There exist several different schools of thought regarding what constitutes school readiness. Some sources believe that school readiness includes academic knowledge such as alphabet and number acquisition and if these skills have not been acquired, the child should be retained for another year to give them time to acquire them. Other sources feel that a child who has acquired reading skills prior to entering school may actually be disadvantaged. Certain other authorities strongly believe that school readiness should be based on calendar age since all children develop at different rates whereas other authorities feel that the entry assessment on school readiness should be the criteria used for admission. The one area all child psychologists and child development specialists agree on are the non-academic skills the child should possess prior to beginning school.
Social development is a primary skill which all specialists in child development agree on. By the time a child enters school, he should understand about turn-taking, sharing, team work, cooperation with peers and adults. As every parents knows, the following rules are true for most toddlers:
• If I like it, it’s mine.
• If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
• If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
• If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
• If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
• If I saw it first, it’s mine.
• If it’s broken, it’s yours.
Anyone who’s a parent or worked with small children will be smiling by now. These are characteristics which must be redirected into the ability to share, to cooperate, and to take turns. An effective early childhood education program will create opportunities to school children in these skills through group work, team play, role play and exploration in cooperative groupings.
Emotional development is another skill area all psychologists and child development specialists agree on. A child who is ready to enter school needs to have the ability to separate easily from the primary care-givers. She needs to be able to control emotional outbursts and understand others’ feelings. She should be able to demonstrate appropriate responses to emotional feelings of others. Research has shown that this type of understanding can, indeed, be developed in very young children. As the purple line on the graph on child development below shows, emotional control can develop very early – before the age of four years. The blue line illustrates peer social skills and shows that they can also begin very early. It is clear, therefore, that working with very young children to control their emotions is possible, beneficial and also essential, in order for them to function effectively in school. A quality pre-school program will actively train small children in self-control, celebrating positive behaviors and gently redirecting inappropriate behaviors. It will also provide children with opportunities to do things independently, such as tying shoes, doing up buttons, etc. This independence will also promote development in fine motor skills and also self-esteem.
Self-esteem is another area which needs to be established very young and will impact on all aspects of a child’s learning. All educational specialists and child psychologists agree that this is an essential factor in a child’s overall well-being. A child with a healthy self-esteem will not resort to bullying nor be easily bullied. They will recognize appropriate social interactions with peers and be comfortable executing them. They will be able to respond socially to peers and adults with confidence. How to foster self-esteem in an early childhood education setting? Teachers will constantly celebrate the process of the child’s endeavors, not whether or not the child has found the correct answer. They will encourage the child to explore to find solutions to problems independently and their effort and focus toward this goal will be the reason for compliments and comments on attempting to find the solution.
As we have examined these different school readiness skills, it is clear that a child is both able and also needs to acquire these skills at a very early. We will not enter into the discussion about whether or not children should be denied entry to school if these skills have not been acquired, since it is not an issue if they have been effectively exposed to situations where they are trained to acquire these skills. Any pre-school program that does not clearly have as mandate training in these skills and plan on how to achieve this should re-examine what school readiness really is.
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