One of the real issues facing schools today is the readiness of kids to begin. Are little ones ready for Kindergarten? If not, is Pre-K the answer? What should the focus of Pre-K be? Is it academic readiness or is it social preparation? Can you mix the two? How do you know which is the more pressing need?

There are lots of questions about readiness and not a lot of canned, ready to implement answers. In February of this year, Mark Howard published a very interesting article titled, “Kids and Catch-Up”. In this article he gives the statistics in Florida involving the impact of poor reading in the 1st grade and how 88% of these kids are still poor readers in the 5th grade. He then follows the trend lines of kids who entered school unprepared to learn and continued learning behind the curve and many who ended up dropping out and an alarming number that ended up incarcerated.

pre-k social capacityWhat makes all of this so difficult is that it isn’t as simple as dropping in good reading program and everything will be fine. These are little kids. Even if you have the best reading program in the world, how are you going to teach it to them when you can’t get them to sit down and pay attention. Again, the question is about preparedness.

Many schools are wrestling with testing and assessments for Pre-K-aged kids to determine their learning readiness.

Some are even going so far as to try and put together behavior scales and assessments to determine social and emotional preparedness. This is a very difficult task, because little ones can assimilate knowledge very quickly and can learn at an accelerated level well beyond an adult-- but they do often do not possess the ability of discernment, decision making, and social and emotional maturity for educational and social integration.

Jean Piaget’s cognitive stages of development posit that kids in the age range of 4-7 typically have a similar cognitive functionality. This stage of development is known as the “Intuitive Phase” and during this phase, kids tend to be myopic in both learning and problem solving. Everything is seen and experienced and therefore dealt with through the prism of “Me”. This makes the integration into a structured social platform, ie classroom, a very difficult transition for many kids. It also means that we have Pre-K, Kindergarten, and 1st graders who will struggle with this, and that is actually normal. It is not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a Pre-K student to fit right in and and grasp the structure of a school day with no problem. It is also not abnormal, aberrant, nor unusual for a 1st grader to struggle with the structure of a school day and the social and emotional expectations and demands.

So what do you do?

To answer these questions you have to look at the platform itself. Even though kids develop in phases, they are placed academically on age. There is not an acceleration or deceleration platform for kids based on maturity. I wish we could keep kids at their maturity level until they are socially and emotionally ready to progress, but we don’t. The main reason we don’t is because that process is expensive and it is counter to our linear educational systems that moves kids to higher level of accountability based upon their age, not their maturity.

This means we have to work within the platform. How do you do this? You define the expectations of the platformed ages and then you teach to those social and emotional expectations just like you would to the reading and writing level. We expect our kids to be able to read and write and add and subtract at advancing levels for each year of school.

What are your social and emotional expectations for Kindergarteners vs 3rd graders vs their Freshman year?

These aren’t usually defined. And the problem with little ones, those in that intuitive phase, is that it isn’t something you can simply assess and address. Instead, you have to make the maturing of your students’ social and emotional aptitude part of your instructional and teaching day. You have to teach them how to sit down and pay attention. You have to teach them how to stand in a line. You have to teach them how to get along with the kid sitting next to them. You have to teach them how to talk appropriately. You have to teach them how to be a member of the class, and then you must have a strategy that both reinforces and provides consequences based upon this teaching.

In other words, if you want kids that are mature enough to read and write and add and subtract, you have to teach them how to be a student. You have to teach them how to work and think and develop within the structured day of a classroom. You can’t simply assess and address. You have to make the development of your students’ social capacity an equal to their ability to read and write. If you don’t, a lot of our kids will continue to be poor readers and writers and learners. They can’t afford that, and neither can we as a society.