Ready or Not?

Teachers and parents often differ about which skills or qualities children should have demonstrated by the time they start kindergarten. In 2001, the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics released survey results that illustrate this divide. The percentages below indicate those who rated "essential" or "very important" the following skills or qualities:

* Can count to 20 or higher:

13% Teachers

63% Parents

* Knows most of the alphabet:

18% Teachers

70% Parents

* Is able to use pencils and paintbrushes:

35% Teachers

74% Parents

* Takes turns and shares:

74% Teachers

95% Parents

* Sits still and pays attention:

60% Teachers

85% Parents

Born in Germany

Kindergarten was the brainchild of German educator Friedrich Froebel, who believed that young children learn best through play and interaction. In 1837, he opened the first kindergarten, the Child Nurture and Activity Institute, which was opposed by the Prussian government. The idea spread rapidly throughout the world. The first kindergarten in the United States is believed to have been opened in Watertown, Wis., in 1856 by German-born educator Margarethe Meyer Schurz.

Paths of Development

Skilled teachers create classroom environments and lesson plans that balance their students' strengths, interests, needs and cultural backgrounds. Here is a brief description of how a "developmentally appropriate" kindergarten program approaches key areas, condensed from material provided by the National Association for the Education of Young Children:

* Intellectual development: 5- and 6-year-olds need time and opportunities for exploring, experimenting and pursuing their ideas. They begin to learn basic scientific and math concepts through sand and water exploration, construction with blocks and working with levels, pulleys, scales and other materials. Teachers encourage strong interest in reading and writing, emphasizing the connection between letters and letter sounds and reading daily to and with children.

* Social and emotional development: Teachers model and reinforce self-control and such social skills as sharing, taking turns and resolving conflicts. Teachers allow children to help make some classroom rules. Teachers often talk to children about developing empathy -- explaining why someone's feelings can be hurt by hearing, "You can't come to my birthday party," for example.

* Physical development: Children benefit from climbing, skipping, running and hopping, and teachers may integrate movement and dance into the daily schedule. Fine motor skills can be sharpened with puzzles and objects that can be taken apart and reassembled.

* Language development: Typical kindergartners love adding words to their vocabulary. Teachers should engage children in conversation about what they are doing and thinking, explain unfamiliar words and actively introduce new ones.

The first kindergarten in the United States was in Watertown, Wis.