Parents of little ones hear about ‘kindergarten readiness’ and ‘kindergarten screening’ and often wonder what they are and what the difference, if any, is. Actually, it’s pretty simple.
When educators talk about kindergarten readiness, we’re referring to basic background knowledge that kids are expected to have when they enter kindergarten. We focus mainly on social/emotional learning, how kids approach reading and learning, their physical development, including fine and gross motor skills, and health, like inoculations and overall well being. In other words, is the child emotionally, socially, and physically prepared to spend seven hours a day away from parents, with peers, in school?
Kindergarten screening, on the other hand, is a full developmental battery of tests to determine understanding of specific concepts, language and fine/gross motor skills. Testing is normally conducted on a one on one basis, with activities designed to engage the child (like puzzles and bright pictures) while at the same time determining how well the child can follow basic directions. Some private schools administer a more rigorous testing, but mostly public schools adhere to a simple, short ‘leveling’ test, given to the child while the parent fills out forms and questionnaires regarding the child’s personal information and social development at home. The whole thing, start to finish, lasts around 30-45 minutes, and while there usually is a component for letter identification and basic reading, it is only used as a leveling tool, not an entrance determiner.
Conferences to go over the results of testing are usually conducted immediately following the session and parents are normally provided a full summary of the results, which are also forwarded to the child’s school.
I know many parents who spend lots of time and money ‘preparing’ their child for school. Most educators, as well as researchers, will tell you this is a waste. The brain will learn what it’s ready to learn when it’s ready to learn it. Many parents are disappointed to learn that their child, who comes to school reading, will by third grade be at the same level of the children who came to school with no letter recognition. What we see as educators is that by around third grade, they all bubble up to the surface. Spending time in preschool drilling facts may (or may not) get them reading early, but reading early doesn’t necessarily put them ahead in the long run.
So let them eat cake. Focus on social development, the joy of discovery and thrill of new learning. If they show a strong interest in reading, go for it. If not, don’t sweat. I remember days of frustration with my son as he got ready for kindergarten, trying to drill letters and sight words. He just wasn’t interested, and as a new parent I thought he was going to suffer. Turns out by first grade he was tested for gifted. I wish I had spent that summer swimming, riding bikes and catching crawdads. Live and learn.
By Sharon Linde, Education Blogger for SmartParenting