Kindergarten today is not like it used to be – a place characterized by engagement with social skills and exploring through play. Over the past twenty years Kindergarten has become much more concentrated on academics as a result of federal, state, and local policies as well as parental concerns that emphasize acquisition of basic skills and passing standardized tests. In fact, there’s research that supports the idea that Kindergarten is the new first grade. In response, preschools have become more academic, especially promoting early reading and math skills. Children now know more than they ever have at this age about these subjects.
However, this shift has also resulted in Kindergarten teachers facing more challenges in the classroom. Some children arrive with extensive preschool and enrichment experiences while others have very few. Likewise, children vary in how much they have developed the social-emotional skills to function well in the classroom. Some important social and emotional skills allow children to thrive by working well with others, solving problems, and soothing themselves emotionally.
APA’s Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education sought to find out what Kindergarten teachers in the US thought about children’s readiness to start Kindergarten. They surveyed Kindergarten teachers across the US and received over 500 responses. (1)
What they found out may surprise you.
Despite the academic emphasis in Kindergarten, teachers prioritized social and emotional skills over academic skills at the start of Kindergarten. In other words, teachers would rather that children know how to get along with others than count to 20.
Teachers thought that too many children who come through their doors aren’t ready for Kindergarten. Most teachers (56%) that 71-80% of the class was ready, but 44% of teachers stated that half or fewer of children were ready for Kindergarten. Over a quarter of teachers reported that half or more of the children had difficulty working independently, following directions, or working as part of a group.
Together, the results of the study underscore the notion that being a teacher is challenging work. According to Kindergarten teachers, preschools should provide children with ample opportunities to learn social and emotional skills – as well as academic skills. Let us know what you think the most important skill is for Kindergarteners to know in the comments below.
Curby, T. W., Berke, E., Alfonso, V. C., Blake, J., DeMarie, D., DuPaul, G. J., Flores, R., Hess, R. S., Howard., K., Lepore, J. C. C., & Subotnik, R. (in press). Kindergarten teacher perceptions of kindergarten readiness: The importance of social-emotional skills. Perspectives on Early Childhood Psychology and Education.