There is a great deal of talk about readiness and the skills children need to be ready for the next stage – conversations between educators, comparisons drawn between parents of same-aged peers, and arguing from adults who passionately want the same thing in the end: the best for a child.
In my early childhood circles, readiness means preparation for success in kindergarten, though that exact definition of readiness can vary widely. Sometimes our quest to prepare children for what lies in the future compromises the way we interact with them in the present. Readiness serves to justify developmentally inappropriate methods (such as sitting for long stretches of time working on decontextualized letter recognition activities or rote math exercises) for the sake of the future. A huge chunk of “educational materials” and “toys” fundamentally undermine the basic principles of sound methodology while selling to the deep fear within a parent or a teacher that their child won’t be ready to make it in kindergarten.
If readiness is my sole justification for working on a skill with a child, I’m missing the point.
So what is true readiness? How do we know that children are growing on a trajectory that will bring them lifelong fulfillment and success? It all comes down to two elements. First, observe. Second, extend.
Observe. My job as an educator is to observe, mindfully, each child in the now. As we are present for children, aware of their actions, questioning their thought processes, attempting to unlock the secrets of what they are doing, we communicate, What you are doing is important. You are important. Through presence and mindful observation, we pay attention to what is unfolding in a child’s mind. A child begins to cut with scissors because he is ready to cut with scissors, not because cutting with scissors is the daily lesson plan. A child is ready to sit for circle time because she has developed the focus and attention to remain still for a set period of time, not because the whole class of three-year-olds begins their day with circle time. Observation necessitates flexibility and individualization among a group of same-aged children, moving each thoughtfully along their own path towards readiness.
Extend. My observations fuel my planning. When I notice children engaging for long periods with puzzles, I add more complex puzzles to the rotation, and place a bucket of ping-pong balls and large tongs for additional exploration with fine motor and spatial awareness skills. When I notice repeated social struggles over shared materials, I orchestrate sensory play with a single common material. Then I play also, as a way of modeling pro-social skills in negotiating shared materials. When I notice the same group setting up the same pretend zoo day after day, I add clipboards, paper for zoo tickets, and a register to complicate and extend the script. When I notice the blocks gathering dust from lack of use, I construct a compelling tower to greet the crew when they arrive.
Then, I observe again. If my extension offerings fell flat: the ping-pong balls went unused, the sensory play was unintriguing, the zoo play transformed into “doctor” overnight, or my tower was ignored, then I try again. My assumptions about what I observed may have been off base. Perhaps the children needed more practice with the repeated skill before extending into a new idea. I imagine myself as a silent ninja, working craftily behind the scenes to meet each child where he is and invite him to extend his curiosity to a new level.
Principles of Readiness: I don’t think there is a magic formula, because the needs of each child change moment-by-moment. Still, there are a few principles that support a rich environment, tailored to the long-term needs of children.
- Skills build on skills.
- The future is a guide, but not the primary director of my daily decisions.
- There are many ways to meet the same goals.
- Focus on the present, and consider nudging the budding skills.
- Maintain a rich environment, full of compelling and intriguing materials across a wide variety of developmental domains.
- Draw children to new interest areas by combining materials.
- Offer real experiences across all developmental domains, and provoke play in new areas by joining and modeling ways to interact.
In the end, true readiness can’t be quantified on a checklist. Sure, children need concrete skills to successfully navigate their entrance into school, but true readiness is a more intangible set of skills. This is my list.
Readiness is a child with strong relationships to significant adults, and the ability to form attachments.
Readiness is a child who loves books, reading, and being read to.
Readiness is a child who is infinitely curious about the world around her.
Readiness is a child who can name and embrace emotional waves, with the skills to act with integrity.
Readiness is a child who speaks up for himself, with skills to talk to people of all ages.
Readiness might not be all of these things at once.
Readiness is a child on a continuum of learning.
For more (excellent!) reading on readiness, I suggest you travel to these links next!