When it comes to young children going to school, we talk a lot about “readiness.” But what does that even mean?
I’ll just get down to it.
Very broadly speaking, “readiness” refers to skills and factors that contribute to a child’s success upon school entry. These skills reflect individual development across the following domains: health and physical development; social/emotional development; cognition, knowledge, and approaches to learning; and communication and language skills.
I want to make one thing crystal clear:
Children are not innately “ready” or “not ready” for school.
“Readiness” is a complex subject, influenced by many interrelated factors:
- Early life experiences: exposure to early education, home literacy environment, economic security, attention to health needs.
- The child’s individual differences: cultural and linguistic variation, developmental differences and the understanding of such differences, presence of a disability
- Expectations placed on the child by the school: the only legal requirement is reaching the correct chronological age, but the National Goals Panel suggests 10 critical keys to ensure that schools are ready for young children:
- Smooth transition between home and school
- Continuity of care between early care and education and elementary schools
- Help children learn and make sense of their complex world
- Be committed to the success of every child
- Be committed to the success of every teacher and every adult who interacts with children during the school day
- Introduce/expand approaches that have been shown to raise achievement
- Be a learning organization that alter practices if they do not benefit children
- Serve children in their communities
- Take responsibility for results
- Exhibit strong leadership
As you can see, in order to improve “readiness” we have a lot of collective work to do. Children and families need improved economic conditions, better health care for children and families, a commitment to understanding of individual differences, and environments that are responsive to the needs of children and families within their own community (just to name a few).
Hopefully you noticed that “readiness” is much greater and more complex than a checklist of skills and developmental milestones. The burden of readiness should not rest upon the frail shoulders of our nation’s preschoolers. Idealistic? Maybe. Utopian? Maybe. But….
As adults we should carry the load and create the necessary changes- to ensure our youngest can have the greatest opportunity for success as they develop at their own pace.
- What can you do to improve factors for readiness in your classroom, school, or community?
- How can you push the conversation about readiness towards a more comprehensive view?
- How can you release young children from the burden of fitting in to a certain predetermined mold?
- How responsive is your teaching? Do you take responsibility for results? Do you alter teaching practices when needed?
- Do you seek out learning opportunities?
- How can you exhibit leadership?
Tracy McElhattan is the Director of Early Childhood Ministries at a church in the Kansas City area. She also writes and edits faith-based materials for children with special needs so that all young children have full access to faith communities. She loves teaching teachers and challenging the norm.