A guest post by Lindsay Behrens, Head of Lower School at St. Timothy’s School
School is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Although these skill areas are often easier to see and measure, they may overshadow other essential skills for early learning. In addition to early academic skills, children must learn to navigate social and emotional situations. Preschool-age is the optimal time to model and practice appropriate problem-solving skills, peer interactions, waiting turns, and managing frustrations.
So, how do you know whether your child is ready for a full-day pre-kindergarten or kindergarten program? The truth is, each child’s rate of physical, social, and intellectual development varies, but there is a continuum of common skills and behaviors that are considered appropriate for this age group. When considering your child’s preparedness for school, it may be helpful to consider the following questions.
Is my child beginning to interact and cooperate with friends?
While children will grow tremendously in their social-emotional skills as they enter school, there are some “prerequisite skills” that may indicate whether your child is ready to navigate a full-day pre-kindergarten or kindergarten program. Children who are school-ready are typically beginning to interact and cooperate with peers, most likely still in pairings or small groups. They tend to be friends with everyone versus having a “best friend” and will often pinball their way around the playground jumping in and out of activities and peer groups from one moment to the next.
It is normal for children of this age to require support to navigate disagreements and express their feelings with peers. It is important to remember that perfection is not expected. Three to five-year-olds are still developing their language skills and learning to manage their emotions appropriately. You should begin to see an increase in self-control and response to adult redirection at this age, which are both important skills when participating in a classroom setting.
Is my child exhibiting age-appropriate independence?
If your child participates in a preschool program, you probably already know how important self-help or self-care skills are. In today’s busy world, parents do not always stop to think about the many things we do for our children that could probably be done by them, when given time and patience. From potty training to zipping a jacket, students entering school should be able to complete some self-care tasks independently or with minimal prompting from an adult. Big ones include toileting needs (some accidents are to be expected), dressing, wiping noses, and cleaning up items. Again, perfection is not expected, but it is important that children begin to attempt these tasks on their own.
Is my child ready to learn?
While specific academic skills such as counting to 100 and naming letters might give your child a “leg up” upon entering school (and should not be discounted), we should also focus on the work habits, or early learning behaviors, that allow children to be available for learning. Curiosity and an eagerness to learn will go a long way in the classroom. Parents can model and encourage an excitement for learning by asking children to expand on their ideas. This could be as simple as asking a child, “What makes you think that?” or leading a conversation with “I wonder…”
Following directions and routines is another skill that prepares students to fully participate in classroom learning. After a little practice, children who are entering school should be able to follow simple directions and repetitive routines like lining up when prompted or unpacking a backpack each morning.
Is my child ready for a challenge?
Resilience, or the ability to bounce back after hardship or disappointment, is perhaps one of the most important social-emotional areas that has proven links to future success. For children in this age group, this is the time to allow for some independence (within reason) and begin to let children try things, fail, and try again, all while praising them for their effort. Students who do not shy away from difficult tasks and are able to persist when challenged are likely to feel more confident and successful when they enter school.
Does my child have stamina?
A final early learning behavior to evaluate is stamina. On top of new learning, students are asked to sustain attention and physical engagement in activities on and off throughout the day. The best pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs will balance learning with play, structured time with unstructured time, and active time with downtime. Teachers work with an understanding that students of this age typically have shorter attention spans and like to hop from one activity to the next, but it is important that students who are entering school begin to show an increase in stamina when it comes to sitting, listening, and engaging in both preferred and non-preferred activities.
In the end, every child has a myriad of strengths and skills that cannot be whittled down to the few listed above. There are many other factors that play into an individual child’s readiness for school that only a parent, teacher, and caregiver can fully identify. All children grow and develop at different rates, but these academic and social-emotional skills can serve as a starting point when considering the next educational step for your child.
St. Timothy’s School is a pre-k-8th grade school in the heart of North Hills in Raleigh. We believe the foundation for a life of integrity, service, and purpose begins with small, everyday moments. We educate intentionally in each moment and cherish every opportunity for our students to demonstrate compassion, diligently and creatively solve problems, learn through a lens of both faith and reason and build the confidence and skills necessary to prepare them for life’s journey. Our pre-k and kindergarten classrooms are designed to provide students with the strongest foundation for lifelong learning and growth. We see our students as individuals and our mission is to help them thrive and reach their full potential. We hope to have the opportunity to meet you and learn more about how we can support you in your child’s educational journey.
We are currently processing applications for the 24-25 school year. The first-round application deadline is January 26, 2024. For more information, visit our website at https://sttimothys.org/admissions/ .
Lindsay Behrens is the Head of Lower School at St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh. She served as a resource teacher in Wake County Public Schools before joining St. Timothy’s School.