Ready to Learn!
By Michael J. McKenna
“How can I make sure my child is ready for Pre-K or Kindergarten.”
This is a question school administrators and admissions directors hear all the time. Before I give you my standard answer, let me tell you a story.
When my son James was four, we started to prepare him for the eventuality of Kindergarten. (He never went to Pre-K.) Over the summer before school started, we’d say things like, “We have to go shop for your uniform tomorrow! Aren’t you excited for school?!” Or, “When you get to Kindergarten this fall, you’re going to have Mrs. Hinz, who’s the best Kindergarten teacher ever!”
To all of our enticements, James would say, “Nah! I don’t wanna go to school. I’ll just stay home with mom!” Of all my five children, he was the only one who had absolutely no interest in school whatsoever.
As a result, I never pushed him to learn things like his letters and numbers, his shapes and colors, and so forth. I didn’t want to “shove learning down his throat,” so to speak. He had absolutely no interest in learning these things, because, in his little brain, they were all associated with school. And school was something with which he wanted nothing to do.
When the day came for our interview with the admissions director, (even though I was the headmaster of the school, I believed in equal treatment for all), she asked James some questions like Where do you live? “Georgia.” (We had moved to Maryland from Georgia two years before.) What’s your phone number? “I dunno.” Can you name any of these letters for me? “No, ma’am.” What shape is this (pointing to a square)? “I dunno.” And so it went.
At the conclusion of the interview, the admissions director told me, “That was the worst Kindergarten interview I’ve ever had. Georgia?!”
However, from my perspective, there were aspects of the interview James handled very well.
When he met the admissions director, he spoke up when she greeted him, shook her hand when she extended it, and looked her confidently in the eye as they spoke together.
The entire time she was talking strictly to him—perhaps five minutes—he sat attentively and listened to everything she asked. He may not have known the answer to her questions about content, but he knew how to attend to her questions.
When she gave him several-step directions, he followed her instructions without delay or confusion. (E.g., “Open the green folder and take out the paper. Then close the folder and leave it on top of the others.”)
In short, what James didn’t know was a lot! But, it was okay that he didn’t know his numbers and letters already. Those are the things that Kindergarten is supposed to teach him anyway.
What James did know were some of the life skills that he would need in order to be able to learn in Kindergarten.
Going back to this article’s initial question, when I tell parents how to prepare their child for his or her entrance into school, I never encourage them to spend time teaching them content.
Instead, I encourage parents to teach them the skills necessary to attend in school.
By way of a short list, here are some recommendations for things to work on with your young children over the next few weeks:
Obey all the way, right away, with a happy spirit every day! 😉
Tuck in your shirt and buckle your belt.
Look adults—and one another—in the eye when speaking to them, or when they speak to you.
When an adult asks you to do something or asks you a question, answer with a confident, audible, “Yes, ma’am,” or “No, sir.”
Use a firm handshake.
Sit in “Ready Position” for a few moments at a time. (“Ready Position” at Paratus is defined as: sitting up straight at the desk or table, feet flat on the floor, chair pulled in, hands folded on the desk to avoid distractions, eyes on the teacher.)
Follow some simple, multi-step directions to completion without having them repeated.
Teach them responsibility for themselves and their things by giving them chores to do each day, such as picking up their toys, clearing the dishes off the dinner table, making their bed, etc.
“Please” and “Thank you” are still the magic words!
Teaching our children skills like these on the cusp of starting school may seem a little anti-climactic or counterintuitive. Shouldn’t he be learning his letters and numbers? However, as parents spend more time and effort preparing their children how to learn, their time spent in school actually learning will be that much more productive.
Have a blessed remainder of your summer, and I look forward to seeing you all at Parent Kick-Off.