Kindergarten Readiness: Parent Strategy for Best Results.

A very reliable way of assessing children’s readiness for kindergarten is to bring twelve four-and-a-half-year-olds together for a one-hour mock kindergarten class. A teacher greets parent and child at the door, and the parent says good-bye. Most of the time the children leave their parents happily and launch off into what for them is a super play-date.

Occasionally, a child will whine at the classroom door and cling to the parent. Respect the child. Whether the child is truly not ready or simply playing her “I need you, Mommy” game, take the child seriously, and make arrangements for them to come back some other Saturday.

Normally, the children walk right in and start to explore the classroom, going from table to table engaging in the fun activities that the teacher has prepared around the room. Halfway through the hour the teacher calls the students together to sit “criss-cross-apple-sauce” in a circle, learn a song and have a talk. Then she sends them back to the tables, where they work on their own or in small groups.

Two other teachers are in the room taking notes on student behavior with a special eye to a certain rubric we called “the ladder of success.” Does the child speak up, listen to others, take turns, engage with the materials around the room, make choices, share, and respond to adults?

When I participated, I welcomed the parents into a nearby classroom to drink coffee and chat. After the children went home, the teachers and I got together in the classroom to talk about what we had observed.

In one such event young Ryan made a big impression on the teachers. He was the only one of twelve students who was unable to pursue his own interests, work with others, and engage in the activities on his own.

“He seemed not to know what to do unless I told him what to do,” said one teacher.

“Interesting,” I said. “At coffee Ryan’s parents made a point of telling me all they had done at home to teach him academic skills and get him ready for kindergarten. For instance they used bath time to help him practice his math facts on flash cards.”

No wonder that in class Ryan kept looking at the teacher for direction. In their conscientious attempt to make sure he was prepared, Ryan’s parents had inadvertently undermined his ability to do what kindergarten would require of him. Their focus on academic acceleration was compromising him as a student.

The ability to observe and assess, solve problems, control your body, work things out with others, and express yourself—these are the basics. These manifestations of a well-developed pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain in charge of decision-making) are the essential requirements for any kind of success in and out of school, and they are not a function of age. Helen displayed these abilities during her diplomatic triumph in the sandbox at the age of three.

Infants start working on these skills right away, and unless they are over-protected or isolated, they have had over 40,000 hours of practice by the age of five.

Do adults have a role in preparing our children for kindergarten? Of course: support them in their natural inclination to take on challenges, get frustrated, get into trouble, make a mistake, fix it and try again.

  1. Relish their increased response ability as they make decisions.
  2. Facilitate their use of mistakes, failure and conflict to understand reality.
  3. Admire evidence of courage, clever strategizing, perseverance and practice… and ignore ability.

Sure, knowing your letters, colors and numbers are basic, but they are not determiners of success and striving to focus children here can distract us from the main business at hand—building a strong brain.

Still there is an elephant in the room. What if school is mostly about rote learning, the acquisition of facts and acceleration through the 3 R’s? Doesn’t that mean the best preparation is the one provided by Ryan’s parents?

No. The reason a fully developed brain should be our focus is that a strong brain works better in any environment. Children who can observe, assess, analyze, act and express themselves with self-control will be able to determine the best strategy for being as successful as possible in any environment—including learning how to get an education from a bad teacher.





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18 thoughts on “Kindergarten Readiness: Parent Strategy for Best Results.

  1. We do a variation on this procedure at my school as well. I think it is a marvellous way of determining if kids have the really essential skills for school – the ability to cooperate, to solve their own problems, etc…

    Unfortunately we also have a test for basic skills as well, which I would like to see abolished. Sigh.

  2. It can’t help the kids for an early judgment about their abilities, especially a narrow range of abilities that are certain to change greatly in the next five years.

  3. Rick, have you talked about the changes in standards (curriculum) in kindergarten before? If you did, I missed it.

    Do you think the standards for kindergarten are developmentally appropriate for the majority of children?

  4. Thanks, LIz.
    No, I haven’t, and no, I don’t. Having standards for kindergarten aren’t very useful–at best. Depending upon how the teachers hold them in their minds, hold them over the heads of their students, and use them in conversations with parents, they can be downright destructive.
    Attempt in the last decade to improve education in America through standards has completely bankrupt the notion.
    Children need visions of excellence they can surpass not standards they can measure up to. Measuring up is a killer.
    Thank you for asking.
    Education by standards is like leadership with goals. The latter is management and the former is …well, ineffective schooling.

  5. In our school all the children are either 5 or 6 when the start because of the cutoff dates, so no one is 4. At age 4, some children are still learning how to get along with others, so it wouldn’t be totally surprising if a child didn’t have this down pat at age 4. If anything, I think many children are less shy than they were many years ago when kindergarten was their first classroom. Why does it always have to be an either or socialization or academics? Why can’t schooling include both all through their lives? Socialization doesn’t stop at age 5 and academics don’t begin there. I help out in kindergarten and some children have both trouble getting along with others and trouble with relatively simple things for 5-6 year olds like writing just one letter and have trouble coming up with creative games on the playground. I think part of the problem is that kindergarten is no longer about socialization as well. Parents are expected to produce children who behave perfectly in kindergarten on day or else they get judged on socialization just as much if not more so than academics just as the teacher did with little Ryan on the first day. It’s all a process that starts in infancy and goes on the rest of our lives.

  6. Cassie, Thank you so much for all of the points you make. They all add.
    “Why does it always have to be an either or socialization or academics?” This is such an important concept and the point of my writing about wanting to change our understanding of the word “Thoughtfulness.” (
    another destructive distinction (and ridiculous idea) is that socialization is a birth to 5 parental job, and that school is for academics with good socialization as a prerequisite.

  7. Parents might want to read or re-read Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If kids would just be “socialized” to the extent of engaging with others in play without too much conflict, that would be a great start, IMHO (in my humble opinion)
    Academics at the Kindergarten level? Plenty of time later for that although recognizing colors and basic “work” materials might also be helpful. I see Kindergarten as transition time from home to school, from individual to group and from parent to teacher. Enough already!

  8. PS, and if you were implying that Ryan should not be disqualified from kindergarten, I completely agree. The most important point you make is that social development and mental development go hand in hand. Learning how to solve problems in the sandbox will serve solving problems in the science lab.

  9. Hi my name is Rosetta and I would just like to say I found this artical very interesting. I would like to ask you what happened to Ryan did he ever enter Kindergarden after participating in your study.

  10. Rosetta, thank you for asking about Ryan. I actually don’t know, because that was the only time I had contact with him or his parents. My experience based on about a thousand children would predict that all in all, he is probably just fine today. Kids are very resilient. Children survive much worse treatment. They are designed to transcend the miseducation of parents, teachers and principals.
    If your question is at all rhetorical (as in just because a four or five year-old behaves that way on a certain day doesn’t predict anything) I would tend to agree with you. Children find their own way into the world and he certainly might have done just fine at the school.

  11. In my early childhood educator experience I provide an environment that opens all doors of learning by offering broad content children can explore and choose their work, individually or together. This busy group of children ages 2 to 6 shows how many adults underestimate the abilities of young children. Let’s define education by what the child brings to it rather than limited goals of testing or core curriculum. Get schools ready for highly motivated intelligent people making choices or they will lose early competency.

  12. Dear Mr. Rick Ackerly

    I think that we need to write an article on: a) Children need visions of excellence they can surpass not standards they can measure up to. Measuring up is a killer and b) Education by standards is like leadership with goals. The latter is management and the former is …well, ineffective schooling.

    I will be happy to make a contribution. However, in the main articles: “Kindergarten Readiness: Parent Strategy for Best Results” there is a missing link, that of oral language development in terms of not only initial reading and writing, but also foreign language acquisition in context of the sensitive periods according to Maria Montessori. Children at age three o four may learn for example Spanish or German as if it were a second native language if done appropriately. Unfortunately most preschools and K-programs in the USA have ignored this fact completely.

    Thus, if I may, I would like to contribute with an article as to how children may acquire naturally literacy skills and Spanish or German as a “second native language” in context of our “Gestalt-Dialektik bilingual-Ansatz” (“GD-bilingual process-approach”) based on music and the arts.

    Thank you,
    Danke schön,

    Gustavo Vieyra
    Founder of Gestalt-Dialektik, a pedagogical philosophy: with Stefanie Grotz as co-founder in Berlin:

  13. Gustavo,
    I love the “visions of excellence” concept. Wait, you are quoting me from somewhere.
    Anyway I would be happy for you to submit and article.

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