When parents and teachers and parents work together, children arrive at school ready for kindergarten.
I have spent the past ten years teaching at in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, in Boyle, Mississippi, the most recent four of those years teaching kindergarten for 5-year-olds at Bell Academy.
Nearly one-third of the population of Boyle lives below the poverty line, as do more than 40 percent of those who are under 18 years old. Bell Academy serves 326 children in grades pre-K through sixth grade.
Since earning my undergraduate, master’s, and Education Specialist degrees in elementary education, and working toward board certification at Delta State University, I have observed students who have come from a variety of backgrounds.
Children who are ready for kindergarten have had both a sound, structured pre-K program and support from their parents or guardians.
Children who have attended our 4-year-old program before attending our kindergarten program for 5-year-olds have several advantages over peers coming from daycare and other programs.
First, they have been exposed to social/emotional situations with other students, helping them develop skills such as sharing, team work, compassion, conflict/resolution and fairness.
Second, they have been exposed to academics, such as letter names, sounds, number recognition, number fluency and patterning with hands-on, meaningful learning tasks that take into account their physical and cognitive development.
Third, in addition to social/emotional and academic skills, these students have participated in activities expanding their imaginations through art, structured play and music, as well as activities that have expanded their views of the world they live in through read-alouds, technology in the classroom and participation in science lab.
Fourth, these pre-K students come to kindergarten with an understanding of rules, expectations, consequences and rewards. They are better able to think through their choices before acting. These students enter my classroom having been exposed to working in small groups, rotating from center to center, some that are independent.
These students are more independent, able to care for materials at their table, help one another, delegate tasks, share materials and help one another when needed. As our expectations for students have increased with the Mississippi Career and College Readiness Standards, the addition of more 4-year-old programs in public schools in Mississippi is vital; early exposure in a safe, nurturing, yet structured pre-kindergarten program is one way to ensure kindergarten readiness.
In addition to exposure in a structured pre-kindergarten program, students who have entered my classroom the most prepared received this exposure in their home life. This entails parents who are reading with their children every single night, books that have a lot of repetition, rhyme and are of interest to the child.
Reading with children every single night is the earliest way to help develop a love for reading and expose young learners to texts of many genres, new vocabulary and high-frequency words.
Parents who have conversations with their children beyond the typical questions such as “Were you good today?” and “What did you do?” and instead delve deeper into questioning and statements, such as “Tell me something you learned today, “ “How did that make you feel?” and “What are your thoughts?” encourage deeper thinking, cause children to reflect on their day and reinforce what was learned at school, while expanding the child’s vocabulary as well.
Parents can expose their children to a world beyond the town in which they live through books and children’s magazines, family trips, educational television programming, and the use of appropriate websites and iPad apps.
Kindergarten is not just about students mastering a set of academic standards; caring for their social/emotional growth, improving their fine motor skills and developing activities that recognize their cognitive and physical development are also of utmost importance.
Teachers collaborating with parents to give younger children exposure to socially, developmentally and cognitively appropriate books, conversations, interactions with other children and artistic and physical activities to develop fine motor skills help to ensure their child will be ready for kindergarten.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Nicole Spinks is a kindergarten teacher at Bell Academy in Boyle, Mississippi.