School Readiness: What Really Matters

Two children ready for school walking into Kindergarten

Most families look forward to the first day of kindergarten with a mix of feelings, ranging from excitement and pride to nostalgia and even a little sadness. Kindergarten marks the beginning of a child’s forward push toward independence. But while it represents a major step and a big change, it is not the end point. It is one of many moments on the path of a lifelong learner

Long before children reach kindergarten, though, parents and teachers wonder about school readiness. “Will my child be ready for school?” and “Are we doing enough?” are common questions.

What is School Readiness?

School readiness includes a set of skills that goes beyond being “kindergarten ready” and prepares children for success in school — and in life. These broad skills include:

  • Knowledge Application
  • Social-Emotional Skills
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Innovation and Creative Thinking
  • Positive Disposition for Learning

Bright Horizons School Readiness Survey 

Bright Horizons classrooms and emergent curriculum provide young children the ability to expand beyond strong foundations in reading, writing, and math to understand not just what to learn, but how to learn, as demonstrated in our fifth nationwide school readiness survey of parents and teachers of more than 1,000 Bright Horizons graduates:

  • 97% of parents agreed that their Bright Horizons graduates entered elementary school prepared for the emerging 21st century world.
  • 94% of teachers said that Bright Horizons graduates were ready to accept new responsibilities and greater independence.  

When school readiness goes beyond traditional academic learning and incorporates future forward skills, the result is children who are not only prepared for successful transition to kindergarten, but who have the foundation for downstream success.

The 6Cs of School Readiness

Consider for a moment how much our world has changed in the past 20 years. Our handheld devices contain almost infinite stores of knowledge. Digital streaming has made DVDs and CDs practically obsolete. With a few clicks, we can order books, meals, or a ride across town. We’re living in a remarkable time, with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Yet our education model has changed very little. Many schools still focus almost entirely on teaching children content, and in particular, facts and figures that can be memorized and regurgitated on command.

While early literacy and math numeracy are very important, school readiness is much more than memorizing facts and figures. In their book, “Becoming Brilliant,” Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek describe what they call the 6Cs, six essential skills and competencies children need in order to be successful in the 21st century. These include: 

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Content, which includes literacy, math, science, and history
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Innovation
  • Confidence

Opportunities to develop the 6Cs benefit all children, both in childhood and in the future, regardless of later interests, aptitudes, and career goals.

School Readiness in the Classroom 

Two preschool boys doing a STEM activity with building squares 

While it might be tempting to impose rigorous “drill and repeat” teaching strategies, these techniques do not match the reality of how children learn or what they need to grow and thrive. Children’s development unfolds in a predictable sequence, but at an individual rate. Just as each child learns to walk at his or her own rate, children become ready for more abstract, academic learning in their own time. Attempts to accelerate this process are not effective and might ultimately prove harmful.

In classrooms in which children are consistently expected to participate in rote methods of learning involving memorization, worksheets, and lectures, children’s focus and motivation for learning decrease while behavioral challenges and the need for specialized interventions increase. Additionally, the results of numerous studies have shown that while rigorous early reading instruction might raise test scores and achievement in the short term, these effects are short-lived and often disappear within one to three years.

At Bright Horizons, we believe the early years are valuable in and of themselves. Children need and deserve the time and space to relish and feel joy in each stage of life. As we prepare children to be ready for their journey from child care and into school programs, we focus equally on all aspects of development — cognitive, physical, and social-emotional. We know that this approach gives children their best chance for healthy, happy, successful lives. Below are a few of the characteristics to look for in a high-quality early childhood program that focuses on school readiness:

  • Opportunities for meaningful play, project work, experimentation, and discovery. This type of learning is powerful for building the 6Cs described above. Children must understand not only what to learn but also how to learn. We want children to observe; ask questions; notice similarities, differences, and patterns; and solve problems, all aspects of critical thinking

  • Math, literacy, and science (content) interwoven throughout the day, rather than in isolation (worksheets and flash cards). For example, while planting a garden in a center or classroom, the children read books about plants, make signs and notes, measure the garden area, learn about soil and composting, count out and plant seeds, and care for and harvest the garden. The learning is rich, immediate, and relevant, and tends to stick with children.

  • An emphasis on trusting relationships and caring social interactions. Social-emotional development is the foundation for all other learning and must be a priority. Teachers understand that young children are still learning and will make mistakes. Children are gently guided and encouraged as they gain confidence and learn to collaborate, communicate, and resolve conflict with each other.

  • Well-rounded literacy activities. In addition to learning the letters of the alphabet, children must develop vocabulary, listen and communicate effectively, and view reading and writing as pleasurable and important ways to share ideas and gain knowledge. Children gain literacy skills by listening to and reading stories, having meaningful conversations, writing notes, graphs, and stories, and conducting research for projects.

  • Open-ended art, storytelling, poetry, dramatic play, music, and experiences in nature. Children often use these experiences to access other kinds of information and learning; additionally, they build creativity and critical thinking as they participate in the arts and nature.

School Readiness at Home

There’s a lot of hype about school readiness, but don’t feel like you have to go overboard to prepare your child. Doing the following four things will help prepare your child for school and boost the development of the 6Cs. 

  • Talk with your child. Encourage expressions of feelings and find time to share love and appreciation. These moments build your child’s confidence and ability to communicate and collaborate. 
  • Read to your child. We can’t predict everything children will need to know to be successful in the future, but we can offer a love of reading that will allow them to learn content throughout their lives. 
  • Play with your child. Board games, blocks, active games, and silly moments all forge communication and collaboration. 
  • Experience nature. The natural world is a laboratory that encourages risk, critical thinking, observation, and creative innovation. 

A holistic view of school readiness ensures that children will thrive. “The role of a teacher,” says Rachel Robertson, Bright Horizons education and development vice president, “is to balance now and next: to help children develop all they need to be successful in the future, while living fully in each moment of the present.”

Family Webinar: The New School Readiness

Learn about the 6Cs of school readiness directly from the “Becoming Brilliant” co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who joined Rachel Robertson for a robust discussion of school readiness for today’s world. Register here to watch the on-demand webinar

More on School Readiness

  • Read more from our nationwide school readiness survey to learn what kindergarten teachers say is important for children transitioning from preschool or pre-K.
  • Subscribe to Rachel’s podcast, “Teach. Play. Love. Parenting Advice for the Early Years” for a deeper dive into school readiness skills like social-emotional learning and executive function.
  • Support your child’s growth through play, which offers the best opportunity for children to develop 6C skills.
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
Two children ready for school walking into Kindergarten