As a prekindergarten teacher and a grandmother of three preschool age children, I understand the pressure that today's parents and teachers feel when it comes to getting children off to a successful start in kindergarten. We can start to feel a sense of urgency to stress academic learning over any other type of learning. We are tempted to cut playtime short and add more worksheets and guided lessons into our day so that our children will be kindergarten ready. But consider this; kindergarten readiness does not guarantee kindergarten success.

To measure kindergarten readiness, the focus is often on what the child knows, such as having a good grasp on basic core academic concepts. However, for young children to achieve kindergarten success, we need to not only consider what the child knows, but also where the child lands emotionally, physically and socially. For you see, success in kindergarten is achieved when we consider the whole child and not just a part.

Age before readiness

There are many assessment tools schools often used to gauge kindergarten readiness, and a child may exhibit high scores giving parents or early childhood educators the impression that “this child is ready for kindergarten.” However, acceptance into most kindergarten classrooms isn't contingent on “ready for success” criteria. Acceptance is instead contingent on age.

“Through play, young children are building the skills they need to be successful in kindergarten.”

If a child meets the age requirement for kindergarten admission, then the child is considered “ready for kindergarten” whether they are socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively ready or not. Any assessment that takes place upon or after admission to kindergarten is used to identify what the child may still need to achieve “kindergarten success.” But we can help our students achieve success long before the admission/assessment process if we keep our focus on the whole child all the way to the kindergarten classroom door.

From day one of a child’s birth, the focus is on development in all areas of growth. We cheer when a child crawls or walks. We admire every new word a child learns to say or seems to understand. We celebrate every potty training success. We watch attentively as the child figures out how to climb a set of stairs, solve a problem, hold the scissors, play with a friend, find their name, make their mark, pour their own juice, build a tower and put on their own jacket. Yet for some reason, the minute we start thinking about kindergarten readiness, the focus suddenly switches from the whole child to the part. The focus becomes on what we think the child should know instead of continuing to foster success across the spectrum of developmental skills the child needs to master to truly find success in school and in life.

All work, no play

The most profound thing you can do to help young children achieve kindergarten success is increase time in play so that the child can master skills in all areas of development.

Through play, young children are building the skills they need to be successful in kindergarten. It is through play that they learn to get along with others, cope when things don’t go as expected, build confidence, learn to self-regulate, understand basic and complex core concepts, make good decisions, expand vocabulary, increase listening skills and develop a love for learning.

A child who arrives at the kindergarten door with a full spectrum of mastered physical skills, social competence, emotional well-being and meaningful cognitive processing skills is a child who will not only fare well in the admission assessment process but will also be ready to achieve kindergarten success.