Being ready for kindergarten doesn’t depend on a child’s birthday, how many letters she can recognize, or how high she can count. Instead, the most important factors in kindergarten readiness are what researchers call non-cognitive skills: motivation, resilience, self-discipline.
Researchers call these skills non-cognitive to distinguish them from measures like IQ and test scores. But no one really agrees on what to call them. You’ll hear terms like “social-emotional skills,” “growth mindset,” and “grit.” What everyone does agree on is that these traits predict long-term outcomes such as academic attainment, employment, and health.
At Ring Mountain Day School, we look at children’s social and emotional skills as well as their pre-academic abilities. Can they negotiate with each other when they want to play with the same tricycle? When they’re frustrated by a toppling tower, can they pick up the pieces and try again?
In a student-centered school, our responsibility is to help the whole child grow. As students master the foundations of math, reading, and writing, we also attend to their character and development. Through reading books such as “Beautiful Oops!” by Barney Saltzberg, kindergarten and first grade students learn that mistakes open opportunities to grow, create and change. As we teach the basics of restorative justice, students learn to repair relationships and move forward.
When you walk into our kindergarten and first grade classroom, you’ll see all kinds of tools designed to build independence and regulation. The student-generated “Ways to Cool Down” chart on the wall reminds kids that they have a set of tools to manage their emotions, from smelling the lavender to reading a book. Conflict resolution circles let students role-play ways to handle playground challenges.
Students who are ready for kindergarten are eager to learn, ready to engage with each other, and able to grow from their mistakes. At RMDS, the kindergarten and first grade classroom offers explicit instruction in social-emotional learning, building non-cognitive skills for lifelong success.