Monday, October 19, 2009

Hot topic: How prepared was your child for Kindergarten?

An SF K Files reader asked me to start the following thread:

I would love to hear from parents what they thought were valuable skills that helped their child thrive in kindergarten. Were they social and emotional skills, or "academic" type of skills like pre-reading and pre math? It would be great to hear about the kinds of K programs their child attends: art-based, language immersion, basic 3 R's type of classes, etc... and how their child was prepared (or not) for such. Any surprises on the difficulty of K? I hear that kindergarten is the new First Grade! I wanted to get an idea of how best to prepare my child.


  1. Any kid who has been to a preschool or who stayed at home with a parent who read to them, etc. will probably be fine. The critical thing is that they be able to sit still and pay attention when required. You can really tell a difference between the kids who are used to this and those who aren't. It does distract and detract from the class when the teacher has to constantly try to engage the kids who have problems paying attention. If your child is on the young side and has problems with attention span, then keeping them out one more year is probably a good idea.

  2. All the kids at my daughter's play-based program are doing exceptionally well in kindergarten.

    There was a recent article in the NYT on why ample time to play with others -- especially role playing -- helps develop the executive function (the ability to control impulses and stay on task).

  3. Adjustment went well, remarkably so given my kid's a bit overfull of energy. But my kid had had 3 years preschool.

    I think the best preparation is to have a playdate with one or more kids also entering the school, so they have a friend in their class they can bond with in the first few weeks. The first day is pretty scary for them, and having a buddy makes the adjustment easier.

  4. i'm a parent of a first-grader and a late fall-birthday (i.e., started at age 4) then kinder was definitely "ready." looking back, i think the factors that had the biggest impact on her readiness were as follows:

    -- very good fine motor skills ('cause, damn, writing is harder if you don't). i suppose having a longtime dominant hand would factor into this too.
    -- loves art and drawing. (don't know why, but i feel like this made everything easier. even math. elementary education is so visual, you know?)
    -- did not have a strong need to express herself or blow off energy doing gross motor stuff (i.e., would rather sit and chat than run wild on playground).
    -- very good natural stamina. for anything, pretty much. (that is, can work on something or do the same thing for long periods.)
    -- had developed decent judgment on what friendships were worth pursuing. (so she tended to make good choices as the year went on.)

    this is not to say that i believe kids without some of these things wouldn't do well; just that i attribute the smoothness of her transition to these particular things.

  5. Of course I think the best things were our family reading and sending our kid to a great preschool, but I also want to point out two GREAT programs that we benefited from, which are both free -- 1. SF Public Library story times and 2.Early Childhood Observation program at Laurel Playground.

  6. Watch out for possible Learn Differences - reading based dissabilites effect about 20% of the population. The earlier you identify, the easier and quicker it is to remediate. Link to a Great Scool article:

    An excerpt:
    What are the primary warning signs for children in kindergarten? Is it fair to judge them on their academics since some kids develop more slowly?

    Curtis: Kindergarten is a time to start getting to the basics, so though they may all not be reading, there are certain benchmarks to keep in mind. They should be learning the alphabet as well as the sounds of the letters. They should be learning to count. They should also be developing their fine motor skills: learning to copy words, cut paper into shapes. Most kindergartners begin to read simple words too. Finally, parents should continue to look at their children’s ability to understand stories.

    Those are the main indicators: Do they have their sounds, numbers, and letters?
    Of course, you might not hear much from your teacher if your child isn’t reaching these benchmarks. I used to teach general education teachers. The philosophy they’d been taught is “wait and see,” but the research suggests that if you catch this stuff early, you get better results. With language, you’ve got to hit it early — or kids get left in the dust. For instance, a preschooler and a kindergartner will learn phonemes better than a first- and second-grader. Once you hit first and second grade, you start going into content reading, and so kids who are still struggling with learning to read have a harder time.

    There’s an idea in general education that learning to read is like osmosis — and it’s true! Most kids learn to read and write with very little instruction. About 80% learn like that, but the other 20% don’t learn that way. They need it broken down and need it to be taught.

    It’s clear that we can impact this 20% with early intervention. With intensive instruction, they can get on track early before their self-esteem takes a hit.

    Kindergarten is also the age when some kids are having trouble reading because they are having trouble seeing accurately. Sometimes their eyes aren’t tracking, or they are not focusing on the page. If your child is having trouble with early reading, it’s worth having their eyes checked too.

  7. Play-based preschool programs are great. My child attends one and is thriving. But I often wonder what is being taught in kindergarten these days? Are they writing? Reading? Spelling? Cutting and pasting? Learning how to type? It's hard to know if your child will be ready for k if you don't know what the expectations are.

  8. The K year has started great for us as well. I have twins with January birthdays who went to preschool and pre-K Montessori. Both of them can already read, my son fluently. Academically they are currently advanced and I'm curious how that will unfold in the future. Socially, they are exactly where they should be. They love their school and new friends. The learning is very play-project-art based which I personally value more than pure drill.

    The hardest for us is the early start time, getting up at the crack of dawn and also having to go to bed so early. The other thing is homework, which I don't agree with and takes away from our daily reading time. DS cried tonight, because we only had time for one chapter. Going to talk to the teacher about that. The homework is not challenging for them, but they are so tired at night, they just goof around and it's sooo hard to complete.

  9. What are these "drills" I keep hearing about on these blogs? I don't remember drills back when I was in K. Anyone whose child has experience with this type of learning elaborate?

  10. 10:02, it's actually something of a myth in pure form: drill and kill, this idea that the kids are being led through rote learning and test prep. This is a straw man as no school that I know of does anything like this all or most of the time.

    I suggest you check out Marcia Brady's review of Glen Park, plus the comments, for a discussion of a traditional educational approach that some might say is about drills. It's a fair and nuanced review and there are responses from a teacher that clarify even more.

  11. We're at Starr King MI. I agree with a lot of the posters so far as to the importance of being able to sit still, listen and pay attention. This may be especially important in language immersion classes, where the kids who don't speak the target language potentially will understand only a portion of what the teacher is saying in the beginning. That can definitely add to the exhaustion, emotional stress for the beginning of the year.

    (Though, despite the reputation for having few native speakers, it felt like my dd's SKMI class had a good amount of kids with some Mandarin background at home. My dd came home saying she understood everything the teacher said, from the beginning.)

    The change from a ratio of 1:9 in preschool to 1:22 means that each kid gets a lot less individual attention and that can be hard on kids who need a lot of reassurance or crave attention. The K teacher we have is excellent, fabulous in fact, but it's just a lot less of a coddling environment than preschool.

    Agree with Kim Green about the benefits of fine motor skills. Super helpful for literacy, writing. Helping out in class made me notice a gap even in kids comfort with holding a pencil in their hands. Perhaps if you're concerned about it, have your kid write/draw with a pencil at least some of the time rather than crayons or easy-grip markers.

    Basic numeracy skills are helpful in the math side - some basic understanding of quantities, underlying math concepts in the world.

    As to what is taught in K, so far the reading/writing involves learning the letters - formation, identification, sound identification, one at a time. (Reggie Rooster anyone?) Of course in immersion there is a fraction of the time on English maybe in GE classes there is a lot more going on with reading/writing. I am feeling like it is pretty rudimentary but of course not all kids come into school knowing their alphabet.

    The math includes number identification, pattern recognition, currency and quantities.

    Science from what I can get is some kind of tree / environmental unit. I'm sure there's more to it but that's what I've been able to get out of the dd so far, plus the teacher's weekly note home.

    There is lots more that is likely covered, there is a lot of group graphing and charting, individual art projects that encompass storytelling (language arts) or pattern making (math).

    If you want to know what is covered in K check out the CA state content standards:

  12. One of the bigger surprises is how much our [public] school is concerned that the kids don't miss anything if they have to take time off. I volunteered one day when my kid was sick (DS was taking care of the kid at home, and I had the day off), and at the end of the day the teacher gave me a packet of work for my kid to do at home.

    And taking vacation outside of the school breaks is strongly discouraged.

    Big emphasis on fine motor skills. Didn't realize how important coloring was considered for this.

    Positive reinforcement for discipline is better thought out it was than at my kids preschool, and I've really noticed that my kid is much easier to "get with the program" since starting kindergarten. Also, surprises like finding out my kid was eager to take the bus. They grow up a lot in the first month of kinder.

  13. 5:38 Could you expand on your comment about the Early Childhood Observation program? I had thought these were for the benefit of the students at City College or SFSU. What did you get out of it?

  14. My friend's daughter was declined k admission to a parochial school because she did not perform well during the assessment. I think it was her difficulty with using scissors and tracing letters. The parent was told that the child would have difficulty with the school's heavy emphasis on fine motor skills. Perhaps this is unique to parochial schools since they tend to take on a traditional approach to their curriculum.

  15. I would love feedback from those with kids who started K with late fall b-days (4 turning 5 in Oct/Nov/Dec). Did they struggle? Did they rise to the occasion? Also, what if your kid can read, write, hold the pencil correctly, but lacks the appropriate attention span, should you still delay K if they are a late fall bday?

  16. This is 8:35 posting for 10:02 in regards to the drill. My twins were at a private school for pre-K/K class and I would rather not mention the name, as it we actually liked the school and don't want to say anything bad about it.

    For my taste though, the kids had to complete too many worksheets every night, it was very academic, real school, phonics, improving penmanship and early math (no sorting, or color recognition) but adding and subtracting. They had just turned 5 at the time and it was 'high' for them, but, it did the trick, they read within a month and wrote within 2.

    As long as their academic needs are met at the public school they are now (which I hope for in the future), I prefer the project-based approach they have now (e.g. they are learning about certain animals and the knowledge is bridged from sciences to reading and math). The private school we were at, was lacking to some degree in that aspect - it was very bare-bones reading and math, no imaginary or play involvement. The kids didn't mind, but one wonders if the enthusiasm would have lasted into the higher grades when school generally doesn't get perceived as fun anymore but work.

    Just to give you an idea. It's been interesting to see both approaches.

  17. "As long as their academic needs are met at the public school they are now (which I hope for in the future), I prefer the project-based approach they have now (e.g. they are learning about certain animals and the knowledge is bridged from sciences to reading and math). "

    That's the reverse how I would have imagined it, as I'd have though Houghton-Mifflin worksheets and drill-and-kill would be more part of the publics, and more creative, artsy, pedagogy part of the privates. I guess there's so many publics and so many privates that there's a lot of different styles in each.

  18. Two months into the school year, I agree that sitting still and fine motor skills (writing letters, coloring within the lines, using scissors) are the most important abilities.

    My kid sucks at both. We're doing extra work every night to try to catch him up with the rest of the class.

    But I wouldn't hold your kid back a year just because they don't have those skills yet. You'll be surprised how quickly they improve.


    One thing that also surprised me is the difference in homework policy between schools.

    My kid gets a list of tasks monthly that we choose from each night (write your phone number 10 times, count the number of apples in the supermarket, etc.). His best friend at another school gets 10-20 minutes of handouts to complete each day.

    Sure, the other school has much higher API scores than ours, but I know my kid would fail to thrive in that environment. Homework is fine but I don't want so much so soon in kindergarten.

    That's definitely something I should have asked more parents about when we made our lottery choices.

  19. Hi 1:08 PM. City College of San Francisco hosts an observation class at Laurel Park, for anybody who wants it. Weekday mornings from 9ish till noonish the rec center has paints, toys, and games. There is also a daily guided activity -- basically a circle time. I've never really understood it to tell you the truth -- you 'enroll' but aren't billed, the teachers are the same so it isn't early childhood students gaining experience. But it is AWESOME -- both my kids enjoyed it and it gave a pre-preschool intro to parallel play, fine and gross motor, and sitting for circle time.

  20. @9:21 re fall birthday kids

    My dd turned 5 in Sep so not as late as you are asking about. She's doing fine but it did seem to take a bit longer for her to get really truly settled. I think the younger kids get more emotionally worn out by the new environment. She was very K ready in terms of the other stuff mentioned here - focus, motor skills, early literacy skills. I think the difference has been on the emotional side, she's taken longer to get comfortable. It was probably a month before the morning drop-offs got really routine, and maybe 2 months before she started to seem truly comfortable in the new environment. And that pretty much coincides with when she started to truly have a few friends in K that she was excited to see every day.

    A few of her new K friends are a full year older than dd. I feel like the 6yos definitely have more poise and more confidence than the young ones like mine. But, I don't think we made the 'wrong' choice and see it all smoothing out over the course of the year.

  21. "My kid gets a list of tasks monthly that we choose from each night (write your phone number 10 times, count the number of apples in the supermarket, etc.). His best friend at another school gets 10-20 minutes of handouts to complete each day."

    Ouch! Which school is giving the 10-20 mins/day homework at K? Even at AFY, the K's only get homework one a week.

  22. RE: "Ouch! Which school is giving the 10-20 mins/day homework at K? Even at AFY, the K's only get homework one a week."

    Sutro does.

  23. 9:14: Ouch! Which school is giving the 10-20 mins/day homework at K? Even at AFY, the K's only get homework one a week.

    I don't want to name of the other school because it'd be hearsay, even coming from our good friends.

    I can only vouch for what my kid is being assigned -- a monthly list of short projects we can pick from each night. We like it. We attend Lakeshore, by the way.