Making Families Grand: What does School Readiness really mean?
I was recently talking with some new parents about the parenting program, Ready! for Kindergarten, and they all made the comment, “Oh, school is a long way off . . . we just need to get through the first year!” And while school entry may feel like a long way off for families with young children, being ready for school actually starts during a child’s prenatal development! School readiness is much more than knowing the ABC’s or 123’s. It is about how a child’s brain develops in the early years, the relationships a child forms, their health, and their ability to be active learners. Dr. Dan Gartell (2013) describes school readiness as a state of mind in which, “a child has a willing attitude and confidence in the process of learning.”
Most kindergarten teachers will tell you that the skills they want children to have when they walk into the classroom for the first time have more to do with their ability to take care of themselves, regulate their emotions, and follow directions. Ellen Galinsky reinforces these ideas in her book Mind in the Making, where she highlights that children need seven essential life skills to be successful both in school and in life. The skills include: 1. Focus and self-control, 2. perspective taking, 3. communicating, 4. making connections, 5. critical thinking, 6. taking on challenges, and 7. self-directed and engaged learning.
Both Gartell’s “healthy state of mind” and Gallinsky’s seven essential skills start to form during a baby’s earliest experiences and developing a child’s school readiness starts on day one. Families can begin laying the foundation for school readiness by simply being responsive to their baby’s needs, picking them up when they cry, learning to read their cues, and understanding typical development. Everyday activities like playing Peek-A-Boo, reading simple stories, or singing nursery rhymes work together to promote a baby’s sense of wonder and discovery about the world around them. As young children grow families and caregivers have a tremendous opportunity to support their young learner’s later success. Allowing for discovery, promoting creativity and curiosity, and talking about the world around them all helps children to develop the seven essential skills and a “state of mind” that is ready for school.
Research highlights that for children to acquire the academic knowledge that we traditionally think of as school readiness (letters, numbers, shapes) they must first have the ability to regulate their emotions, which leads to the development of self-control (Blair & Ravler, 2015). Both self-regulation and self-control are learned through the types of relationships children have with the adults in their lives. When children experience responsive and secure relationships they are developing their school readiness skills, and it starts much earlier than the summer before kindergarten or even the preschool years. Gartell (2013) highlights that research has shown time and again that the best predictor of school success is healthy brain development, and brain development starts prenatally and continues at amazing rates in the first three years of life.
For more about what you and your family can do to promote school readiness for the young children in your life check out: Families.naeyc.org or earlylearningco.org and look for upcoming Ready! For Kindergarten classes at grandbeginnings.org.
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