IS HE READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?
It’s a well-intentioned question, rhetorical in a sense because most, if not all, people are expecting you to respond, “Yes!” But what if you answered, “No”? Well, I have and I can tell you it’s not what people expect you to say!
My son begins kindergarten in a short 6 weeks. This spring as he finished up preschool several acquaintances asked me the above question. If I didn’t have much time to answer or felt they were just asking to be polite, not really interested in my response, I gave them what they wanted to hear, “Yes, I think he’s ready.” For those that asked with genuine concern in their voice, I answered honestly by saying, “I’m not sure.” Their puzzled expressions begged me to explain myself.
Why am I not sure? It’s not that he doesn’t appear prepared or that I don’t think he will be successful. It’s just that I’m not sure he’s “ready” per the kindergarten readiness checklist of most people. Does he know all his letters and their sounds? I don’t know. Is he able to write his first and last names, count to 30 and recognize some sight words? I don’t know. Can he sit for extended periods of times, undistracted enough to complete a structured, academic activity? I don’t know.
My son attended 3 preschools between the ages of 2 and 5. The first was very academically structured, the second very traditional and the last (and my most favorite, read why here) teaches children how to think, not what to think. Upon his graduation from preschool, he has matured in ways I didn’t think possible a year ago. I consider his growth and maturation over the past three years as preparedness for kindergarten but by most school systems standards that’s not what constitutes a child being “ready”.
I had a very short but impactful conversation with Lisa Murphy, The Ooey Gooey Lady, about my son entering kindergarten. I explained to her I didn’t think he was ready because he couldn’t do X, Y and Z. She looked at me and said, “Well, he shouldn’t. He’s only 4.” She went on to explain that sometimes we just have to trust the natural trajectory of development. Instead of pushing unrealistic expectations on preschoolers, expecting them to perform, act, think and behave like kindergarteners let’s expect of them what’s developmentally appropriate for their age. And trust that when the time is right, when they are developmentally ready, then they will be where they need to be…not too soon, not too late, but just on time.
I had that conversation with Lisa in February of 2013. O turned 5 that spring and my husband and I decided we would wait a year on kindergarten and give him one more year of preschool. That decision was quite possibly the best decision we have made for him (aside from our decision to go FEINGOLD)! But I was careful in my decision. Because of my work and research on play and developmentally appropriate age expectations, I didn’t want to send him to preschool 5 mornings a week so that he could get “ready” for kindergarten. He continued attending only 3 mornings a week. After all, if I was giving him another year at home, I didn’t want it to be boot camp for kindergarten; I wanted him to enjoy it and I wanted to enjoy more time with him! And we had a wonderful year! He happily attended school, loved being there, learning and exploring. He also enjoyed his down time at home just playing, just being a 5 year old. I’m so thankful I was able to give that to him.
So when people really want me to answer their question, when they have a minute to spare and appear genuinely interested in my answer, I tell them I’m not sure he’s ready by most other people’s standards, but I know he’s going to be okay and figure it out. I trust that when the time comes, when he hops on that bus and waves bye to me, I will be smiling trusting my decisions and the miracle of development that is him. He will be okay and when he needs me, I’ll be here to catch, encourage and support him like I always have been. It’s just another time in his life when he’s going to have to use his SUPERPOWERS to succeed without me.
So if you see me and ask me that age-old question, “Is he ready for kindergarten?” Just be prepared to hear my answer… and it may take a while! J