Will my child be ready for kindergarten?

SkiiingOnBlocksby Diana Stone
South Hill Cooperative Preschool’s Bates Advisor

I often hear parents are concerned that preschool might not have enough structure. They are concerned that their child won’t be ready for kindergarten unless there is more structure in the preschool classroom. This is actually opposite of what brain research is telling us.

Since research and our own experiences have shown that play is crucial to children’s development, it makes sense to be aware of anything that may affect play. Some of the obvious changes are busier schedules, electronic and media-based toys, less time outside, and less unstructured and unsupervised play. In particular, these changes greatly reduce the time and quality of make-believe play.

There was a piece called “Old–Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills” on National Public Radio. Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian, at Brown University talked about how the changes in play have resulted in changes in children’s cognitive and emotional development. What he said was, “It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function.” (For the full NPR story, please go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514)

Executive function is the ability to self-regulate. It helps children to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Wow, isn’t this what we would wish for our children?

Studies evaluating children’s capacity for self-regulation done years ago and repeated recently showed that today’s 5 year olds were at the level of 3 year olds of the past. Today’s 7 year olds were at the 5 year old level of the past.

Why is this information important? Because poor executive function is associated with school  drop-out rates, drug use and crime. In addition, good executive function is shown to be a better predictor of school success than IQ. As one researcher, Laura Berk, puts it, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”

This information tells us that we need to protect children’s play. We need to provide time, space, and more natural materials inside and outside. As adults we need to back off a little, quit hovering, and allow children to use their own imaginations at home and at preschool.

Rest assured that as your children play and participate in the preschool classroom they are building the critical executive function and self-regulation skills that will help prepare them for kindergarten.