on a child’s academic success. Reading books creates great conversations with kids, helping them develop vocabulary, communication skills, comprehension strategies and problem-solving skills.”
Armstrong says her sons, Cooper and Kerr, are pretty much at the same reading level. “Whenever they begin to argue (which of course happens a lot), I like to call out ‘challenge!’ I may quiz math problems, Spanish words, spelling, rhyming or create an impromptu obstacle course if we are outside and may do a timed challenge. At home or at the lake, I like to use sidewalk chalk to write out words they know or can sound out, then have them race to the word I call out or give a clue to. These challenges help settle or distract from whatever the original dispute was, but also offers each of them a chance to be a gracious winner and/or loser.”
While most children’s fine motor skills are still developing at the age of 5, it is important for a child to practice writing his or her name.
For safety purposes, Calhoun says, at the beginning of the year, Educare kindergarten teachers talk to the parents about the importance of teaching their children how to say their full name correctly and clearly and to begin to memorize contact information, like Mom’s or Dad’s phone number.
“A top priority at school is to provide a safe environment; we need to empower our students with communication skills and problem-solving skills. During the summer, parents can help their child learn their colors, shapes, numbers, letters, sounds, spelling of their name, address and phone number in the context of daily routines, while shopping, singing, playing and reading. Much time can be wasted in car travel during the day or while transitioning between activities, and this is a perfect time to weave in these activities,” Calhoun said.
Practicing fine motor skills by encouraging children to engage in activities such as cutting, gluing and using building blocks is a great way, Zemanek says, to develop creativity as well as fine motor skills. “The kindergarten classroom provides many opportunities to develop fine motor skills. Prior experience using pencils and crayons will help a child feel more confident their kindergarten year.”
Age is not always indicative of a child’s readiness to enter kindergarten. If a child is reluctant to engage in social activities and learn, waiting an extra year before starting kindergarten can offer a child more time to grow. Or, a parent can explore kindergarten classroom options in search of a curriculum that encourages “purposeful play” throughout the day.
“Some children need additional experiences playing and interacting with other children. Many kindergarten classrooms address early learning academics through play and exploration,” Calhoun said. “Early childhood educators place intentional focus on purposeful play. The early learning environment provides a balance of child-initiated and teacher-initiated activities that allow the child to learn through experiencing new, developmentally appropriate activities to meet the child’s individualized learning goals.”
In order for a child to have a successful kindergarten year, the parent must be ready to be a positive part of the teacher/parent team.
“We know that not all parents can volunteer often at the school for classroom and school events; however, parents can make a big difference for their child just by communicating with their teacher often,” Zemanek said. “Consistent communication between the teacher and the parent allows both parts of the team to stay informed and help identify and develop the child’s academic and social-emotional needs. Teachers are great resources for parents, and our teachers value what parents bring to the team as well.”