Kindergarten readiness: language and literacy

The National Education Goals Panel has identified five essential areas of school readiness. This is the third of five articles exploring the critical skills needed for children to be Kindergarten ready in each of these five areas.

Language and literacy includes the
Language and literacy includes the "reading readiness skills" that children need to know before actually learning how to read.

Is my child ready for Kindergarten? What do they have to know to be successful? What can I do to help my child do well in school? Parents have a lot of questions and concerns about their child’s school readiness. Michigan State University Extension will be exploring the five essential areas of school readiness, as identified by the National Education Goals Panel, in a series of articles. The third article in the series will focus on Language and Literacy.

The five essential areas of school readiness are: social and emotional development, approaches to learning, language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, physical development and health. Language and literacy includes the critical emergent literacy or “reading readiness skills” that children need to know before actually learning how to read.

Research tells us that preschoolers whose parents read to them, tell them stories, sing songs with them and engage in other literacy activites on a regular basis tend to develop larger vocabularies, become better readers and perform better in school. In fact, the link between early literacy and later reading success is so strong that there is a tight correlation between chidlren’s vocabulary at three years old and their reading level in third grade.

The single most important early literacy experience parents can give their children is to take time to read aloud, every day. MSU Extension recommends children are read to for 30 minutes a day. When this daily reading time begins at birth, children can go to Kindergarten with over 900 hours of reading time under their belts! However, when that is reduced to just 30 minutes a week, children leave for Kindergarten behind by over 770 hours and have only 130 hours of reading experience. Keep in mind that this time doesn’t have to be consecutive. Just a few minutes here and there spent on literacy activies throughout the day, things like reading the cereal box at breakfast, or signs on the way to school, quickly add up to the recommended 30 minutes.

This area includes skills such as experimental writing, oral language, awareness of the conventions of print, letters and letter sounds, vocabularly and comprehension. Parents and caregivers can support children’s skills in this area in many ways. Access to a wide variety of writing materials and writing instruments, including different weights of papers, markers, crayons and pencils, will encourage children to begin “writing.” These early writing attempts may look like scribbling, but children can and will tell you about what they wrote! When children learn letters, they typically learn the letters in their own name first. It is great for children to practice writing their letters in a wide variety of ways including writing letters in sand or rice trays and other tactile experiences.

A fantastic way to build children’s vocabulary is to include words in conversation that are “bigger” than what you might typically use with a young child. For instance, saying that their dress is “magenta” instead of pink, or that you are “exhausted” instead of tired introduces them to new words. Children should enter Kindergarten with a 3,000 to 5,000 word vocabulary. Research shows that children with larger vocabularies tend to be better readers, as they have to spend less time and effort decoding new and unfamiliar words in text.

Comprehension skills are best built through exposure to children’s literature. Read actively with your child asking them questions about what they think will happen next, what the main plot points are, what the problem is, and how they think it will be solved. Take time to point out the conventions of print as well, where the cover of the book is, who the author and illustrator are and what they do, how text runs from left to right and top to bottom. MSU Extension offers a series of 35 Family Book Sheets to help support parents and caregivers expand on books and book concepts with the young children in their care.

It is important for parents to be aware that Michigan has only one requirement for Kindergarten entry: children must be five years old on or before the cut-off date of September 1. For many years in our state, all children with birthdays on or before December 1 of that year were eligible to attend Kindergarten. This cut-off date was historically later than most other states. Michigan law was changed, gradually phasing in an earlier cut-off date and bringing Michigan more in-line with other states. An "early entry" or waiver option remains available for children with birthdays between September 1st and December 1st.

As parents think about preparing their child for Kindergarten, MSU Extension recommends parents take time to read to their children every day. These early language and literacy experiences help children build the critical emergent literacy skills they need to be ready to succed in Kindergarten and beyond!

For questions regarding your child’s enrollment in Kindergarten and their individual readiness, contact your local school district.

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