This post contains 10 valuable, evidence-based, and life-changing essential things you can do to ensure children are “ready” for Kindergarten.
It seems we’re always searching…searching for ideas, for solutions, for answers…yet sometimes, it’s what is right in front of us that makes the real difference. In fact, there are 10 simple, yet valuable, evidence-based, and life-changing essential things each of us can do to ensure children are “ready” for Kindergarten…
Please note, that while the essentials are numbered 1-10, there isn’t an order or sequence you have to follow. Feel free pick, choose, and apply as needed.
#1 Spark curiosity – Curiosity is the brain’s natural reward system
Most early educators know that “sparking” children’s curiosity isn’t difficult. Young children are endlessly curious about the world around them. And the great news is, children’s natural curiosity can easily be enhanced by creating space and time for exploration. Further, making sure we have “sparked” children’s curiosity to us, to the materials, and to the planned activities, ensures learning will take place.
“When a child’s curiosity is to you first, you can guide them to think, experiment, and learn. Without this curiosity, you are teaching compliance, passivity, and mindless actions.” ~ B. Avila of Synergy Autism Center, personal communication, April, 2016
#2 Be responsive – Relationships could quite possibly be the only thing that matters
Building relationships requires mutual respect and trust. And part of building a foundation of trust comes from being responsive to children’s needs. In fact, all relationships are strengthened through deep listening, mutual respect, and having patience when faced with challenges. By forming responsive relationships, we ignite the active ingredient, which ensures all children’s growth and learning.
“Sensitive and responsive interactional practices are the foundation for promoting the development of a child’s language and cognitive and emotional competence. These interactional practices are the basis for fostering all children’s learning.”~ DEC, 2014, p. 14
#3 Reduce stressors – Recognize, Reduce, and Restore
While we can not control all of the things children are exposed to, there are many early childhood stressors that we can and should manage. When we recognize a child’s body is responding to stress, it is our job to reduce and restore calm whenever possible. One of the most important roles we play in children’s development and learning is in creating the space and in providing the support they need to learn to self-regulate.
“When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition.” ~ Willis, 2006, p. 57
#4 Know what AND how – Intentional teaching is the “how” that supports the “what”
While knowing “what” to teach is critical, it is equally critical to know “how” we are going to teach. It becomes the intention behind the instruction…the thoughtful and deliberate planning that allows us to meet the diverse learning needs of children. Intentionally pairing “how” to teach and “what” to teach ensures we offer just the right amount and types of support for optimal growth and learning.
“In this balanced approach, everyone is active. Children’s interests and developmental levels help to shape adult-guided experiences, while adults use their knowledge and observations to decide when and how to intervene in child-guided experiences.” ~ Epstein, 2011, para. 2
#5 Pick different paths – The same destination can be reached by many different paths
Learners come in all different shapes and sizes, and an instructional approach that works for one child may not work for another. Further, when a child achieves a particular outcome might not correspond with the rate and pace of another child’s learning. Lastly, a child’s needs will vary across developmental domains and academic content. By embracing the equifinality principle, knowing that many paths can get you to the same end, we can better determine how best to support all children.
“Although direct instruction can facilitate core literacy skills and concepts, there are also other means for obtaining the same outcomes, including play.” ~ Singer, Michnick Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006, p. 66
#6 Scaffold and support – Plan to go with the flow
Carefully planning the scaffolds and supports a child will require to be successful is equally important to being able to respond to what a child may need in a given moment. By planning and “going with the flow”, teachers are able to build upon children’s interest and empower them to try and to fail. Children also benefit from the unintentional modeling of how to respond when things don’t go as planned.
Researchers have found, “that flow deepens learning and encourages long-term interest in a subject.” ~ Jill Suttie, para. 4
#7 Be consistent – Consistency builds trust and conserves mental energy
Clear and consistent routines free up the energy children would otherwise spend on planning and evaluating the situation. Instead of time and energy spent wondering “What will happen next?” or “What will happen if I do this?”, children are able to relax into the boundaries and security of knowing what to expect. In other words, consistency gives children the freedom to engage in deeper and more meaningful learning.
“Taken together, numerous developmental literatures suggest that more consistency is advantageous and more variability is deleterious to several domains of children’s development, including achievement and behavioral outcomes.” ~ Curby, Brock, Hamre, 2013, p. 295 & Abstract
#8 Be relevant – Allow and accept children to make meaning
Children will ask why, again and again. And while a general answer might satisfy some, how much more engaging and memorable will that answer be if it is tied to something relevant and meaningful to the learner? When children ask “why?” and, for that matter, what any of us are looking for is, “What is the meaning in this for me?”. Teaching is more relevant when children are given the opportunity to arrive at a meaning that gives them purpose and joy.
“When you make a concerted effort to engage students in their learning, the result you’ll discover is students who are better able to maintain focus, better able to sustain behavior, and better able to grasp and retain the material you are working so hard to deliver—a positive outcome for everybody!” ~ Brookes Publishing Co. Inc., 2012, last paragraph
#9 Create calm – Calm begins with you
Calm is not an accident, but rather, an intentional state, which can be created and sometimes won’t happen without effort. To create calm, it starts with you…meaning by calming yourself and reaching for that deep inner place of peace and stillness. This invites others nearby to join you in the calm. Even in the midst of an unwavering meltdown, calm communicates respect, models self-regulation and control, and creates a safe space for the child to feel held and supported.
“When children are calmly focused and alert, they are best able to modulate their emotions; pay attention; ignore distractions; inhibit their impulses; assess the consequences of an action; understand what others are thinking and feeling, and the effects of their own behaviours; or feel empathy for others.” ~ Shanker, 2012, p.3.
#10 Make connections – Neurons that fire together, wire together
We all know, when we try something new, it can feel clumsy, and even frustrating. This is because new neurons are communicating with each other (creating new connections). It’s a quick, tentative connection at first; however, the more we practice, the more the neural pathways begin to reinforce each other. And each time we engage in the task or the thought, the experience is repeated, and a stronger connection is created. In fact, the steep climb to creating strong neural pathways is aided through our connections to one another.
“Every experience, thought, feeling, and physical sensation triggers thousands of neurons, which form a neural network. When you repeat an experience over and over, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.” ~ SuperCampⓇ by Quantum Learning, February 28, 2014, para. 4.
- Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. (2012, February). 5 tips for getting all your students engaged in learning [blog]. Retrieved from http://archive.brookespublishing.com/articles/ed-article-0212.htm
- Curby, T. W., Brock, L. L., & Hamre, B. K. (2013). Teachers’ emotional support consistency predicts children’s achievement gains and social skills. Early Education Development, 24(3), 292-309.
- Division for Early Childhood [DEC]. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices
- Epstein, A. (2011, February). Q & A with the author of the Intentional Teacher: An NAEYC online event. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/event/intentional-teacher
- Shanker, S. G. (2012). Calm, alert and happy. Retrieved from http://edu.gov.on.ca/childcare/Shanker.pdf.
- Singer, D., Michnick Golinkoff, R., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2006). Play = learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Suttie, J. (2012, April). Eight tips for fostering flow in the classroom. Greater Good: The Science of Meaningful Life. Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/eight_tips_for_fostering_flow_in_the_classroom
- SuperCampⓇ. (2014, April 28). What does “neurons that fire together wire together” mean? [blog].
- Willis, J. (2006). Research-based strategies to ignite student learning: Insights from a neurologist and classroom teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development [ASCD].