Montessori Key Concept: Expectations of the Kindergarten Child

While 98% of children in the United States attend kindergarten the diversity of backgrounds produce children with a wide range of skills. In a recent national sampling of nearly 5,000 children typical skills for preschool were identified. The typical skills are classified as “emerging literacy” (pre-reading and writing skills), “emerging numeracy” (beginning counting), and small motor skills. The skills identified as worth noting in the study and the percentages of children that had mastered the skill by kindergarten age are as follows:

Identified colors98%
Recognizes most letters66%
Counts to 2078%
Pretends to read stories79%
Writes own name84%
Small Motor Skills:
Holds pencil properly94%
Writes and draws84%

In the Montessori classroom, in the area of emerging numeracy, we look for the child to have the ability to:

1.  Count verbally.

2.  Count objects one at a time (each object gets one word).

3.  Read the written numeral symbols.

4.  Associate the written symbols with the counted objects.

In the area of emerging literacy, we look for the ability of the child to:

1.  Understand & respond to increasingly complex verbal directions.

2.  Speak in complete sentences with increasing complexity.

3.  Hold a pencil properly and form letters and numerals correctly.

4.  Associate the sound to the letter symbol. Begin to blend the sounds together in order to read simple words.

In the area of small motor development, we look for the ability of the child to:

1.  Handle the many small motor activities of practical life.

2.  Developed control over the fingers and wrist to allow for handwriting and control over various art media.

In addition to these academic skills, we look for the inner development of the child:

1.  Control of impulsive movements.

2.  Consciousness of movements and choices.

3.  Attention to details; in the classroom: walk, use a low voice, return materials to their proper position on the shelves, push in chair, etc.

4.  Interact with others respectfully.

A strong preschool experience provides opportunity for the skill building expected for kindergarten. The home environment can continue to support the readiness skills.

Implementation in the Home

It is normal for parents to check and see how their children are doing academically when they hear what other entering kindergarten children achieve. Each child is unique and has his or her timetable. In the Montessori classroom we expose the child to experiences which will support the child in acquiring skills needed in our society. However, we do not force the learning, that learning is the task of the child. So, at home, the same posture is encouraged, that is, expose and encourage your child in the skills that are required. Avoid the pressure and the “teaching” that may lead to frustration.

With that precautionary note, it is worthwhile to observe how your child is developing. We have discussed in prior newsletters the development of language and pre-reading skills in addition to mathematics skills. This issue will focus on the development of handwriting (penmanship) skills.

Begin by noticing your child’s “handedness”. Preference emerges between two and three years old. The child will develop a preference for one eye over the other, in addition to handedness there is footed-ness. You may check the eye preference by taking the cardboard tube of a toilet paper roll and looking through it saying, “I see you!”. Then hand the tube to your child and ask, “Can you see me?”. Your child will immediately take the tube and place it to the preferred eye. Repeat the procedure and you will see the same eye preference. Under two years, the child will place the tube at the “third eye point”, i.e., the forehead! With handedness it is usually enough to observe. For footed-ness place a ball directly in front of you and gently kick it toward your child. Then place the ball in front of your child and ask your child to kick the ball to you. Repeat this procedure and observe if you get the same results.

Now that you have identified your child’s side of preference, observe how your child holds a pencil. Encourage the correct holding of a pencil. If you reinforce holding of eating utensils between the thumb and finger rather than the fist, you will encourage the development of the same muscles used for handwriting. Incidentally, Asian children are noted for their fine handwriting. Their early master of chopsticks (their eating utensils) develops the muscles in the hand that support their beautiful handwriting. 

The child’s bedroom needs a little table much like the tables of the Montessori School. Have writing materials readily available: blank and lined paper, and lead and colored pencils. Felt-tips are not encouraged because the marks they produce are wide and indelicate; the child has less control over the movement. Have examples of the numerals and letters for the child to refer to supports the child’s development of handwriting. And, yes, the child often forms letters backward. And p, d, q, and b are really difficult!