Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
My youngest daughter is set on learning to use chopsticks this week. WHY she is set on this is less clear, given that her preferred foods are “peanut butter sandwiches” and “rice cakes with hummus.” But the idea appeared in her mind days ago, and it has not let go.
Every morning she asks, “Have you found me some chopsticks yet?” And every morning I remind her that I have not been to the grocery store where they sell bamboo chopsticks. (Though today is shopping day, so I guess I will see what I can find.)
She is five years old this year, which makes her my sixth homeschooled kindergartener. (I cannot even believe that this is true, but I just counted heads to double check and: YEP I have done this six times now.)
You know how, if you search online, you can find checklists of “What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know?”
Those lists usually mention things like letter sounds, and counting practice, and memorization abilities, and hand-eye coordination, and listening skills.
They might optimistically include classroom skills, like how to sit still, and how to stand in line, and how to raise your hand before speaking at circle time. They hardly ever mention chopsticks.
I understand how those lists are useful for helping parents and teachers manage their expectations and measure their kids’ abilities. And if my child has learning differences, a list like that might help me spot areas we want to investigate.
But I’ve raised kindergarteners (more than one!) who could read whole novels before their fifth birthdays, and I’ve also raised kindergarteners (more than one!) who were not reading on their own by the end of the year.
I’ve had a kindergartener whose mental math skills would put the average adult to shame, and a kindergartener who could not care less about skip counting.
There’s some serious natural variability among children, is what I’m saying.
So yes, we spend our days exploring all kinds of interesting things, this year and every year. My kindergartener paints and reads and scooters and builds forts and picks flowers and plants vegetables that will not grow. We offer her chances to learn about numbers and letters and music and art and a whole bunch of other things.
But at the end of the day, what I really want my kindergartener to know is this.
Follow the Curiosity.
I want my kindergartener to know that whatever she’s curious about, we can learn.
I want her to have the experience of asking questions, and us investigating the answers together. That might mean trips to the library, or looking things up online, or visiting a museum or a zoo or a friend—but regardless of how we explore, I want her to have the expectation that if she’s curious, things can be learned.
The YET Rule.
The Yet Rule is this: when you hear yourself saying, “I can’t do that,” or “I don’t know how,” or especially, “I’m no good at that,” you ADD A YET.
“I don’t know how YET.” “I haven’t learned YET.” “I’m not great at that YET.”
Because none of us—not my kindergartener, not me—are set in stone. We’re all learning and growing, and we can become skilled at anything. Even if we aren’t skilled YET.
Mistakes are part of the game.
It’s okay to make mistakes, whether you are five or whether you are fully grown. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and if we don’t feel safe to fail, we’ll just get really comfortable with the skills we already have, and avoid anything that requires skills we haven’t mastered.
I want my kindergartener to know it’s safe to experiment. So the rest of us try things we aren’t good at, and we let her know when we fail or when we fall. We don’t judge or shame each other for getting things wrong. And when we do make mistakes, we admit it and we try again. (And we encourage her to do the same.)
You are who you are.
Eventually, I want every one of my kids to know who they are and what they have to offer the world.
I want them to understand their own learning styles, to be aware of their strengths and gifts, and to be in touch with what they care deeply about. Those are the long-term goals.
With a five year old, we start by helping her to be aware of what she likes and doesn’t. (For this kindergartener, right now, that means a whole lot of crafts. And chopsticks, apparently.) We help her name her feelings. We point out all the ways we see her being herself in the world.
Because developing self-awareness in small ways is the first step toward knowing that she is a supercool human being with purpose, that what she brings to the world is worthy, and that she can be who she is.
Your voice matters.
Every kid (and every adult, hello) needs to know that their voice matters.
I want my kindergartener to know that her opinions will be listened to, and that her ideas and requests will be taken into account. That doesn’t mean she gets everything she wants, or that we always do things the way she would prefer—but it does mean we listen, and we explain why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Because knowing that she will be heard, knowing she can say no, knowing she has authority over her own body and her own mind all starts right here. (Respecting other people’s boundaries starts here, too—when we respect her boundaries, she’s learning by example how to respect other people.)
It’s not as tidy as a long checklist of skills.
But if you ask me, that’s what a kindergartener needs to know.
What would you add to the list? What does a kindergartener really need to know?