What You'll Learn
- How Kindergarten Readiness Became a Buzzword
- Academic Expectations and Pressure On Parents and Children
- How to (Really) Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten
- The Relationship Between Kindergarten Readiness and Mom Guilt
Is my child ready for kindergarten? What should I do to prepare? What skills do they need? More than ever, parents are scrambling to make sure their children have “kindergarten readiness.”
But the skills our children really need for kindergarten are far different than we might think they are. Today, I’m joined by Susie Allison, founder of Busy Toddler, to break down how to really prepare your child for kindergarten.
(This is the first blog post of a 3-part back-to-school series. Catch our blog posts on managing anxiety about school with Dr. Becky Kennedy of Good Inside and supporting your child through transitions with Jess VanderWier of Our Mama Village.)
Kindergarten in Canada vs The United States
When I speak to moms of little ones in the United States, I am sometimes surprised by how different our school systems are.
Here in Canada, our littles start school with Junior Kindergarten, then Senior Kindergarten—both of which are play-based, with academics taking a backseat. But from what I hear from moms in the States, that is very different. The focus on academics makes “kindergarten readiness” an even higher-stakes conversation.
The focus on academics makes “kindergarten readiness” an even higher-stakes conversation.
And while we don’t have the same (likely unrealistic) academic expectations for our children entering kindergarten, we also worry about whether they’re prepared to be away from us.
I was excited to speak with Susie about these concepts—I started following her activities for toddlers back when I was on my consecutive maternity leaves.
As a former kindergarten teacher with a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, she brings an insider’s voice to the conversation of kindergarten readiness—and what she has to say seems very different from the pressures being put on moms of little ones.
How Kindergarten Readiness Became a Buzzword
Susie pointed out that in recent years, “kindergarten readiness” has become a big buzzword in early childhood. There is an idea that we need to start preparing our children for kindergarten from a very early age, and that if we don’t have them perfectly ready, they’ll fail.
But Susie believes this is flawed logic. Kindergarten readiness has been adopted by marketers and toy companies, telling moms to believe that they need to buy programs and devices to prepare their children for school.
But the buzzword has created enormous pressure on parents to push their children into early academics. Parents often feel like failures if they haven’t prepped their kids enough.
Parents often feel like failures if they haven’t prepped their kids enough.
Susie also shared that these pressures are based on unrealistic expectations. Kindergarteners in the United States are asked to sit still for long periods of time and learn high-level skills that require years of brain development.
As academic standards in school have risen, there has been a shift to start kids reading and doing math earlier and earlier.
Susie likened the concept to baby milestones. We wouldn’t suddenly decide that 12 months was too late to walk, and that babies should now need to walk between 6-9 months. Their bodies and brains simply aren’t ready for it. But she said that is essentially what these kindergarten expectations are doing—asking little ones to perform cognitive skills they may not be ready for.
Academic Expectations and Pressure On Parents and Children
Under the standards most commonly used in United States schools, kids are expected to count to 100 (which Susie pointed out has more than tripled since she started teaching 15 years ago). They are also expected to read fluently by the end of kindergarten. (Many other countries wait to teach formal literacy until age 6-8.)
This is drastically different from how kindergarten looked when we were little. We haven’t changed cognitively, but the academic bar has been raised. If they don’t meet these raised expectations, children are labeled as “below grade level,” which creates pressure for parents and children.
Studies show that children don't benefit from doing more at a young age.
The research doesn’t support this downward shift of academic standards. Studies show that earlier doesn’t mean better—children don’t benefit from doing more at a young age. In fact, she said that sometimes it makes it harder for kids in the long run because they have to create workarounds to figure out what they’re being asked to do (before they’re ready to do it).
Susie says that true “kindergarten readiness” is not about academics, ABCs, and 123s—it’s about fostering independence.
How to (Really) Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten
Susie believes that we don’t need to teach children academic skills to get them ready for kindergarten. Instead, we need to help make sure they are ready to stand on their own two feet. It’s less about what they have learned, and more about getting them ready to learn.
That foundation for learning comes from life skills and social and emotional learning.
Susie said that the following skills will help children be successful in kindergarten:
Following two-step directions
Work with your child on following multi-step directions. For example, say, “go to the door and get your coat” or “wash your hands and sit down at the table for lunch.” This will help them be able to follow directions and complete assignments in kindergarten.
Asking for help from other adults
Many kids struggle to ask for help from adults who aren’t parents. But asking for help is empowering and important. Find opportunities when out at restaurants or stores for your child to ask for help. If they are resistant, support them with encouragement. You can say, “I’ll stand behind you while you ask for help.”
It’s also important to foster an ability to ask questions. Susie tells her children that smart people ask questions. Questions are a big part of learning. Model asking for help, asking for clarity, and asking for more information.
How to lose (and win) graciously
Competition can be hard for little children. But making sure they can win and lose gracefully helps. Playing board games regularly (and not always letting your kids win) shows them that it’s okay to lose. This also helps them understand that failure happens sometimes.
It's about helping your children develop skills that will help them throughout school (and life in general).
Ultimately, it all comes back to helping your children develop some independence and ability to self-regulate, make decisions, and listen—little skills that will help them throughout school (and life in general).
When I heard Susie’s list, I thought about my own neurodivergent son, who is in Senior Kindergarten. He loves school, and enjoys learning. But some of the feedback we hear is about these life skills. Sometimes he struggles to navigate multi-step directions—for example, he might be one of the last to get his coat on and make it to the playground. These are the skills we want to work on at home to support him—not necessarily academics.
Susie is a fan of working on “unsung regulatory skills,” like opening lunch boxes, putting away bags, using scissors, and washing hands. Sometimes we take these skills for granted, but unless we explicitly teach them, we can’t expect kids to know how to do them, whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical.
When we lay the foundation for learning by fostering these skills, it gives our kids confidence and sense of familiarity when they experience change, so they can stand taller, able to succeed without us beside them.
The Relationship Between Kindergarten Readiness and Mom Guilt
When I think about the struggles moms face with navigating kindergarten readiness, I wonder if some of the worry is about our own anxiety.
For many of us, our children might be fully ready and capable of learning. The question becomes, are we ready to let go?
Of course, it doesn’t help that marketers and toy companies try to sell us on the idea that our children aren’t ready—or rather, that we need to buy something in order to get them there.
Susie mentioned that moms often question themselves during early childhood, wondering if they are doing enough, and feeling guilty if they aren’t working on academics at home.
But she said that everything we do everyday is laying the foundation and setting our children up for success. It isn’t about watching educational TV or learning letters or counting. It’s about noticing the social and emotional areas where our children need support and helping them develop those skills in a safe environment.
As Susie said, “The best foundation you can give your kids is to love them. You are the kindergarten readiness they need.”
For more about supporting your child and providing a foundation through change, catch the rest of our upcoming blog posts in the 3-part back-to-school series: part two on managing school anxiety with Dr. Becky Kennedy of Good Inside and part three on transitions with Jess VanderWier of Our Mama Village.
If you struggle with mom guilt, pressures of motherhood, or feeling like a failure, working with a mom therapist can help. Book your free 15-minute consult at our Wellness Center today!