by Missy Riley, Director of Early Childhood and Parents As Teachers, Springfield Public Schools

Is My Child Ready?

As we approach the start of the school year, one question comes to mind for parents across Missouri: “Is my child ready for Kindergarten?”.  The topic of school readiness is something that has been at the center of discussions for early childhood programs, elementary schools, private providers and families for as many years as schools have been collecting data.

Something I often share with people is the disconnect between what parents might view as Kindergarten ready versus what schools might view as Kindergarten ready.  If you survey parents on what their children need in order to be ready for Kindergarten, they will often mention things like letter identification, counting and number identification and maybe even some pre-reading skills.  Kindergarten teachers, however, will more likely tell you that listening, problem solving and engaging in appropriate play are at the top of their list.

Being a Part of A School Family

In my district, we have recently embarked upon creating a first few weeks of school curriculum for our Pre-K teachers.  Approximately half of our teachers were new to our program at the beginning of the school year last year. I learned quickly that I had made a mistake by assuming that all Pre-K teachers would know that the number one thing to teach during a year of Pre-K is how to be part of a school family.  I quickly saw teachers getting stressed out because they felt like they “couldn’t do their job.”  When I asked what was keeping them from doing “their job,” they said that the behaviors (often stemming from childhood trauma) were getting in the way of teaching the curriculum.  I realized then that the first thing I need to do with new teachers is to help them understand what I view as “their job.”  A quote that I feel sums this idea up better than anything I could say myself comes from Dr. Kevin Maxwell.  I plan to open every interview and every staff meeting I have with his quote.

“Our job is to teach the students we have.  Not the ones we would like to have, not the ones we used to have.  Those we have right now.  All of them.”

Meeting Students Where They Are

I recently saw a post on social media from a teacher friend of mine that included some wise words.  “When I look at my little friend, I don’t see their milestones, I see who they are: their heart, their actions, their inner voice, their struggles and triumphs, and I see you; all the love you pour into them.”  These are some of the wisest words regarding school readiness I feel I can share.  Teachers are well-trained in delivering curriculum and will get to letters and numbers after they enter Kindergarten.  If students can come to school feeling love and with an excitement for learning, the Kindergarten teacher’s job will be that much easier.

As much as I appreciate parents wanting to get their children ready for Kindergarten, and I also understand the pressures of standards and data for school districts, I feel we are in a very unique place as early childhood educators.  Our standards and data should be centered around the social-emotional skills that are later defined as soft skills by workforce development professionals.  This is what makes being an early childhood educator one of the greatest privileges around—our job is to love children.  The rest will fall in place if this is at the center of everything we do and every decision we make.

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