Changing the School Readiness Checklist for Kindergarten

Changing the School Readiness Checklist for Kindergarten

Changing the School Readiness Checklist for Kindergarten

It’s time to revamp the school readiness checklist for kindergarten. Find out what researchers say we should really focus on when it comes to school readiness.


It’s kindergarten application time. This process brings up lots of questions for parents—first, why is my child growing up so fast?! And second, how do I know if my child is ready for school?

Well, you’re not alone. There is a growing sense of urgency among parents, educators, and policymakers to prepare children for school. After all, research tells us that children who start behind stay behind, and early gaps in understandings, especially those in literacy and math, tend to be sustained or widened over time.

Across the nation, there is growing demand for standardized early kindergarten readiness assessments, often in the form of checklists. “As the saying goes, we treasure what we measure, and, all too often in education, what we measure is what is simple, cost-efficient, and highly reliable,” says Elizabeth Rood, Ed.D., Vice President of Education Strategy at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and Director of Center for Childhood Creativity. “The trouble is that children’s development is complex.”

When it comes to school readiness, researchers have found that depth of thinking and quality of interaction matter more than rote learning and knowledge. In fact, our Center for Childhood Creativity, the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s research division, reviewed more than 150 studies and discovered that we don’t actually prepare children for learning when we equate school readiness with a finite checklist of academic skills to be mastered by age five.

Rather than chucking the checklist all together, we should update the checklist to reflect a more robust developmental process for children. Read on to see our revamp of three typical school readiness checklist items based on cognitive and developmental psychology research.


1. Children should be able to name upper and lowercase letters and recognize the sounds of the letters.

Research-backed Approach: We should focus more on the depth of a preschooler’s language—this is more predictive of long-term reading than simple measures of early literacy like letter recognition. While naming and sounding out letters is important, the more important skill to be built through reading is language, which can be seen through a child’s vocabulary and capacity to articulate their thoughts.


2. Children should have basic fine motor skills and be able to write with a pencil.

Research-backed Approach: Desk work is not the only way for children to develop fine motor skills and the ability to write. Fine motor skills can be developed through hands-on experiences in art, science, and making. Activities like ripping tape, handling Legos, painting, and building with clay are terrific—and developmentally appropriate—ways for young children to build their fine motor coordination and the musculature for later writing.


3. Children should be able to count from 1 to 10 or 1 to 20.

Research-backed Approach: Research shows that asking children to count from 1 to 10 is more reflective of a child’s memory than their foundational understanding of quantity. The more predictive and powerful indicators of long-term success with mathematics are exposure to early conceptual mathematics. We should help children see mathematics in the world around them and use rich mathematical language in our conversations with children.

School Readiness Resources

To learn more about school readiness, read Reimagining School Readiness: A Position Paper with Key Findings by the Center for Childhood Creativity. This paper surfaces skills and conditions that matter most for a child’s success in school and life.

About the Contributor
Jennifer Moncayo-Hida was formerly the Senior Communications Manager at the Bay Area Discovery Museum.