This Summer, Kindergarten Readiness is the Last Thing on My Mind

My daughter missed the last three months of her preschool year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I'm not at all concerned about "kindergarten readiness." As we enter the summer months, in fact, I'm not doing anything to prepare her for kindergarten - and I think that's perfectly fine.

Last year, I enrolled my then 4-year-old in a state-funded Pre-K program. She attended for three hours a day, five days a week. My entire purpose for putting her in preschool was for the social enrichment. I wanted her to learn how to follow directions, work cooperatively, and make friends. While she may have failed her reading and math assessments, she met all her social-emotional benchmarks. So when school was cancelled for the rest of the year without getting past the letter "u," I didn't worry about rest of the alphabet. I just let her play. And that's the mindset I'm taking into summer.

For the next two months, there will be no academics in our household. No workbooks. No ABC Mouse. Instead, we'll be having family dance parties, taking swim lessons, and visiting our newly reopened library. If she wants to break out the Frozen II inflatable kiddie pool every afternoon, so be it. Zoom tea party with her auntie? Done. She gets 18 summers to be a kid, and I'm going to do everything in my power to fill them with the fun and freedom that summer is all about.

But it's not just about having fun. The way I see it (and Mr. Rogers agrees, thank you very much), the work of childhood is play. There's an incredible amount of learning that happens through free, creative play. When my daughter dresses up as a princess, she's building her capacity for cognitive flexibility. When she cares for her baby doll, she's learning empathy. Riding her bike develops gross motor skills, while making a blanket fort strengthens spatial awareness.

I think it's to her detriment to fill her June and July with letters and numbers. Sure, she'd be more ready for the rigors of modern-day kindergarten. (Sadly, gone are the days of play kitchens and naps.) The reality is, the academics will come when she's developmentally ready, but I can't go back and give her back this time to explore and learn on her own terms. And I'd go as far as to say that the openness to learning and joy in discovery fostered through independent play will serve her better in her education than a summer spent identifying phonemes in words.

This isn't a careless or lazy decision. I'm playing the long game here. My goal is the same as most parents: to raise a confident, curious, and happy child. And, for me, that means preparing her for kindergarten in a somewhat unconventional way: that is, not "preparing" her at all.