Socialization and Kindergarten Readiness
Some children arrive in kindergarten less ready to grapple with the kindergarten curriculum than other children. Sometimes this is merely a matter of developmental differences; in many cases, however, the different in readiness relate to other factors. Some children, for example, enjoy a variety of early experiences that fit nicely into what they need for kindergarten. Other children’s early experiences are different; for them, kindergarten presents an alien world. As a result of these differing experiences, children are sometimes labeled and separated into groups by their “abilities” (this is called tracking). If children are tracked and labeled early, their educational course is set, sometimes for life. That means some are given the message that they’re learners—winners in the race called school. They tend to take the ball and run with it; they’re successful. Others learn early that they’re “slow,” which they translate to mean “stupid”; they’re losers. Once tracking begins, the educational opportunities become limited for some and expanded for others.
Getting into Kindergarten
Even getting into kindergarten may be an issue facing families who send their 5-year-olds off to public school. Public school administrators and teachers are under a great deal of pressure to provide accountability to government funding sources. Those who pay the bills want to be sure they’re getting their money’s worth. The way they determine accountability is through test scores, so testing has finally reached clear down to kindergarten and even into preschool. Two examples of accountability through testing are in Head Start and in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As this edition is being written, changes are on the horizon in both arenas.
As a parent volunteer in my son’s elementary school, I have seen the effects of testing on 5-year-olds. The day I helped with the standardized achievement tests in kindergarten stands out in my memory. The children were told not to be nervous and that this was nothing to worry about—a contradictory message because everything about the atmosphere that day said, “This is very important.” In addition, the parents had been sent a notice to be sure that the children got a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast every day during the week of the testing. So in some cases, the atmosphere both at home and in the classroom conveyed the message that tension existed around these events—that they were different from what the children usually experienced in kindergarten. Even though the children were told not to be nervous (which in itself makes one suspicious enough to be nervous), two cried, one threw up, and one had to go home with a headache. These events alone were enough to influence the test scores, not only of the afflicted group but also of the group not showing any symptoms.
Ready to Learn
A narrow and simplistic view of what “ready to learn” means focuses on teaching academics to young children. This view ignores the huge societal changes that need to come about to ensure that all children have an equal chance for academic achievement in school. To truly have an equal chance for school success we need to eradicate poverty, give everybody health-care benefits, ensure enough nutrious food, and provide decent housing. Focusing on early academics is a cheaper but far less effective road to school success than what the brain research indicates. Good health and social-emotional stability in the early years of life are the real road to later achievement. Cognitive development is vitally tied to the social-emotional realm of development (Lally, 1998; Shore, 1997; Zigler, Finn-Stevenson, & Hall, 2003). Instead of working toward a decent life for every child, the major societial approach is to use standardized tests to see who is behind in academic skills and then use remediation devices to catch them up. It will take a few years to discover that this band-aid approach won’t work to take care of the wounds too many children in this country suffer in their early years.
It may not take years to discover the other problems inherent in basing educational systems solely around standardized tests. Testing works as a stratifying tool through cultural bias. Teachers, in order to raise their class test scores, find themselves “teaching to the test,” which means they minimize problem solving and creativity in their classroom activities. The tests dictate what children need to know regardless of their knowledge, experiences, and cultural differences.
Kindergarten readiness, a hot topic among politicians, is also a hot topic among parents. With that in mind, let’s look at how kindergarten readiness goes far beyond learning the ABC’s and starts way back in infancy. Here are some general indicators that early childhood educators agree show that children are prepared to enter kindergarten:
- Children who are ready for kindergarten are those who feel good about themselves.The problem is that much of the discipline used makes children feel bad about themselves. Children don’t feel good about themselves by being made to feel bad. Discipline should not only leave self-esteem intact but should also actually raise it when adults use modeling, guidance, and feedback. Communication is an important part of discipline; adults should discuss feelings and behavior instead of criticizing the child. Adults who understand the importance of communication separate the child from the behavior, saying things like “I won’t let you hit your sister—it hurts her” instead of “Stop that, you bad boy!”
- Children who are ready for kindergarten are those who gain knowledge from mistakes.Some of the best lessons come from things that don’t work. It’s easy to take the lesson out of a mistake by rescuing children so they don’t learn about consequences of their actions. Or the opposite situation occurs when the adult reacts to a mistake with harsh punishment. When children become fearful of mistakes, they quit risking. Reasonable risks are good learning devices. The child who avoids them misses out on a lot of important lessons.
- Children who are ready for kindergarten can communicate.They have lots of experience in talking and listening. They know how to carry on a conversation. A conversation means not just talking but listening and responding appropriately as well. Adults should start emphasizing communication early. Even infants enjoy conversations and taking turns “talking.” They also play with language. As children grow older, keeping a playful attitude toward language helps encourage it.
- Children who are ready for kindergarten can weigh alternatives and make sound choices.Visualizing alternatives and their consequences is an important life skill. Children who arrive in kindergarten with plenty of opportunities to practice this skill come better prepared. When the “prepared child” gets hit by another child, she asks herself, “What are some ways I can react, and what are the consequences of each?” The child without the ability to visualize alternatives just lashes back without thinking. Aggression in the face of aggression is a poor choice. Some children never learn that, unfortunately. Some children have no ability to imagine any response other than hitting.
- Children who are ready for kindergarten can concentrate and focus.If they can’t do that, the problem may be too much television. It might seem as though children develop a long attention span from watching television, because they are willing to sit and stare at it for hours. But turn it off and what happens? They don’t know how to entertain themselves. We add to the problem by overscheduling their time. Children don’t develop long attention spans when they are never allowed to just play for long periods, never free to follow their inclinations to get involved in something of their own choice, never encouraged to work at length on some project they are interested in (Elkind, 2007). Adults tend to interrupt children, hurry them up, get them going on the next event. Preschool programs can contribute to the problem if they keep children on a tight schedule, move them rapidly from one activity to another, and never give them a chance to work at length or in depth on anything.
The effect of linking accountability to achievement as proved by testing is to make teachers anxious to have only the most teachable children in their classrooms. Say a child enters in September who isn’t ready to buckle down and do whatever the teacher, the school, the district, or the state considers kindergarten work (which more and more reflects the test items that will appear during the spring testing period). This child wants to play, and his motivation is so strong that it takes all the teacher’s behavioral management techniques and more to get him to settle down to “seat work” for even a few minutes a day. It’s easy to say this child isn’t ready for kindergarten. And it’s even easier to decide to determine readiness before the child enters and settles into the class. Therefore, some schools now have screening tests to decide who can come into kindergarten and who can’t.
On the surface, that approach may make sense, but dig down just a little. Think about the child who has been at home with an overburdened parent for five years—a parent who doesn’t have the time or the resources to contribute to his informal education. Is he better off spending another year in the same environment? Not that home can’t be a rich and wonderful learning environment—it can, but by age 5 many children are ready to move out from home a little. In another case, the school may kindly advise the parent that the child needs preschool, but there is no money for a private one and no access to any other kind. Why can’t this child go to the free public kindergarten that’s offered conveniently close to home? Why can’t the kindergarten provide what he needs rather than requiring him to fit a predetermined curriculum?
Think about the child who has been in preschool and has outgrown it. For three years he’s participated in all the wonderful activities his preschool offered; he’s taken part in a variety of field trips and many cognitive and socialization experiences. He’s done it all, and now he’s ready to move on. But he didn’t “pass the kindergarten test,” as his parents put it, so now they are trying to talk the preschool into enrolling him for a fourth year.
Think about the parents in an upwardly mobile family who consider education the key to their child’s success and who are absolutely devastated to learn, as they put it, that “he flunked kindergarten before he even got in.” Their expectations are shattered as they see the child they once considered bright defined, in their own minds, as “dull.”
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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