“The kids who are coming aren’t ready!” I’ve heard it over and over from primary teachers and principals. While it’s easy to cast blame for children not being ready for school, a more positive approach will yield more positive results. It’s easy to lay blame—it’s lazy parents; the children should all be in special education; my curriculum and the demands for WAKids preparation don’t allow me the time to help the kids who don’t have the foundational skills; I’d like to have preschool for every child in my district, but the money just isn’t there. WHAT TO DO?
Partner up in your community. With remote learning it’s easy to work snug in our Zoom sessions and not focus on who might be our partners in the community. Having worked remotely for just short of a year now we’ve, of necessity, developed close working relationships with families and caregivers. We can also snuggle up to child care programs, Head Start, ECEAP, Early Intervention, faith-based and private school programs, recreation programs, food banks, clinics—what is out there surviving the pandemic that serves families who have young children? Every one of these organizations is a potential partner! Be ready to reach out!
Identify things that are already happening in your community. The activities and organizations listed above may be only a starting place. Don’t have a Head Start program? Families have found ways to socialize and still be socially distanced, like outdoor meetings at a park or multi-family Zoom groups. What about family home care providers? Who is out there that is spending time or providing resources for children and/or caregivers, whether in person or virtually?
Take the initiative. Reach out! Don’t wait for someone to contact you. Step out and make contacts. Talk about some of the readiness issues—what kinds of experiences should children have before they come to school that will help them be successful? How do we make these experiences happen without expensive materials or, in some cases, a lot of time to spend with the children?
Actively share your information. Many sources for information about what skills children need are available.
- Washington’s Early Learning and Development Guidelines, still available from the state printing office, provide information about what children should know and be able to do at different ages plus ideas for activities to provide the experiences children need to continue to be successful as they enter kindergarten and continue on.
- Many studies have been done looking at the skills needed for children entering kindergarten. The ECTA Center has a variety of materials focusing on transition practices and checklist for early intervention to preschool and preschool to kindergarten.
- The OSPI website has a great chart in its WAKids section on Characteristics of Children Entering Kindergarten. Share this information with your partners.
- Talk with others about the kinds of experiences children can have that provide these skills. Historically, young children didn’t have group teaching opportunities and these experiences happened in the course of typical home activities without special equipment, fancy technology, or highly trained professionals. How can we collaborate with families and community partners to provide learning experiences and the nurturing adult behaviors that make the learning functional?
Gather data. Where are your children coming to you from? What kinds of skills are they coming with? Typically, in a normal non-pandemic year, 70% of young children are in some kind of out-of-home care before they enter school. That’s a wicked number of children—as well as a good indicator of where to put your partnering time.
Talk with kindergarten and first grade teachers about their expectations. What is the real scoop about what will be most helpful for children? A high number of kindergarten teachers talk about social and self-help skills as being highly important. If children have a good idea about how to focus, stay with a task, be part of a group, and ask appropriately to get their needs met, they have a very good foundation for being able to attend to what is being taught in kindergarten and being successful at using and learning it. And again, the WAKids chart is useful to share and discuss with your partners.
Think about being a ready school! No matter what we do, some children will still come to school without the experiences that help them to be prepared for our curriculum. We need to be prepared for them. There’s no substitute for teaching what’s been missed.
- Know and share the foundational/developmental skills children typically acquire before they enter kindergarten;
- Incorporate them into the curriculum for children who aren’t quite there yet. No matter how much time you spend on the “regular” curriculum, children who don’t get the foundational skills will have difficulty being successful. If children can’t identify their names (something most children starting kindergarten can do) then make it part of your curriculum. If they don’t understand the concept of rhyming sounds, make it part of your curriculum. If they don’t participate in activities because they don’t have the attending skills, create a plan to help them acquire those skills. If they aren’t able to follow routines, make emphasizing routines part of their day.
- Differentiate instruction. Make certain that the range of knowledge and abilities is accounted for in the classroom. The children who come to you without ‘readiness’ skills most often haven’t had the early experiences that lead to those skills—they haven’t been talked with, read with, or had the nurturing interactions that help children acquire the needed skills.
- Saying that your curriculum doesn’t allow time for teaching foundational skills is the same as saying that it’s okay to not make the effort to help a child learn.
Making the effort to know and communicate with potential community partners will yield valuable results for the children and families you are working with. They can support your curriculum. They can help families find the resources they need.
This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the February 2021 Early Childhood Express.