What Makes a “Ready” Kindergartener?

August 29th, 2017

Category: Early Childhood Education, Student-Centered Learning

In Delaware all kindergarten teachers—including ourselves—will complete an observational assessment called the Delaware Early Learning Survey (DE-ELS) during the first 30 days of school.


We are observing various objectives under six domains of developmental growth: physical, social-emotional, language, cognitive, literacy, and mathematics. You can read more about these domains here.


This tool gives us an understanding of how “ready” a child was for kindergarten—we know this is not a precise definition for a couple of reasons: (1) Delaware code states that children are ready for kindergarten if they turn five before August 31 and (2) children develop at their own pace and through a range of developmentally acceptable benchmarks that five-year-olds should be able to reach. In other words, this is not a multiple choice test. Nevertheless, the data gathered from the DE-ELS helps to plan grouping and instructional needs for students.


So what exactly are we observing? Let’s break down the six domains:


Social-emotional wellbeing. Here we look at how well a child can take care of his or her own needs, and regulate emotions. We also look at whether he or she plays and talks with other children appropriately.


Physical development. To check on motor skills development, we look for whether a child can use crayons, pencils, and scissors with control, can button or zip clothing, and how he or she runs and climbs around on the playground.


Language skills. We listen closely to how a child talks to his or her peers and responds to questions, and whether they can follow multi-step directions, and whether they can speak a second language.


Cognitive skills. Can a child try to put a puzzle together or use their imagination to pretend play? Can they sort and describe the use of various objects?


Literacy and mathematics. Here we check to see if a child can identify letters and sounds, and whether they display basic literacy skills in reading and writing. Likewise, we look at whether a child can count, identify shapes, and match quantities.


While all six domains are critical, we might give greater weight to the first four, since they are truly the most important indicators of a child’s readiness for kindergarten. As most teachers know, we spend a good portion of the kindergarten year focusing on literacy and mathematics. But in reality we really dig in on building students’ social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive skills—since these skills are typically at a greater deficit. With increased socio-dramatic play opportunities, these skills will positively impact the rest of a child’s learning.


So if you have a child getting ready to start kindergarten, what can you do right now?


  • Make sure your child is registered.
  • Start having your child go to bed earlier, and getting up earlier.
  • Work on learning to tie shoes, and fasten/unfasten clothing.
  • When you get your class supply list, make sure you have extra supplies at home as school supplies are much cheaper now then later in the school year.
  • Visit your child’s school and classroom to help overcome both your worries about how to get there and what it looks like, even if you’ve already visited.
  • Most importantly, read to your child, discuss the story, and ask questions about the details. The more conversations and experiences you have with your child the more successful they will be in school!


Other suggested child activities can be found here.


Lori Nichols teaches kindergarten at Brandywine Springs School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, and Michelle Wilson teaches kindergarten at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in the Capital School District. Both are members of the Rodel Teacher Council.

Michelle Wilson and Lori Nichols




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