Preparing for Kindergarten: The Importance of Non-Academic Readiness Skills

by Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD, SSP

Smiling teacher at the school class.

Academic standards for today’s kindergarteners are much more rigorous than they were for today’s parents. Nevertheless, research indicates that kindergarten teachers feel that “executive functioning” skills, or skills that allow a child to control his or her behavior and emotions in a variety of settings, are better indicators of school readiness in today’s five-year-olds than academic readiness skills such as knowing the alphabet or being able to hold a pencil (Dockett & Perry, 2003). In fact, 75 percent of kindergarten teachers polled by Heaviside and Farris (1993) felt that children who are in good physical health, who have the ability to verbally communicate wants and needs, and who are curious and enthusiastic about participating in new activities are likely to successfully transition to a formal school environment and be  successful during their kindergarten year. Fifty percent of the same group of teachers felt that behavioral control, empathy, and socialization skills were also important skills for students to possess prior to entering kindergarten. Teachers of preschool-aged children can directly influence and enhance the development of these skills that will help ensure school success.

The following are key social/emotional skills that children need as they begin school:

  • Self-confidence
  • Ability to develop positive relationships with adults and other children
  • Ability to communicate emotions and feelings
  • Ability to listen to and follow directions
  • Ability to solve social problems

Children who have not learned these skills often develop behavior problems that then need to be managed, so it is important to expose them to activities and experiences that will enhance the development of these skills prior to their first day of formal schooling.

Self-Confidence

In order to foster self-confidence in young children, it is essential to use positive language as much as possible. When giving praise, it is important to be specific and praise actions and behaviors. For example, “You are doing a great job sharing your toy with Bobby,” is a much more informative statement than, “You are being good right now.” Telling a child specifically what he is doing right informs him of how to behave again in the future. These verbal reinforcements of positive behaviors will naturally decrease negative behaviors, because children want to behave in ways that please their caregivers and provide themselves with positive attention. It is this positive attention that also increases their sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Social Interaction

Prior to entering school, children should be exposed to a variety of social situations. Whether through team sports, group activities, lessons, preschool experiences, or extended family interactions, children learn how to get along with other children by being around other children. In order to successfully interact with others in these situations, preschool teachers should teach children how to initiate and maintain interactions with others, to solve problems, to communicate their emotions in appropriate ways, and to control their anger (Fox, et al., 2003).Take advantage of children’s personalities and activity preferences when engaging them in activities with other children. If a child is a very active child, engaging in physical activities with other children might be more beneficial for that particular child than, for example, taking a trip to the local library for story time. They are likely to find “kindred spirits” with whom to interact, and to experience these interactions as enjoyable.

Communicating Feelings

It is important that young children learn to communicate their feelings and emotions as specifically and correctly as they can, as well as to recognize the emotions of others. Children need a range of “emotional vocabulary words” in order to do this, and preschool teachers are in a great position to teach a variety of these words to children. It is important, for example, that children understand the meanings and implications of words such as frustrated, proud, afraid, excited, worried, and confused. Teachers can model the appropriate use of these feeling words by expressing their own feelings as specifically as possible, as well as by pointing out specific feelings that they observe in the children. When reading out loud to children, teachers can frequently stop to discuss the feelings of the characters involved, and also ask the children how they might feel if they were in similar situations as described in the stories. It can also be helpful to have children practice labeling the emotions and feelings of other children either during role-playing activities or by looking at photographs of other children.

Listening and following directions

The ability to listen to and follow directions is probably the most challenging behavioral skill that a five-year-old can accomplish. Children must direct and sustain their attention on someone else, understand what is being said, remember what to do, and then successfully execute the directive. To teach these skills, start slow and simple with easy, one-step directions. It can be helpful to cue children with an auditory signal, such as a clapping pattern, that alerts them it is time to stop talking and listen to the teacher. The children can repeat the clapping pattern back as an indication that they are ready to listen. Pairing auditory directions with visual cues, such as photographs or simple lists, can help children to remember the direction and stay focused while carrying out the specified behavior. Once single-step directions are effectively followed, two-step directions can be given. Again, visual cues such as photos in sequential order or a written list (for older children) can be very effective.

Problem-solving

In the school environment, children will be faced with a variety of social problems that they will need to be able to solve on their own or with minimal help from their teachers. Arguments on the playground, hurt feelings, frustration over what is packed for lunch, etc., are all potential minefields where a child can either learn to cope effectively or break down. Prepare children for these potential pitfalls by presenting hypothetical (or real) stories and scenarios to the children and then guiding them through the analysis and solution to each problem. Teaching a specific problem-solving strategy can be helpful: identify the problem, think of some solutions, discuss the pros and cons of each solution, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome. The use of role-playing activities can serve as a great way for children to practice their problem-solving skills.

In sum, research has indicated that skills related to children’s successful behavioral and emotional control are considered more crucial to their successful transition to kindergarten than their mastery of pre-academic reading and math skills. Teachers of daycare centers and preschools are in an excellent position to help foster the development of these skills for children, ensuring that they will be emotionally and behaviorally ready for the challenges of the formal school environment.

© 2013 lilSprout Press. For permission to reprint, please write to: Permissions@lilsproutpress.com

References
Dockett, S., & Perry, B.(2003). The transition to school: What’s important? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 30-33.
Fox, L., Dunlap, G., Hemmeter, M. L., Joseph, G., & Strain, P. (2003). The teaching pyramid: A model for supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children. Young Children, 58(4), 48-53.
Heaviside, S., & Farris, S.(1993). Public school kindergarten teachers’ views on children’s readiness for school. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
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New Release: A Children’s Book About Feelings

HappySad&EverythingIt’s finally here!  A book about emotional literacy for kids!!

Emotional literacy is one of the key ingredients to success in school and life. In her new book Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist, shows kids how to identify and manage their feelings—and have lots of fun while becoming emotion savvy 

With all the emphasis on preparing our kids to succeed in a high tech, competitive world it’s easy to forget one of the most essential life skills—emotional literacy. HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN: ALL ABOUT MY FEELINGS (lilSprout Press, April 2013, Hardcover) by Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., offers kids (ages 4-8) a fun and easy program to learn how to identify and manage their feelings.

THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION

“Did you know that your feelings and your body are connected,” asks Kai, the narrator of HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. She goes on to explain how various emotions feel in the body and how we can change our emotions by addressing our physical sensations. This not only provides kids with critical emotional literacy tools, but it also helps them identify feelings that they may not be able to articulate in words. This is an example of mindfulness in action.

Each page of the book addresses a different emotion, including silly, jealous, shy, excited, loving, and lonely, and offers age-appropriate guidance for understanding and appropriately expressing all the feelings on the emotional spectrum. This book also includes kid-friendly, research-supported skills for relieving and managing difficult emotions, such as anger and frustration. These skills include mindfulness, which is the practice of being in the moment and recognizing physical and emotional sensations in a nonjudgmental way. This includes recognizing how emotions feel throughout the body—not just how they register on our faces.

HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN helps kids understand the complex concept of emotions and gives them age-appropriate tools for managing them.

Why Emotional Literacy?

HappyFACE

Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in appropriate and healthy way. It is easy to label emotions as good or bad, but it is important to help children understand that all emotions are valuable in that they can inform us of situations that we might want to change or avoid.

Emotional literacy is essential to long-term success at home, in school, and throughout life.  It can improve quality of life for children as they will feel more empowered by understanding emotions, which can sometimes be confusing, even for adults.

Emotional literacy is not just about knowing the definition of each emotion.

It involves:

  • Identifying the emotion
  • Recognizing emotions in oneself
  • Knowing ways to manage and regulate emotions, and
  • Empathizing with others

See how Happy, Sad, & Everything In Between: All About My Feelings can help you introduce emotional literacy to your child!