Preschool and Kindergarten Readiness

Cross-posted on Fussbucket

A new study in the November/December issue of the journal Child Development, shows that preschool programs emphasizing social and academic skills do better at preparing young children for kindergarten when compared with programs that emphasize one or the other. According this article on Science Daily, researchers from Penn State University studied children in the federally-funded Head Start program.

In the study, the researchers compared the progress of students who received a traditional Head Start curriculum to those who received a curriculum with enhancements in the areas of social and emotional learning and pre-reading skills. The new program is known as the REDI (Research-Based, Developmentally Informed) Head Start program.

In recent years, education officials and researchers who study early childhood education have struggled with whether to emphasize academics in preschool programs or to instead try to advance preschoolers’ social skills, the article says. The current study marks the first attempt to develop a curriculum that addresses both concerns equally.

The REDI program emphasizes such pre-reading skills as learning the alphabet, and learning to manipulate the sounds that letters represent, the article says. Earlier research has shown that children with such skills are more successful at learning to read than are children who lack them.
The social lessons involve fictional characters, including puppet animals that are used to instruct the children in positive problem-solving behavior. The study took place at 44 Head Start centers in Central Pennsylvania. Half the centers used the REDI program enhancements, half used the traditional Head Start program without the enhancements.

When compared to children in the traditional Head Start program, children in the REDI program scored higher on several tests of emotional and social development than did children in the traditional program. This included skills in recognizing emotions in others, and responding appropriately to situations involving a conflict. Moreover, parents of children in the REDI group reported fewer instances of impulsivity, aggression and attention problems than did parents of children in the traditional program.

Children in the REDI program also scored higher than children in the traditional program on several tests of pre-reading skills: vocabulary, blending letter sounds together to form words, separating words into their component letter sounds, and in naming the letters of the alphabet.

Kindergarten readiness is actually a big deal. Studies show that kids who are not prepared for kindergarten tend to fall behind their peers in school and have a difficult time catching up.

My son attends a Montessori preschool where he is learning letters and numbers, but also a lot about how to get along with others. He will spend his kindergarten year in the same classroom, so I guess I won’t ever know if he was well-prepared for the traditional K curriculum. How have your kids done with the transition from preschool to kindergarten? Did you feel like there was a big jump in expectations on your child or was it more of a seamless transition?

24 thoughts on “Preschool and Kindergarten Readiness

  1. Thanks for the links

    I sent a copy of the Child Development article to my kids’ daycare/pre-school.  It’s been interesting listening to other parents debate different curriculum – some feel there should be more “academics,” others feel there should be more “social” and I will use this as a discussion piece in future conversations.  I do think our daycare seems to be trying to address both, but I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know exactly what the balance is.  

    Right now Mira is terrified of Kindergarten (next year or the following depending on red-shirt decisions).  Somehow she got the idea that you aren’t with your Mommy anymore when you go to kindergarten and has decided that’s just not for her.  We’ve all been working to explain that Mommy (and Daddy!) will still be there even in a new school.  Then she told us the other day she was going to skip Kindergarten and go right to High School Musical as her new school…  There are expectations!

    • hee hee

      Then she told us the other day she was going to skip Kindergarten and go right to High School Musical as her new school…  

      that’s hilarious

  2. Wondering about this myself

    I think my daughter’s Montessori school has just the right balance of social and academic life. So, that isn’t an issue for me, but I do wonder about what to do next year — her kindergarten year. Like most Montessori schools, her class goes up to kindergarten, and I’ve always thought we’d keep her there to finish the program.

    But, our son will be old enough to start the toddler program at this school next year, at age 2 (just a 2 day, 2 hours program). Because we were hit with a 50% increase in property taxes, and I don’t know if my business will take a hit next year with the economy, I don’t know if we can afford for them both to attend at the same time. Our public schools are great, and Avery will be going there for 1st grade anyway, so I have to decide — who will benefit more from being at the Montessori next year? Toby is an August baby, so I think having this extra time at their program will be good for him, rather than just starting him at 3 in the preschool program. But is it better for Avery to have the final year in this great school? She’s done so well, and loves it. My only concern is that the transition from Montessori Kindy to Public 1st grade will be HARD. Maybe she’d be better with the Public Kindy as a transition year?

    I don’t know — I went from Montessori to Public in the MIDDLE of the fourth grade year. Not fun.

    • it’s a tough decision

      One of the reasons I’m leaving my son in his Montessori school for his kindergarten year is because I think there are a lot of benefits from finishing the curriculum. In addition to finally getting their hands on all that “big-kid” work they haven’t done yet, there is also the pride and sense of accomplishment they get from going from being the youngest and smallest in the classroom to one of the biggest and oldest. The teacher in a Montessori classroom relies on the oldest kids to help the younger ones learn how to manage and become proficient at being in the environment. I think the older ones gain self-esteem and confidence from this.

      As for your little one (I have one that age too), if he starts at three years old, he’ll still have three years to go through the program, right? I’m going to find a small preschool for my little guy for next school year where he can go a couple of mornings a week. Then I’ll move him over to the Montessori school the year after, when my older one is in first grade.

      • That’s a good option

        I was thinking that might work, too, sending the younger to a different (read: cheaper) toddler program. One of the reasons I want him to do SOMETHING next year is that I need to start getting more time to work from home during the day. If I can’t get childcare of some sort then I can’t grown the biz. Of course, if business drops off significantly due to the economy, there’s no money for the kids to do anything.

    • good preparation

      I would love to have given my son the advantage of the Montessori third year – I was so impressed by the older kids in his class.  There’s no question in my mind that (done right) it’s superior to traditional kindy.

      But it was not an option for us.  In our public school’s full immersion program, kindy is the year that English-only kids learn to function in Spanish.  He could not have started in first grade and would not have been accepted.  

      My boys were very well prepared for kindy.  Except for Spanish I’m not sure either of my kids learned anything at all there – they finished preschool way ahead of the kindy curriculum.  But that’s OK – I’m in no rush.  

      I don’t know that pre-Montessori toddler programs do all that much to prepare a kid for actual Montessori.  Also I read that kids are not considered developmentally ready for Montessori learning before age 2.75 (a number that seemed odd to me).  So I might wait on the little guy.  On the other hand, kindergarten is where kids form friendships with the kids they’ll be with for many years, and this is facilitated by the teachers.  It might be a little harder to break into cliques in first grade, especially for a girl.  Tough choice.

      • Actually, that helped a lot!

        You pointed out a lot of the things that I was weighing — if Avery will benefit more from Montessori Kindy than Toby will in the 2-year-old program, then I’d rather let her finish.

        The clique thing is a (small) concern, since she faced that last year — at 3! There was a small number of 3 year olds last year, while most of the kids were in their 2nd or 3rd year. So it took a long time for her to find that right set of kids. But, a lot of the kids in her school will go to the same public school, especially her closest buddies. So, they’ll be going in together in 1st grade.

    • We had to make that choice

      After three wonderful years at his Montessori preschool, Tommy was accepted into the new charter school for kindergarten. We had been planning to keep him at the Montessori school for kindergarten (and like you would have been paying double tuition that year). But since the public schools here aren’t great, we didn’t want him to lose his spot, so we enrolled him at the charter school.

      At first I was convinced it was a terrible mistake, but it actually turned out to be absolutely the right thing to do and seeing how easily he made the transition into first grade (with a bunch of his friends from last year) I’m so glad that we chose to move him into the bigger, more academic school since that was where he was headed anyway.

      If we had an affordable, local (in our town) Montessori elementary school I would definitely send both my kids there until middle school. But it’s not an option.

  3. transition

    We only did one year of preschool. I say only because that is not the norm around here. It’s two or three years.

    It was a five day a week program for 4 hours a day, more than our Kindergarten(2.5 hours). It was excellent for teaching the social aspects of being in a classroom, so I am SO glad we did it for that reason.

    Academically, it didn’t teach a thing. They did some Letter of the Week curriculum.

    I caught up pretty quickly to that and ended up homeschooling the academic part at home using a Kindergarten curriculum package that I bought. That worked really well and now I am using it as a supplement to what they are learning in school.

  4. minor correction

    preschool programs emphasizing social and academic skills do better at preparing young children for kindergarten when compared with programs that emphasize one or the other.

    It does not say the dual emphasis is superior to social skills emphasis, it just beat academic emphasis.  For that matter, it’s not really legitimate to extrapolate further – this is a comparison between two programs.  For a simple pairwise comparison you’d need to have multiple studies of different programs to conclude that dual emphasis was superior.

    But really, is anyone surprised by this result?  I mean, come on – we know kids this age learn via social interaction, and that’s the main focus of their age-appropriate development.    

    • I think it just cements it

      Sure most can agree this is the best mix for this age — but there are still plenty of people who see preschool as being an expensive play date.

      • actually

        I’m not sure I do agree that a mix is best, my bias is only that “academic” is misguided.  I really have no idea whether a mix of social plus academic emphasis is better than purely social, and I suspect it really depends on the individual program.  

        Of course I have no objection to kids learning letters and numbers as long as it’s fun – they love to learn at this age.  But the only part I really care about is the social/emotional – and by this I mean a curriculum, not a playdate.  In addition to the interpersonal and classroom skills, Montessori teaches children how to settle themselves, organize themselves, and focus.  It teaches them how to work and to find satisfaction in doing it.  Academics follows from that, but is not in and of itself a priority.

  5. I’m a big believer in Montessori preschools

    I think that good ones do a great job of teaching social skills (peace, community, sharing, controlling one’s body) and whatever academics a child is ready for in ways that are appealing to that individual child. We never drilled our children on letters, numbers, etc., but Tommy entered kindergarten reading books and adding and subtracting numbers without any awareness that he had been “taught” to do so.

    In fact, I have a hard time imagining what kindergarten would have been like for Tommy without three years of preschool. For one thing, it was full day, and just being there all day would have been a huge adjustment. And it was very academic. In our experience at least, kindergarten is like the new first grade.

    This is a great post Stacey – you’ve invited some interesting and sensible discussion about an area that can be a bit fraught.

    • This has been my experience, too

      As I’ve mentioned many a time a). not all Montessori schools are created equal, and b). I am biased because I went until age 9.

      Avery has had a lot of great fun AND has learned so much. Last December, two months before her 4th birthday, she came home with her first reading books. I had no idea she was even trying to read at school! Boom, there she was, reading away. I underestimated her abilities, but because there is so much material at her disposal in the classroom, she can move into areas that I might not have known she was ready for.

      Can I also just mention how glad I was that it was a school day! Avery starts to go bananas after too many days off.

    • I loved the Montessori school

      where Jess was going for her playgroup. Was feeling seriously torn about putting her in the programme. Then the school got sold to a new management team, who promptly began using the school as a cash cow – upping fees, driving down service by increasing class sizes, and then trying to strong-arm all of us into committing to the kindergarten program. That kind of made the choice easy for us … and then we got kicked out anyway for not committing.

      So, yes, the Montessori ideals are beautiful, and I loved the way the teacher was implementing those ideals in the playgroup. But not all Montessori schools are created equal, sadly.

    • Thanks!

      I dropped off the planet here yesterday so I’m catching up now on the comments. It’s so interesting to read people’s thoughts on this.

  6. My daughter did not attend preschool!

    She did absolutely fine and, in fact, in many ways she did much better than her classmates who attended preschool.

    Her brother, 3 years older, took her under his wing and they had “pretend school” when he was in 2nd grade and she was only 4.  That’s all she needed!

    • That’s great!

      I don’t think preschool is a necessity at all, as long as the home life has plenty of reading and other enriching activities going on..

      People keep asking me when I am going to start my daughter…she’s only 2.5! Gah!!!

      • Preschool benefited me & my children

        I could not have been a SAH parent without sending my children to playbased morning preschool a few days a week. Starting at age 2, a 2/week morning program allowed me time for errands, exercise, chores, etc. My husband travels M-F so I’m on my own.  I am much more patient & enjoyed my children even more after a short break.    Our home life has plenty of enriching activities but I also like the fact that my children could learn from peers and other caring adults.   DS started public kindergarten this year and his veteran teacher says this year is a big adjustment for children who haven’t attended preK while the rest typically take it in stride.

        Our public district in Texas has fullday Kinder 7:45-2:45. I think you said NJ is 2 1/2 hours — that doesn’t seem worth the effort of getting to/from school.   PreK may not be necessary to prepare for that but it is very helpful in our situation.  I am amazed how much DS1&2 learn in a few hours of preschool – academic & social.

        • full day

          Full day Kindergarten is a long day. Even I would be hesitant to send a kid into a full day K program without preschool. I just think our obsession with preschool has gone a little overboard, but it depends on the situation the child is coming from.

          We only go for 2.5 hours for Kindergarten, so I really think almost any kid, even without preschool, could go and be fine, as long as they had the basic academic stuff down (letters, etc). We happened to do one year of preschool, five days a week for 4 hours a day. I think it was good for just learning how to be in a classroom, but I also think we would have been just fine without it. I only did it for myself really and so I didn’t have to run around finding activities every day.

          2.5 hours is SO short for Kindergarten, but I love it. I think it’s a great way to get them adjusted to being in real school. A lot of working parents don’t use the public K because of it though, and do K at a private daycare/school.

          A lot of people end up doing private programs a couple of afternoons or mornings a week to supplement it. I do my own supplemental stuff at home.

          • I wonder

            Our public kindergarten is also 2.5 hours, and I echo the statement above that it seems too short — but mostly because then in 1st grade, the kids are suddenly going until 2:45. I’ve heard from several people that the transition to this schedule was hard for their kids. It seems like there could be a middle ground, and kindergarten could be 4 hours. Or they could build up to it — the 2nd half of the year could have a little longer day.

            It sounds like you are very good at providing a lot of interesting, educating time for your kids — maybe you should open a preschool! : ) My aunt did that when her kids were little, and 21 years later it’s just now winding down.

            • 4 hrs

              Our public K is 4 hrs, and that still seems short to me.  I can’t imagine a 2.5 hr kindy – what a PITA that must be for the parents who have to drive them!

              One of the tenets of Montessori is that kids in the 3-6 age range require a calm, uninterrupted 3 hr block of time for their “work” time.  (I think AMI schools take this seriously, though our less orthodox AMS school often only managed it’s minimum 2.5 hrs.)  I think it’s hard for Montessori preschoolers to adjust to the short attention span style of a public K, with the time carved up into short blocks of activities.  

              I have noticed that my son and a couple of his friends get very absorbed in “projects” and want to keep working when everyone is being shooed out the door for recess. This is to me the most disappointing aspect of public school.  Montessori encourages kids to take their work seriously, and I don’t like the fact that the public schools do not.  It’s more like, put a checkmark in the box and move on.

            • true

              A middle ground would be good. It is a big jump. I think the only reason we have half day K is because we are short on classroom space and would have to build a new school or something.

              I could never run a preschool! I like working one-on-one with kids, but I don’t enjoy whole classrooms. Pass the headache meds! Anyone who can work with a whole room of little kids all day is a hero.

  7. it depends on what is going on at home..

    this is an individual decision and imo highly dependent on what is going on at home.  for those kids who have parents who don’t read to them or there isn’t much “conversations” i suspect a mixed program would be very beneficial.  these kids get the best of both …some pre K help both in socialization and basic learning skills.

    i chose a nursery and preschool that was very developmentally age appropriate oriented.  although in Pre K my dd certainly was exposed to alphabet and numbers. but this was stuff we did for fun earlier.  the kind of program described in the enhanced head start program sounds very good to me and well balanced.

    isn’t the academic debate in Pre K a bit more based on a more academic leaning than described in the enhanced head start program?  my objection to Pre K with heavy emphasis on academics was having kids sit at tables/desks and learn to read and to engage in more formal math education.

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