The Almaden Country School Philosophy
Kindergarten is an important milestone in a child’s life, and it is common for parents to wonder how they will know if their children are ready for this milestone (and in turn, which kindergarten program is the “right” one). Parents who live in Silicon Valley tend to be highly educated, motivated and engaged; we value the role of education in our children’s lives, which can compound the magnitude of the kindergarten decision.
So, if you feel anxious or uncertain about what’s best for your daughter or son, take heart in knowing that you’re not alone!
Age: The Traditional Yardstick
Traditionally parents and educators have used chronological age as the primary yardstick for placement in kindergarten, although a growing body of research highlights the profound span of developmental readiness among kindergarten-aged children within the same chronological year. Besides age, then, what are the variables to consider in determining kindergarten readiness?
At Almaden Country School, we view kindergarten in the context of a developmental continuum. The skills and expectations present in the modern kindergarten curriculum have advanced considerably compared to the kindergarten experiences today’s parents had years ago. In fact, many of the academic goals traditionally held for first graders now appear in the kindergarten classroom.
The Gift of Time
Consequently, some children who turn five years old after September 1st (and others who just need time to blossom) benefit from an additional year to prepare for kindergarten; this explains the increasing prevalence of Junior Kindergarten as an option for parents (as has been the case at ACS since our founding in 1982).
At ACS we believe that when a child’s developmental needs place him or her in “JK,” it is not a matter of being “held back” — to the contrary, we see it as a gift of time. It’s noteworthy to point out that although JK students make up a small percentage of our graduating class each year, approximately half of our valedictorians attended our school’s Junior Kindergarten program. For them, Junior Kindergarten was clearly a gift of time.
Often when approaching our Admissions Office to assess our kindergarten program, parents focus on the academic traits their children exhibit -- such as familiarity with the alphabet, counting skills, or early reading aptitude -- as the primary measure of their kindergarten readiness (or even “giftedness”). They see early academic prowess as evidence that their child is advanced and in need of intellectual challenge and enrichments they assume to be beyond the scope of the usual Junior Kindergarten or Kindergarten curriculum.
However, an early command of number facts or advanced reading ability are not exclusive indicators of whole-child kindergarten readiness — which is our focus at ACS. Indeed, academic precocity is among the least important indicators of kindergarten readiness from the perspective of veteran early childhood educators and child development experts. The major factors in a child's success in kindergarten (and in setting the foundation for continuing success in school) include traits such as:
- self-control over behavior and emotions
- the ability to keep attention focused
- verbal communication skills
- overall physical health
Just as we would not advance a child to an older grade because he is physically large, advanced placement based on one developmental trait (including academic ability) is inappropriate and unwise. It is absolutely possible to teach three-year-old children to read; but doing so shortcuts important steps in the learning process and, research indicates, may impair other cognitive processes in ways that don’t manifest until later in that child’s life. For these reasons, we caution parents eager to accelerate a child’s academic threshold in the early years to consider all the attributes that constitute overall readiness to learn.
Through the ACS Lens
At ACS when we assess children for kindergarten placement, our trained early childhood education specialists take into account whole-child readiness — social maturity, sensory-motor skills, behavioral aptitude, overall physical health, and academic ability — with the recognition that children at this age undergo huge developmental swings in just a matter of months, even weeks. It is our position that there is very rarely justification for accelerating children into kindergarten beyond their developmental readiness, taken as a measure of the whole child. Integral to our educational philosophy is a commitment to celebrate childhood, to let children be children and grow to associate learning with joy.
This is implicit in our approach to kindergarten readiness, and is supported by studies establishing the many advantages of a developmental approach to learning and teaching. At ACS we are partners with parents in looking at a comprehensive evaluation of a child’s kindergarten readiness, using a developmental model that has helped us shape three decades of confident, competent, fulfilled, and academically accomplished graduates.
For questions about kindergarten readiness, contact Assistant Head Cecilia Robb.