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Is Your Preschooler Ready for Kindergarten?

written by: Tara Kimball • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 6/6/2012

When you reach the end of your little one's preschool schedule, deciding if it is time to move on to kindergarten can be overwhelming. Look for key readiness cues and ask yourself, what do I do if my child isn't ready for kindergarten? Evaluate your options to find the best plan for your family.

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    Physical Signs of Readiness

    When you consider kindergarten for your child, it is difficult to make an informed decision without understanding what kindergarten teachers look for, and what skills kids need to have in order to succeed at this level. Your little one should be excited about learning and eager to try new things. If you find that your child asks seemingly endless questions about the world around him, that's a good sign.

    Listening skills are essential to kindergarten success. If your child is unable to listen clearly to the instructions delivered by the teacher, he may miss important details and struggle with assignments. Listening skills are a precursor to reading ability and focus as well.

    Basic self-help skills are necessary at this grade level. Buttons, snaps and zippers should be familiar and not a challenge for your child. He should be able to use the bathroom and wash up without assistance, and follow good hygiene recommendations when it comes to sneezing and coughing. Juice boxes with straws shouldn't pose a challenge, and he should be able to clean up after himself after meals.

    One of the first stages of kindergarten is writing the alphabet. In order to succeed in this environment, your child should be able to easily hold a pencil or crayon and use it without a struggle. Basic writing and drawing fundamentals should already be reached before your preschooler reaches this step in their education.

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    Social and Emotional Readiness

    Your child should have a strong grasp on language, understanding basic vocabulary skills. If she is able to easily express herself and use descriptive words, that provides a foundation for her to build on. Scholastic reports that children of preschool and Kindergarten ages learn 5 to 6 new words every day when they are provided the opportunity to explore and learn about their environment and the world around them.

    Interaction and social skills are an important part of early childhood development. When your child can engage with a group of children and understand the fundamentals of play including sharing, proper play as compared to rough play, and has the ability to adapt to her environment, those skills are important. Children in a Kindergarten classroom participate in group activities, working together and relying on each other to discover, understand and explore environments. Your little one should be able to work as part of a team, build relationships with other children and play well for these collaborations to be successful.

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    Not Quite Ready...

    If your preschooler is not yet up to the readiness level that is necessary to succeed in a kindergarten classroom, it may be in his best interest to let him spend one more year in a preschool environment. The most important thing in this decision is that you are doing what you believe is the best for your child.

    Talk to his preschool teacher. Since his teacher interacts with him on a daily basis and sees his educational development, she can tell you if he is ready, or if another year of preschool would be beneficial. Typically, older children have better success rates in kindergarten and first grade than younger ones. If your child is not ready for the transition, options to consider include keeping him in the preschool classroom for another year, tutoring him with a kindergarten readiness curriculum through the summer or working on target development areas before the school year starts.

    Your child's preschool teacher will tell you if another year of preschool is an ideal option. Even if you choose to keep him in preschool for one more year, you can work with him at home to cover the key readiness areas and encourage his development and success. Although some of the curricula found on the Internet is not free, it can help your child engage in new learning activities while keeping his attention with technology, animation and preschool-level communication.

    Sit with your child and discuss the preschool classroom when he is in the midst of quiet time and you feel that he will listen. Explain to him that he will be with a familiar teacher, which is a helpful explanantion particularly if he likes his preschool teacher and feels safe and comfortable with her. Let him know that he will be in a class of new children, but since he will know the expectations and be familiar with how his teacher likes things done, he can help the new kids transition into the new classroom and understand the rules and guidelines. This can help him feel important, easing the confusion about why his classmates have moved on. Keep him excited about the start of the new year and encourage him with positive reinforcement.

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    Steps to Encourage Progress

    Spend time every day reading to your child. The reading time with the exposure to new words and seeing them in print can help encourage language development, letter recognition and early letter sounds. Ask your child about the story, and keep her engaged with active reading, changing voices and activities based on the story's progress.

    Work with your child daily to help expand her vocabulary and encourage her to learn new words. Make a point to show her new things in your daily life, teaching her new words along the way. For example if you spend a morning at the park and you see a caterpillar on the slide, point the little critter out to your child and ask her to describe what she sees. Suggest words that may fit the situation so that she can associate new words with their meanings.

    Flash cards with letters and numbers are a good way to reinforce literary skills. Work with tracing paper or construction paper to start mastering the fine motor skills needed to write with a pencil or crayon. Craft projects at home will help develop creativity and the skills needed to use scissors, paste and other craft materials typically used in early childhood and primary education.

    If your child struggles with independence and this is why she is not ready for kindergarten, options to work with your child to develop independence skills include showing her how to fasten her shoes, encourage her to use the bathroom independently and wash her hands without your help. Teach her to dress herself so she can master snaps, buttons and straps. Make mealtime a time of progress as well. Encourage her to eat independently and clean up after herself when she is done. These skills and the confidence that comes with mastering them will go a long way for her.