Today’s guest post comes from two youth services librarians at the Beaverton City Library in Oregon. Carson and MacKenzie are here to share their Ready, Set, Kindergarten series for preschoolers. I really like how they incorporate social emotional learning into the design of the program which sets out to give families a safe space to practice school readiness. Take it away, Beaverton!
As you might know, parents are often fairly nervous when their child enters kindergarten in the fall. And they don’t just think about it in the fall—they have plenty of time to get anxious when completing registration paperwork, attending kindergarten orientations, and planning during the summer beforehand. You might even get the question: what can I do to help my child be ready for kindergarten? As we all know, there are a lot of pieces to that question, and the Beaverton City Library created the Ready, Set Kindergarten series to help answer it.
The Beaverton City Library’s annual Ready, Set, Kindergarten series came into existence after our manager learned about Brooklyn Public Library’s similar initiative in a chance meeting with one of their librarians. The following day, my manager couldn’t tell me fast enough how excited she was about Brooklyn’s workshop series designed to help get 4- and 5-year-olds and their parents transition into kindergarten. At this point we had all been hearing about the widespread epidemic of children entering kindergarten without the skills they needed to succeed. There were frequent reports in the local news about Oregon preschoolers scoring well below average on kindergarten assessments, especially in areas of social-emotional development, reading, and basic math skills. My colleagues and I saw this as an opportunity to educate parents, and so, with a few tweaks to the Brooklyn Public Library’s curriculum to align more closely with the Oregon Department of Education’s standards, we started offering our Ready, Set, Kindergarten series in spring 2016.
So what exactly is Ready, Set, Kindergarten? RSK—because we all love acronyms—is a series of six “enhanced” storytimes, and each one focuses on a different readiness practice. During each session, the “teacher”—one of our librarians—reads books, sings songs, and leads activities with the children while also interjecting a few tips for parents along the way. We host one session per week for 45-minutes. We also try to build consistency between each session by having repeating songs, the same teacher, and an opening and closing routine to help mimic a kindergarten classroom. Families are not required to attend all of the sessions, but it is highly encouraged that they do so. Watching a child grow and become more comfortable with each passing week is a true joy.
Below is a sample from each of our six sessions, including the main topic, one of the books we read aloud, and one of the tips we share with the parents/caregivers.
Session 1: Ready to Learn
Ready to Learn is the first session in our series, and it is when we first talk about being a good student. We introduce skills that include raising hands, listening to our teacher, and being kind to one another, and we have a discussion about these expected behaviors. Because these are brand new skills for a lot of our kids, we review our “rules” at the beginning of each session and gently enforce them throughout the entire series. Making sure that the kids have a positive experience in RSK is our first priority—not punishing rule-breakers.
Tip for the adults: Having a routine at home is important for your child’s development and will help them be more prepared for their school routine in the future. We’ve talked to local kindergarten teachers, who recommend starting a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same times you will need to for school several months prior to starting school. Do you want to make bedtime fun and something your child will look forward to? Start a bedtime reading or storytelling routine!
Session 2: Let’s Be Friends
In our next session, and subsequent sessions, we review our rules, go over the visual schedule, and remind families to speak and read to their children in their first language. We then dive right into the session’s skills: learning how to appropriately interact with other children, the basics of self-care, and learning to manage their emotions. Between stories and songs, we play a game to show empathy. For this game, we hand out face pictures to the kids and ask them to raise the appropriate face to answer some of the following questions: How do you think your friend would feel if someone broke their favorite toy? How would your friend feel if you painted them a beautiful picture? If there was a kid in your class who didn’t know anyone, how do you think they might feel?
To the adults: Use stories to help children through transitions or changes. Your librarian can help you find books on things that may be happening in your child’s world: starting school, sibling rivalry, taking a trip, bullying, and more!
Session 3: Reading and Writing
For this session, we get to stress the importance of reading and writing. We read books and sing songs that we know kids like (Jim Gill’s “Jump Up, Turn Around” is always a hit), as well as sharing a wordless picture book that the kids help narrate. We also share plenty of ways that families can develop writing skills with their kids at home: drawing pictures, checking off items on a grocery list, crossing off days on a calendar, and playing the alphabet game. For our activity, we have the kids decorate a manila envelope as a “family mailbox” so families can write (or draw) letters for each other.
To the adults: Look around you! The alphabet is everywhere! You can play an alphabet searching game to practice identifying letters. Choose a letter of the day and look for it around the house and on signs outside. Children love finding letters in their world, and it helps them to get excited about reading and writing.
Session 4: Let’s Talk
In this session we encourage adults to have daily, engaged back and forth conversations with their children. We talk about building vocabulary with books and by finding new ways to describe everyday things. As a class we play observation games like “I Spy” and challenge parents to take their child on a nature walk and ask them about what they see.
Tip for the adults: Look at clouds together and imagine different shapes and objects. Choose books that encourage children to see things in their world in a different way, and talk about them together. This helps children expand their vocabulary and learn how to communicate their ideas.
Session 5: Playing Together
Play is essential to a child’s healthy development, and it is how they learn social skills, build and strengthen motor skills, and learn about their world. Children and families are often over-scheduled, and it is important for kids to have plenty of opportunities for unstructured playtime, especially when their brains are developing so rapidly. We like to congratulate parents for bringing their children to library events where they have an opportunity to interact with their peers and then we end the session with a fun LEGO play time!
To the adults: Making time to play with your child in a fun and relaxing way will help build a lasting bond. When you spend time playing a board game, going for a bike ride, or drawing a picture with your child, it also helps build their feelings of self-worth. Be silly and laugh with your child! These early and joyful interactions will lead to better family communication, trust, and your child’s sense of belonging and safety.
Session 6: Make Time for Math
In our last session, we get to show that early math skills are more than numbers and counting—these skills include shapes, engineering, opposites, and more! We read books that cover these topics, as well as sing and use a flannel board for the ever-popular “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” and turn our hands into frying pans and fingers into hot dogs while chanting “Five Little Hotdogs.” We have a lot of families who are interested in developing STEM skills with their kids as early as 12-months-old, so we want to make sure they know how to make it fun!
To the adults: Playing with shapes helps kids get ready for math AND reading. Since letters are made up of different lines and shapes, it is important for children to play with shapes, like blocks and puzzles. Studies have also shown that children who play with a variety of shapes in their toys learn new words and concepts faster.
It is important to mention that in the last couple of years, thinking on Kindergarten Readiness seems to have shifted a bit from a state of panic and blame to a belief that if so many children are not meeting certain standards when entering Kindergarten, perhaps the standards need to be adjusted to meet the needs of these children. I have heard it called “leaning in,” which I like. The intention of our Ready, Set, Kindergarten series is not to hand out a checklist of milestones that children must accomplish before entering school. Instead, we hope to give children and parents a safe, comfortable place to practice being in a classroom. We want parents to feel more confident that they are helping their child succeed, and if our RSK graduates walk out of the library happy with their first “school” experience, then we have done our job.
Carson Mischel is a Youth Services Senior Librarian at Beaverton City Library. Her favorite part of the job is reading books to babies. She also enjoys working on creative projects, gardening, and reading fantasty and sci-fi novels.
MacKenzie Ross is a Youth Services Librarian at Beaverton City Library. Her favorite part of the job is connecting kids and teens with books they will (hopefully) love. She also enjoys running, baking pies, and reading graphic novels.
Baker, R. (2015). Counting down to kindergarten. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.
Rice, J. (2013). The kindness curriculum: stop bullying before it starts. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.