The Wonder Years
Children of kindergarten age are a lot of fun to be around. They are typically masters of oral language, imaginative, whimsical, and yet capable of "doing work" and sticking to the task at hand. Most have retained much of the charm of the preschooler with fewer and less intense fears and a greater capacity to differentiate between fantasy and reality. On a visit to a suburban kindergarten, I witnessed the following conversation:
Girl: That's not true. Why do you make up this stuff?
Boy: April Fool!
Girl: April Fools' Day was two days ago. It's over now.
Boy: For me it lasts the whole month because silly is my specialty!
While the girl was playing the role of reinforcer of reality in this vignette, moments later she was transformed into a princess who answered only to that title. Then it was her classmate's turn to roll his eyes. The rich fantasy life and enthusiasm exhibited by 4 and 5 year olds has led many observers to label these "the wonder years." Kindergartners:
- Are ripe for learning, especially in the form of exploration and discovery. A lot of rote memorization and recitation is not likely to win their interest.
- Are more ready than ever to try to meet their teacher's expectations.
- Can follow directions, and know better when to speak out and when to be quiet.
- Know how to share (although often quietly do their best to get the "larger half").
- Feel good about themselves, and may even brag a bit about their accomplishments at the easel, the playground, or the community pool.
- Can play imaginatively both with others and alone.
- Value friends, and after the early weeks of school, are comfortable on their own in school or on play dates.
- Are still very close to family, especially primary caregivers.
- Demonstrate a clear sense of gender identity, and generally prefer to play with same gender friends.
- Are firming up a clear sense of right and wrong and in fact many exhibit rather rigid consciences — they can be hard on themselves as well as on others.
- Show less fear, but tend to be concerned about bodily harm. This explains the popularity of Band-Aids in K classrooms. The worry that a small scratch or cut can result in the loss of all of their blood is not unheard of.
- Learn new motor skills: to tie their shoes (if they haven't been saved by Velcro), ride tricycles — some can even take training wheels off this early, clap in rhythm, throw and hit a ball, and jump and skip. Any motor delays generally vanish by age 7.
It is helpful to keep all these developmentally normal qualities in mind so we don't overreact to inconsistent or illogical behavior on the part of these mature, talking, and otherwise cooperative and confident kids. Remember too that kindergartners can be very concrete despite the richness of their wish-fulfilling fantasies. And while some show amazing empathy, don't be surprised if your child falls short of the mark in that area. There is enormous growth in this capacity during the years between 5 and 7. No two children grow at the same rate in this or any other aspect of development.