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School Readiness

Making sure that all young children enter school healthy and prepared to succeed, and that all schools are ready to help every child succeed, are critical to the future success of our community, state and nation. While the debates over readiness issues continue, it appears at a minimum that a comprehensive vision of child well-being would certainly involve areas of health, nutrition, mental health, education and care. Ready for school or not, the answers may depend on the things we do and the decisions we make, both personally and through public policy.

What does school readiness mean?

Many educators view children’s learning as an ongoing process that begins at birth and continues throughout life, not just when a child enters school. While measuring school readiness is not easy, there are some key areas, identified by the National Education Goals Panel, that must be considered when planning for a child’s success in school.

Health and Physical Development

Children will be best prepared for school when they have access to good preventive health services, proper nutrition, and participate in activities which adequately develop their large and small muscles. Even before birth, good pre-natal care promotes a child’s health and development. Low birth weight, for example, is a risk factor for future health and learning problems. Untreated childhood illnesses, such as ear infections, can interfere with the normal language development of a young child.

Social and Emotional Development

Children learn positive self regard through the messages, both spoken and unspoken, given to them daily by the important adults in their lives. When children feel good about themselves and their abilities, they have the confidence needed to learn new things. On the other hand, children who are ignored, criticized, or punished for exploring their world, become discouraged, passive and unwilling to try new things.

Social skills are an important aspect of readiness. Research shows that if children are not socially competent by age 6, they are at risk for social and emotional problems for the rest of their lives. Children should have opportunities from a very early age to work and play with other children in order to practice social skills and learn to get along with one another. Getting along with others and knowing how to manage one’s behavior in a group are critical to good school adjustment.

Approaches Toward Learning

The ways that children approach the task of learning may be as important as what they know when they come to school. From a very early age, children need opportunities to safely explore their environments in ways that create the desire to find out more. Young children are concrete learners and need opportunities to use all their senses as they explore and question the world around them. They will not learn best in environments where they are asked to "be still and quiet." Children who are prepared for school success are curious about everything and are able to play and work independently without constant adult intervention. They have the ability to stay with a task until it is completed and they are proud of their work. In addition, they are able to listen and follow directions.

Language Development

Good language development is one of the best indicators of future school success. Young children learn language as a result of meaningful experiences. When children experience success in using language, they quickly develop more advanced language skills.

Children should be included in conversation from birth. It's not enough to talk in the presence of children. When a child is engaged in conversation from birth, she will more likely respond to and use language appropriately at an earlier age.

Cognition and General Knowledge

Children who arrive at school with a broad knowledge about themselves and their world are better prepared to learn more complicated concepts. Brain development research highlights the critical nature of the early years in developing brain connections to allow a child’s brain to develop to its fullest potential.

Family members and other caregivers play a crucial role in stimulating children’s minds and helping them learn about the world. Children are born with a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to learn. A child’s learning can be enhanced as they interact frequently with the people around them, participate in appropriate activities, and play with toys and materials that build on the child’s present knowledge and lead them to a more advanced level of thinking.

Children learn best when their interests are encouraged, not through memorization. Memorizing colors, for example, is difficult for some children. However, when a child learns that his favorite fire truck is red, the color then has meaning for that child. Young children learn about spatial concepts through puzzles and block play. As they pour water or sand from one container to another, they begin to understand volume. These early experiences then build the foundation for later mathematical learning.

Ready for Kindergarten means more than ABCs.

A group of kindergarten teachers ranked the skills and behaviors they believe five-year-olds need to begin school ready to succeed.

92% of teachers ranked healthy, rested and well-nourished children as the number one quality of successful kindergartners.

Children should be able to verbally communicate their needs, wants and thoughts. They need to demonstrate self help skills, such as dressing themselves.

More than half of the teachers rated the following as essential to school readiness:

orange diamond  Vision, hearing and dental problems are detected and addressed.
orange diamond  A child knows his name and has a basic awareness of self, family and community.
orange diamond  A child can follow basic rules and routines.

Most early childhood experts agree that children continue to have wide variations in their development until about the age of seven. Children develop intellectual, social, emotional and physical skills at different times and at their own pace.

Because children develop skills at varying times, it is difficult to list specific tasks and behaviors to ensure school readiness.

So, while letter recognition, knowledge of animals and sounds, big and little, up and down, are important to know, it is more important that your child is socially, emotionally, and physically ready to tackle the pressures of school.

Is your child ready for school? Ask yourself these questions:

Personal Needs
Without your help, can your child...
    orange diamond  Use the toilet
    orange diamond  Wash hands
    orange diamond  Put on and take off coat
    orange diamond  Tie shoes
    orange diamond  Snap, button, zip and belt pants
    orange diamond  Use silverware
    orange diamond  Eat unassisted
    orange diamond  Put away toys when asked

Social Skills
Can you child...
    orange diamond  Follow two-step directions
    orange diamond  Cooperate with other children
    orange diamond  Play with other children without biting or hitting
    orange diamond  Sit still for up to 10 minutes
    orange diamond  Follow rules

Intellectual Skills
Does your child...
    orange diamond Hold a book upright and turn pages from front to back
    orange diamond Sit and listen to a story
    orange diamond Know first and last name
    orange diamond Know some songs and rhymes
    orange diamond Tell and retell familiar stories
    orange diamond Know own age

Health Needs
Has your child...
    orange diamond  Had required immunizations
    orange diamond  Received dental check ups
    orange diamond  Eaten at regular times daily
    orange diamond  Learned to run, jump, skip, climb, swing, use balls

JumpStart gratefully acknowledges the North Carolina Partnership for Children - Smart Start for granting us permission to use information from their website for this page. Visit Smart Start online for more information!

Visit the other sections of this website for more information -- and find additional resources on the "learn more" page!