Developmentally Appropriate Ways to Boost Kindergarten Readiness

Ashley Smith-Santos, MA, Curriculum and Professional Development Specialist at MarcoPolo Learning
November 16, 2023

A preschool teacher calls the class together to prepare to head outside for a nature walk. It’s a mildly cool and drizzly day.  Rain boots and jackets must be put on. As the teachers assist with struggling zippers and right/left boots, they pause to assess the children. One child has difficulty putting the jacket on. Another can’t quite work the zipper. A child has taken her shoes and socks off to switch to boots, and now she cannot put her socks back on. 

In recent years, academic preparation has been at the forefront of the kindergarten readiness dialogue; however, it’s important to consider the whole child and how he/she can arrive at kindergarten with the confidence and skills he/she needs to thrive in an elementary school setting. Think about the example above: what types of learning opportunities do these children need in order to prepare for the year ahead? 

Fostering Independence

As children grow and learn, they should be offered more practice for completing tasks independently. Certainly, some tasks will need more adult scaffolding as they progress towards proficiency, but teachers and caregivers can step back and let kids try to do it themselves. Kids generally get excited about their ability to do something on their own and love to show others. “Look what I can do! Watch me do this!” can be heard by children on the playground, in classrooms, and in homes. Zipping up jackets, packing backpacks, and opening lunch containers are a few examples of the type of independent responsibilities children will face in kindergarten. In addition, they’ll have more responsibilities and ownership of their learning. Some teachers send a daily folder to and from school that children need to empty, while others send daily or weekly homework. Children will need to keep track of their work and classroom materials. 

Here are some tips to help you support your students to gain more independence

Problem Solve

Before jumping in to do something for a child who is struggling, see if he/she can problem solve and figure out a solution on his/her own. Ask children to articulate what the problem is, which can help them to evaluate whether they need any help. Step back and assess whether they need a bit of scaffolding or if they just need some extra time. 

For example, encourage children to try and open their own lunch containers or snack packages. If they have trouble, offer some problem-solving tips such as: “What do you think you can do to open that bag?” “Is there something that you can get to help you?” or “Try moving your thumb under the lid’s edge to pop off the top!” By offering a problem solving tip, children will not only have more opportunities to practice those skills, but will also gain more confidence in their abilities. 

 Zoom In! 

Sometimes children can feel overwhelmed by large tasks and need support to break the task down into smaller parts. For example, clean-up time can often be difficult for young children, especially if there are a lot of materials out. Provide a little extra time during clean-up for children to put materials away in the correct places. Give them specific guiding instructions (zoom in!) to help them focus during clean up, such as: “Pick up all the green Legos, then start on the yellow ones.” or “You wash the paintbrushes and your friend can put the watercolors away.” By helping children zoom in on the task at hand, they have another opportunity to practice their independence in a tangible way. 

Role Models

Help children to see themselves as independent learners, problem solvers, and choice makers. Point out characters in books, model thinking aloud while you are working through a task, and use technology as a resource. The MarcoPolo For Educators Social Emotional Learning videos such as Choices, Flexible Thinking, and On My Own offer developmentally appropriate content for young learners and model problem-solving skills. In addition, the Educator Guides offer teachers support to extend the learning offline with a discussion guide and hands-on activity. Encourage families to support their child at home by sharing the Family Engagement piece found in the Educator Guide. By offering examples of people and characters who model different aspects of independence, children can emulate those practices and embed them into their daily lives. 

Think about how these practices in fostering a child’s independence are developmentally appropriate and how they can easily be incorporated into your daily classroom routines. Give children more opportunities for problem-solving and provide them with a small tip if needed. Help children break down a large task by zooming in and focusing on the small parts. Finally, offer examples of role models throughout the day–whether it’s a character in a read aloud, a visitor in class, yourself, or a digital character. Watch your students’ independence begin to blossom!