“Is my child ready for kindergarten?” When asking this question, the first things on many parents’ minds are the child’s age and academic readiness.
However it’s just as important to think about a child’s social and emotional readiness.
Kindergarten is the new first grade. That’s the word on the street if you talk to many moms of school-age kids.
While your child may technically be the right age to start kindergarten, the increased academic requirements and test pressures have many parents wondering if their kids are really ready for it.
With today’s kindergarten looking very different from the one we remember, how can a parent know if their child is really ready for kindergarten?
We aren't just talking about academics. Your child's social, emotional, and behavior skills are equally critical to school success, and too many children start kindergarten without them.
Being ready for kindergarten means having well-developed preschool skills, and being academically, socially, and physically ready for the transition. Here are some signs that your child is ready for kindergarten.
What Does "school Readiness" Mean?
The idea that some children are "ready for school" by 4 or 5 and others are not is controversial.
Just as children begin to walk or talk at different ages, they also develop the psychological and social skills needed for school at varying ages.
What Age Do Kids Start Kindergarten?
The age at which kids should be when they start kindergarten varies by location, but most schools suggest your child be 5 years old to register.
However, more parents these days are “redshirting,” which is the practice of holding your child back a year in order to give them a leg up in school.
But do redshirted kids really have the advantage? Not necessarily. Show the benefits to redshirting disappear in the first half of elementary school.
By the time the child reaches third grade, they are doing the same as any third grader,” he says.
Parents need to think about their child’s self-esteem when considering whether or not to delay starting kindergarten.
You have to consider: What will help my child feel successful and be successful?
While most kindergarteners start school at 5, keep in mind some children are late bloomers, and others suffer from attention disorders.
Consulting an expert if you have any doubts about school readiness is highly suggested.
There are some kids where it just makes sense to redshirt. They really do need an extra year to learn to process information. At the end of the day, what’s the big rush?
When You're Deciding When Your Child Should Start Kindergarten
Look carefully at your child's development. Is your child able to communicate? How are his listening and social skills?
Would he be able to get along with other children and adults? Is he toilet trained? What about physical skills like running, playing, or using a crayon or pencil?
Talk with your child's pediatrician about developmental milestones and community resources that support them.
Ask your child's preschool teacher and/or childcare provider for feedback. He or she can often provide some useful, objective observations, and information.
Trust your instincts—you know your child best!
What Should Kids Know Before Kindergarten?
The requirements and laws about starting kindergarten vary across the country, but local school districts often post their own kindergarten readiness requirements on their websites. You can also call and ask the school secretary to send you the curriculum.
Make sure you check out the requirements several months before deciding to enroll so that you have enough time to decide if your child is ready.
There are no hard and fast rules about when a child is ready for kindergarten, but there are some common expectations.
Having all of the information available from your local school district will help inform your decision.
How to Know If Your Child Is Ready for Kindergarten
Your child is probably ready to start kindergarten if they:
Follow Simple Directions
It’s important that your child can listen to a teacher and complete instructions. Be aware that children at this age should not be expected to follow complex instructions.
One or possibly two steps is about what young children can generally manage. Simple instructions means few items or steps and are very specific and concrete.
Can Sit Still
Your child should be able to remain in one spot long enough to listen to a story and participate in class activities. Temper your expectations.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should be able to sit completely still for a period of time during class.
Sitting still really means that your child can listen to a story or participate in an activity without being a disruption.
A child who is fidgeting but listening to a teacher read a story is great — even a child who may be standing up and walking around, as long as the child is not being disruptive.
Use the Restroom
Your child should be able to know when they have to go to the bathroom and be able to manage it by themselves.
Recognize some letters and numbers. Believe it or not, it’s OK if your child isn’t reading when they start school.
But they should recognize some of the letters of the alphabet, along with some numbers.
There is no hard and fast rule as far as how many letters or numbers a child should be expected to recognize, so don’t focus on a specific goal here.
Once children start to learn a few letters, the rest follow pretty soon.
Work on Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Your child should have some practice jumping and running, throwing a ball and holding a pencil and scissors.
Many children will have had the opportunity to practice these skills in preschool or in another early education program, but it is as much about anatomy and physical growth as it is about practice:
Children’s hand shapes and sizes work better with some tools than others, so writing with a large diameter pencil precedes holding an average size pencil.
No kindergarten teacher will expect your child’s skills to be refined at this point.
Get Along With Peers
Ideally, your child knows how to share and take turns, but those are skills that can take a lifetime to master.
It’s normal for a 5-year-old to break down in tears when they’re upset. But it’s important that they know their feelings and have coping strategies.
Do not expect too much of a young child here. Young children generally cannot reliably name their emotions.
A better measurement is if the child’s emotional states — especially those that signal distress, fear and anger — are appropriate given the situation the child is experiencing, and that they change in response to intervention.
Show an Interest in Learning.
They don’t have to be a little Einstein, but it helps if your child enjoys listening to stories, music and books and seems stimulated by the information.
Talking to the people most familiar with your child (their current teachers, child caregivers and pediatrician, along with their potential future kindergarten teachers) will provide you with the best information in making your decision.
As parents, we can quickly lose our sense of perspective, so reaching out and having conversations with these other folks helps to establish and maintain a kind of learning support community for the family and child that can nurture them into and throughout school.
School Readiness Milestones
Important development milestones that help school go smoothly for children include:
Sensory development―the ability to use touch, sight, and hearing to explore and figure out the world around them.
Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Development―such as Being Able To:
- focus and pay attention
- control impulses and emotions
- take turns
- cooperate and follow directions
- make friends
- empathize with others
- control and communicate emotions
- limit aggressive behaviors
Early language, literacy, and math skills― such as being able to talk, listen, and understand concepts like sound-letter associations, numbers, shapes, and how objects are related to each other.
Academically (pre-Reading Skills)
- Can retell a simple story
- Speaks in complete sentences of 5-6 words
- Writes name or recognizes letters in name
- Recognizes the title of a book
- Matches rhyming sounds
- Counts to ten
- Feels comfortable in a group
- Asks for help when needed
- Knows personal information (name, age, gender)
- Follows simple instructions
- Recognizes authority
- Is able to share
- Exhibits fine motor skills (holds pencil, traces shapes, buttons shirt, etc.)
- Exhibits motor coordination (rides a bike with training wheels, hops, skips)
- Manages bathroom needs
So Is Your Child Ready?
Most children start kindergarten at age 5.
If your child's birthday falls in late spring or summer and will have just turned 5 at the beginning of the school year, or if you feel your child would benefit from another year of preschool, you might consider waiting until the next academic year.
Consider your child's academic skills, but also his or her temperament.
Remember that if your child is on the older or younger end of the class, this has an impact not only on kindergarten, but also on middle school, high school, driving, and going to college. If he is the youngest in his class now, he will be then, too!
Gauging Your Child’s Social and Emotional Readiness
Deciding if your child is ready for kindergarten is a huge task. The decision rests heavily on the shoulders of parents, who know their children best, but often fear making the wrong choice for their child.
If the child isn’t truly ready, will the new experience cause frustration and anxiety? Will the child struggle and lack confidence that lingers for years to come? Or what if they decide to hold their child out for a year, and then kindergarten seems boring because they are much more advanced than the other children in the class?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you are making your big decision:
- Is your child self-confident?
- Can your child handle separation?
- Can your child manage his feelings and impulses?
- Does your child have experience following the rules of other adults in a Pre-K, church, library, or other public setting?
- Does your child participate well in small group or one-on-one play?
- Does your child develop friendships?
- Does your child communicate his needs to the adult in charge?
- Does your child take turns and share in the classroom and on the playground?
- Is your child mature enough to complete tasks, even if it’s not something he is intensely interested in?
While you don’t have to answer yes to all of these questions for your child to be ready to begin kindergarten in the fall, the questions can help you see the bigger picture of your child’s social and emotional readiness.
A Word About Kindergarten Screenings or Readiness Testing:
Some schools may conduct their own tests to evaluate your child's abilities. So-called "readiness tests" tend to look mostly at academic skills, but may evaluate other aspects of development, too.
The tests are far from perfect; some children who do poorly on them do just fine in school.
The AAP believes kindergarten testing or screening should be used as a tool to guide curriculum and instruction and support diverse groups of children rather than a gatekeeping test for children to enter school.
So, if the test or screening identifies some areas where your child seems to lag behind, use the information to help you and the school plan for the special attention he may need in the year of kindergarten ahead.
You are your child's best advocate. By sharing information with your child's teacher and other school staff, you can help them be ready for your child.
At the same time, you are establishing a partnership for your child's education that can and should continue throughout her childhood.
Misconceptions About "redshirting:"
Some parents consider delaying their child's entrance into kindergarten even though they are old enough to start school, especially if they have a child with a birthday close to the school entry cut-off date.
This is called "redshirting," and it's a practice that some states are considering legislation to end.
Parents who hold their children back from kindergarten may believe they are giving them a better chance to succeed in academics, athletics, or social settings if she is older than average for her grade. This isn't necessarily the case.
According to the AAP, labeling children as "not ready" for kindergarten and delaying the start of school can prevent them from being in the best learning environment.
Although there is some evidence that being among the youngest in a class may cause some academic problems, most of these seem to disappear by the third or fourth grade.
On the other hand, other research suggests that children who are old for their grade are at considerably greater risk of behavior problems when they reach adolescence.
If Your Child Is Not Ready for Kindergarten, Consider Your Options
If you decide your child is not yet ready for kindergarten, it’s important to come up with a game plan for the year.
Children who are behind socially or academically should get plenty of exposure to a classroom environment at a preschool or pre-K program.
There are a myriad of advantages to spending at least a year in preschool or pre-K.
Concerned parents also need to recognize the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations.
Your child does not need to have mastered reading, writing and arithmetic before they start school but should show that they’re focused and stimulated by learning.
There’s a difference between a child really being ready and a child being more than ready.
And if your child is ready, waiting until they’re older to start school may cause a bright kid to be so bored that they’ll slack off instead of excel in the classroom.
Looking out for these signs of kindergarten readiness and consulting with the rest of your child’s support system will help you best decide if your child is ready for kindergarten.
What Is the Parent's Role in School Readiness?
The parent's role in preparing a child for school is to create a healthy, safe, supportive, and engaging environment throughout early childhood. This includes several strategies.
Promoting Good Health
Good physical health is important for learning and participating in school. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet, gets plenty of physical activity, follows a regular sleep schedule and gets his or her recommended vaccinations.
Keeping Wellness Visits
Wellness visits allow your child's doctor to examine your child and monitor his or her growth, overall health and vision and hearing.
The doctor will also check on your child's motor, speech and social development.
If there are concerns about developmental delays, the doctor can refer you to state or local programs for early intervention.
Reading to preschool children can help your child develop literacy. Benefits of reading aloud that promote school readiness include:
- Understanding that printed words have meaning
- Recognizing similar sounds, such as rhymes
- Learning letter and sound associations
- Increasing overall vocabulary
- Understanding that stories have a beginning, middle and end
- Developing social and emotional skills
- Learning numbers, shapes and colors
Providing your child an opportunity to play and playing with your child is important for healthy child development. Benefits of play that promote school readiness include:
- Improving physical health
- Developing creativity and imagination
- Developing social and emotional skills
- Developing friendships
- Learning to share and solve problems with other children
- Learning to overcome challenges and be resilient
- Exploring worries or fears in imaginative play
Finding Learning Opportunities
Formal and informal opportunities for early childhood learning experiences in your community can promote your child's school readiness. Check out:
- Preschool or Head Start programs
- Museums or zoos
- City park or community programs
- Neighborhood play groups
- Story time at libraries or bookstores
Preparing for First Day
To help your child prepare for the transition to kindergarten, start developing a daily routine a few weeks before school starts.
Have your child wake up, eat and go to bed at the same time each day.
Talk about your child's new school and listen to any concerns your child expresses. If possible, visit the school.
Reading books together about starting school can also help your child know what to expect.
When in Doubt
- Discuss your concerns with your child's preschool teacher.
- Discuss your concerns with the future principal and kindergarten teacher
- Tour the school and observe a kindergarten classroom
- Trust your instincts! You know your child best. Listen to others, think about your child, and then go with your gut
Consult With Your Child’s Pre-K Teacher or Pediatrician
One of the best allies in making this decision is your child’s pre-K teacher or a pediatrician.
The teacher should have the best idea of whether the child can meet social and academic expectations.
Parents are not always the best judge of readiness because they can be plagued by anxieties.
Some parents worry that their child will get lost in a big classroom or will be seen as small and won’t get picked for sports teams.
Others just want their kids to have the best possible start to school by learning and maturing more at home or in a small pre-K setting.
Your pre-K teacher or pediatrician should be able to provide you with an unbiased opinion.
Many children have the social, physical, and rudimentary academic skills necessary to start kindergarten by 5 or 6, but for kids who are born just before the cut-off date or who are experiencing a slight delay, it may be better to wait a year.
- Speak in complete sentences and be understood by others most of the time.
- Use words to express needs and wants.
- Understand two-step directions.
- Make comparisons and describe relationships between objects like big/little, under/over, and first/last.