Noncognitive Aspects of School Readiness
What is the typical child's health and behavior like at school entry?
What can be said about the noncognitive aspects of school readiness? What is the average kindergartner like with respect to physical health and growth, coordination, and ability to pay attention to the teacher, cooperate with other children, and display curiosity and eagerness to learn? What proportions of entering kindergartners have significant problems with their health or behavior? America's Kindergartners (West, Denton, and Germino-Hausken 2000) provides a portrait of these characteristics.
On a five-category scale of general health status, ranging from "excellent" to "poor," 51 percent of kindergartners are rated in the highest category by their parents, and 83 percent are in at least "very good" health. No more than 3 percent are in "fair" or "poor" health.
Children's height and weight are other, more objective indicators of their general health and well-being. At kindergarten entrance, the average boy is 3 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs 47 pounds. The average girl stands 3 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 46 pounds. Although there is considerable variation in height and weight from child to child, practically no children in the United States today are so underweight as to be deemed clinically malnourished (Reed 1984). In contrast, more than one child in 10 has too much weight for his or her height. Twelve percent of males and 11 percent of females have body mass indexes high enough to be labeled at risk for being overweight (West, Denton, and Germino-Hausken 2000; Rosner, Prineas, Loggie, and Daniels 1998).
Although most kindergarten children are in good to excellent health, substantial minorities have developmental difficulties that are relevant to their performance in school. According to parents, nearly one entering kindergartner in five (18 percent) is reported to be considerably more active than his or her peers (i.e., shows signs of hyperactivity). One in six (13 percent) is described as having difficulty paying attention for sustained periods, and 11 percent have difficulty articulating words or being able to communicate clearly with others. Relatively small percentages experience problems with vision (6 percent), hearing (3 percent), or coordination (4 percent). Although parental reports of developmental difficulties do not necessarily indicate the presence of a diagnosed impairment, these reports do indicate that the child has a greater vulnerability to poorer grades and lesser academic attainment in the future (Horn and Packard 1985; Pianta and McCoy 1997).
According to both teachers and parents, most kindergartners are able to get along with other children in a group situation. A minority of children exhibit aggressive or combative behavior with any frequency. According to teachers, about three-quarters readily accept peer ideas for group activities and form and maintain friendships without difficulty. Fewer children, but still a majority, often comfort or help others. Parents are more positive about their children's cooperative behavior: 80-89 percent were described as easily joining others in play, forming friendships without difficulty, and helping or comforting others.
Most kindergartners do not lose their temper easily or get into arguments or fights with other children with any frequency. According to the teachers surveyed, most children (90 percent) exhibit these problem behaviors "never" or "sometimes." Parents are more likely to report that their children get angry easily or frequently argue or fight with others. Even according to parents, however, most children (between 67 and 85 percent) engage in such behavior no more than "sometimes" or "never."
According to teachers, the typical kindergarten child is eager to learn new things, pays attention reasonably well in class, and persists in completing tasks. Between two-thirds and three-quarters exhibit these positive approaches to learning "often" or "very often." Nonetheless, substantial minorities of children do not have a particularly positive attitude toward classroom tasks: one-quarter are "never" or "sometimes" eager to learn, and one-third have difficulty paying attention in class.