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Renee Abramovitz is a retired kindergarten and preschool teacher passionate about helping children start school prepared to succeed. Visit her at www.schoolsparks.com for hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets to help children develop critical skills and begin school prepared to succeed.
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Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?
As a preschool and kindergarten teacher in a competitive private school, I was part of the team that evaluated children seeking entrance into our preschool and kindergarten programs and know, first-hand, what to look for when determining whether a child is ready to begin school. To help parents assess their child’s readiness, I will discuss the six main developmental areas that guided my school’s evaluation team as we considered the readiness of potential students. I will also address the three most common benefits of waiting a year to begin kindergarten as well as the three most common negatives of waiting a year.
1. Maturity Level
A child matures on his own schedule and this schedule can't be rushed. Often just a little extra time to "grow up" is all that a young child needs to feel comfortable at school, while other children may already possess the maturity to jump right into the classroom.
Does your child seem to display the maturity seen in other children his age? Can he use language effectively to express his thoughts and needs? Is your child comfortable separating from you? Is he frequently emotional, crying more easily than his peers? Are his self-help skills (dressing, caring for personal belongings, using the toilet) in place or are they still developing?
2. Comfort with Academic Expectations
I know we are talking about very young children here, but there are certainly some fundamental academic benchmarks that teachers look for when assessing a child’s readiness for kindergarten. These benchmarks include basic pre-reading skills (such as letter recognition and identifying the sounds made by some letters) and a basic comfort with numbers (such as counting to and beyond 10).
Can your child recognize his name in print? Can he count by rote to 20? Does your child use one-to-one correspondence to accurately count objects? Can he identify colors? Is he beginning to recognize and name some letters? Does he understand that letters form words? Is your child able to stay focused on an activity for 15 or 20 minutes?
3. Confidence Level
When a child is confident in his abilities, he needs very little prompting to approach a new or unfamiliar activity. He is comfortable giving the task his best effort and is able to persevere if his first attempts are not completely successful. Confidence is critical in the kindergarten classroom, as the curriculum will likely present your child with many new and unfamiliar challenges.
Is your child comfortable or enthusiastic when approaching new tasks? Does he tackle new tasks with some level of independence or does he ask for help with tasks you believe he can accomplish without your assistance? Does your child hesitate and look at another child for a model or does he try to accomplish the task on his own? Is he easily discouraged if his first efforts don’t succeed, or is he willing to try again and persevere?
4. Comfort with Peers
When a child feels that he belongs with his peers and believes that he has friends, he can concentrate and focus on the activities and challenges presented in the classroom. When a child is concerned about whom he will play with or how the play situation will unfold, he is distracted and often uneasy. This discomfort will not allow your child to focus on the activities presented in a kindergarten classroom.
Does your child interact easily with his peers or does he seem to struggle to make friends? Is he generally able to share and take turns with his friends? Is he able to manage small problems that arise in play situations without immediately turning to an adult for assistance?
5. Fine Motor Control
Although we are fully into the technological age, children will still need to comfortably use a pencil, crayon and scissors for the work they will tackle in kindergarten. From writing his name to complete craft projects, fine motor control is critical for success in the classroom.
Does your child manipulate a pencil and scissors with relative ease? Can he move and handle small items accurately and comfortably? Does he hold a pencil correctly? Does he use a scissors correct?
6. Mood or Demeanor Regarding School
It is natural for children to be a little tentative about beginning school. They will be separated from their parents and, at least during the first few days, will be in an unfamiliar environment. However, children who are ready to begin school are likely excited about it. They are eager to talk about the activities they will get to do in school or the new friends they will make there.
Does your child seem excited about going to school or is he reluctant and unenthused as the departure time nears? Does your child enjoy going to new classes such as a local art class or music class? Does your child complain of stomach aches or other discomforts in an attempt to avoid going to organized classes?
As with most decisions, there are both positive aspects and negative aspects to allowing your child to wait a year before beginning kindergarten.
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The Benefits of Waiting a Year
Time for a Child to Grow at His or Her Own Pace: As I stated earlier, children mature at their own pace. Rushing a child or expressing disappointment or frustration at his lack of maturity has a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and does not accomplish the goal of “growing up faster."
Opportunities to Acquire Needed Skills: Children learn through experience, exposure and practice. An extra year at home or in daycare can lead to extra opportunities to practice and acquire basic skills. Also, this extra time will give your child the opportunity to gain these skills without the pressure to perform as his peers perform.
Competence Fuels Confidence: As your child gains skills, he also gains confidence. He learns that acquiring skills takes practice and patience. An extra year can allow a child to become confident in his skills and begin kindergarten with a higher amount of self-confidence.
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Drawbacks to Holding Your Child Back
Missing Friends: If your child has a large group of similarly aged friends, he may miss them as they go on to kindergarten while he stays behind. Also, he may not understand why his peers were allowed to advance to the next level while he was asked to stay behind an extra year.
Possible Boredom: When a child spends another year at home with a parent or caregiver or in a daycare setting, he may become bored by the lack of variety. For many children, beginning kindergarten is an exciting and stimulating experience that can be difficult to replicate if the child remains at home for an extra year.
Financial Considerations: Depending on your child’s current situation (whether he is in a private preschool or daycare, at home with a parent, or at home with a caregiver), waiting a year to send your child to kindergarten can add one additional year of financial stress to your family’s budget. Particularly in the event your child will attend a public kindergarten, sending your child a year early would avoid the childcare expense incurred during the missed year. This is certainly a consideration and one that each family needs to evaluate for themselves.
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You Know Your Child Best
As you make this important decision for your child, it may be worthwhile to discuss your thoughts or concerns with teachers and administrators at the school you are considering. These adults have a great deal of experience evaluating children and know the challenges and expectations your child will face. As a result, they can help you understand what challenges your child will come up against and their recommendations and guidance can be very valuable.
Also, you may wish to complete a free online kindergarten readiness test which will guide you through a series of questions about your child’s existing skill level relative to what will be expected of him in kindergarten. Based on the results of that assessment, you can better evaluate your child’s true abilities and readiness to begin school.
Finally, trust your instincts! When caring adults make thoughtful decisions for their children, the best scenario generally prevails. You know your child best so trust that any decision you make for your child will be the right one.
- Photo: By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric J. Cutright [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons