School Readiness

As teachers, parents and taxpayers, we keep hearing about educational reform and
more accountability for performance from our students. The phrase “school
readiness” is used freely to refer to young children entering kindergarten and
their probable success as public school kindergarten students. However, if
kindergarten is really designed for five-year-olds, how can a child NOT be
successful?

There are many definitions of school readiness–the pendulum
seems to swing back and forth from a heavy academic focus to an emphasis on
non-structure and “freedom” for creativity’s sake. One of the problems with
trying to define school readiness and what it actually entails is that many
professionals and most legislators do not understand the brain and physiological
development stages of the child.

Between the ages of about two and five,
the part of the brain that is developing the most rapidly is the area that is
responsible for relationships, feelings and emotions. Learning how to handle and
control emotions appropriately and how to engage in social interactions is the
focus of the child in these years. This is the time when a child practices
skills such as how to be a friend, how to handle rejection, how to negotiate and
how to form attachments to others–basic social/emotional life skills.

We keep hearing that we need to introduce letters, phonics, words and
numbers during these young years, but the part of the brain that is responsible
for the academic and cognitive abilities does not become highly active until the
child is approximately six years of age. This is the time when the basic
introduction of academic skills is physiologically intended.

When we
push the academic skills too early and too harshly, we put future learning at
risk. Because we are forcing brain actions earlier than intended, the part of
the brain that intended to be challenged during the preschool years, the
emotional part, is basically forgotten.

Children in their preschool
years are often described as experimenters and active learners. Research
indicates that children learn while engaged in activities that passionately
interest them, including social interactions that involve language and play.

This is not to say that literacy, math and science should not be an
integral part of the preschoolers’ experience, but the manner in which it is
presented is vital. We can integrate all of these skills into child-oriented
play experiences, rather than using traditional methods of rote learning and
memorization. Take the “post office” for example: Children can design a post
office model, construct the post office, paint the boxes used for the
construction and add symbols and seals for the US Postal Service. They can write
letters, sort mail, weigh letters and packages, count out money and stamps and
deliver mail in trucks or on foot. Math, literacy, social skills, science, motor
development, etc., are all a part of this profound play experience. In addition,
it is FUN.

We now know that school readiness means knowing how to
interact with other children and adults. Showing kindness and compassion to
others, practicing patience, learning how to focus, knowing your name, address,
phone number and how to write your first name, discovering a love for books,
engaging in the arts and their expressions, taking on the roles of fantasy
characters, honoring diversity in all forms and owning a positive self image are
all vital to school readiness and to life success.

The pressures of the
academic world are not meant for young children. They will learn about their
world, including academic skills, when it is appropriate and desired. Thus, as
parents, teachers and taxpayers, we must all begin to speak up to the school
boards and legislators. Give our children the greatest gift of all – a
joy-filled childhood.

Deya Brashears, Diablo Valley College
Faculty/Author