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The Informed Parent

Let’s Take A Look At Kindergarten Readiness

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Aug. 01, 2000

Do you remember when you were in kindergarten? Perhaps you recall playing in the dress up corner or in the sandbox. Maybe you remember snack time when the teacher served milk and graham crackers.

While directed play and socialization are still part of a good kindergarten program, there is also a strong focus on academics. Current state standards require kindergartners to read and write complete sentences by the end of the school year, and to have mastery over simple math, science, and social science concepts. Unless a child is prepared for kindergarten, the challenge can be daunting for student, parent, and teacher.

Developmentally structured kindergartens take all children where they are socially, emotionally, and academically, and then move them through the curriculum at their own pace. Teachers and school personnel, however, feel the pressure to have children succeed in meeting state standards because of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act. Their success as teachers and the success of the school are measured by the growth of the students.

Before children can adequately learn academic tasks they need to have reached certain developmental milestones socially and emotionally. They also need a pre-academic foundation. Not all entering kindergartners have achieved the necessary basic skills for optimal learning. As a parent, when you know what is expected, you can make a thoughtful, wise decision as to whether your child is kindergarten ready.

The following checklist indicates the skills that will allow your child to enter kindergarten with optimal readiness.

Social/Emotional Skills

  1. Does my child take care of her personal needs such as dressing, toileting, and washing hands?
  2. Does she follow simple directions?
  3. Can she work independently for a 15-minute period of time?
  4. Can she make choices about what she wants to do without parent/teacher intervention, i.e., draw a picture or look at a book?
  5. Is my child interested in trying new things?
  6. Does she know how to wait her turn and share toys and materials?
  7. Can she interact with other children on an equal footing, i.e., does not need to boss her peers or wait for peers to tell her what to do?
  8. Can she handle most social problems by using her words and not tattling or being physical?
  9. Can she ask for what she wants and needs?
  10. Is my child self-confident?

Motor Skills

  1. Can my child hold child-safe scissors, crayons, and a pencil with the correct grasp?
  2. Can she put a 10-12 piece puzzle together correctly?
  3. Can she jump, run, skip, walk backward, and walk up and down stairs?

Pre-academic / Academic Skills

  1. Does my child talk in sentences?
  2. Does she ask questions about what she sees and about what is happening in her environment?
  3. Does she understand prepositions such as up, down, on, under, in, out, behind?
  4. Can she identify the parts of her body?
  5. Does she enjoy having books read to her?
  6. Can she make up a story or tell a story about a past event?
  7. Can she group items that are alike by color, shape and size?
  8. Can she count from 1-10?
  9. Does she recognize the numbers from 1-10?
  10. Does she recognize most letters?
  11. Does she recognize five or six different colors?
  12. Does she know her full name?
  13. Does she recognize her written first name?
  14. Does she attempt to write her first name?
  15. Does she know how old she is?
  16. Does she know her telephone number?
  17. Does she know her address?

What If My Child Does Not Have All Of These Skills?

The skills from the above check list are those which educators would optimally like children to possess before entering kindergarten. Children who begin school with these abilities have a high likelihood of academic success. Educators also know that many children will not have acquired all of the skills by the time they enter school. Teachers develop programs so that each child will progress in knowledge and skills.

Use the material from the checklist to determine where your child may need some extra assistance. For example, if your son or daughter does not have an attention span of approximately 15 minutes, determine how long he or she can attend. Then, in an activity that you enjoy doing together, add a minute or two at a time until you see that progress has been made and that attention can be maintained for about 15 minutes. Once the child can do this in an activity with you, such as during a story or playing a board game, have her work toward the same skill in independent activities like playing with dolls or blocks, or doing an art activity like coloring or playing with clay.

What Else Can I Do?

Many parents want to put their children in kindergarten as soon as they are within the birthday deadline, which, in most states, is five years old by December 2. This is not always the wisest decision. Many educators feel that if a young boy is not five by the end of July and a girl by early fall, waiting to enter kindergarten the following year is better.

Paying attention to your own child will give you a good idea if she is ready for school. Some children have a pattern in which they plateau at a developmental stage for a long period of time, then make a big growth spurt. If your child has this pattern, in May or June it may not look like she is ready for school. Then, during summer she takes a leap in growth and you know that the time is right. If your child is school age but does not appear ready for the rigors of kindergarten, enrolling her is a good preschool program or a school district pre-kindergarten program is a wise choice.

Children who attend a well-run preschool or a day-care program structured with preschool activities are often better prepared for kindergarten. They often have an advantage over those children who have not had any school-type experience before entering. When choosing a preschool or day-care facility ask to observe the program. Arrange to have an interview with the administrator in order to determine the curriculum offered is right for you and your child.

Plan for transitioning your child to the school experience. Many kindergartens have a visiting day where parents and children can attend the classroom for a short period of time. During kindergarten pre-enrollment, an opportunity to meet the teachers and visit the classroom is often provided. Take your child to the spring Open House at the school she will attend. Visit each kindergarten classroom. Talk enthusiastically about the things you see. During the summer, drive by the school and talk about how this will be her school. Go to the playground and play.

Early in summer begin buying what is needed for school. Most kindergartens request that the students have a backpack to transport belongings to and from home. Homework is now part of the kindergarten program. A backpack is a handy way to make sure it gets from school to home and back. Choosing a backpack early and practicing with the zipper or buckles help build confidence and expectation.

Two weeks before school begins start the school year bed-and-getting-up schedule. Incorporate a bedtime ritual such as bath or shower and story time into the schedule.

Acknowledge your own feelings. Whether your little one has been in preschool or not, entering kindergarten begins a new life stage. There may be some trepidation or sadness on your part. Show your enthusiasm to your child, but do not be afraid to admit your concerns to yourself and your partner or a friend.

If you determine that your youngster is not ready for kindergarten you may feel sad or discouraged. Remember that your goal as a parent is to do what is in her best interest. There are opportunities for her to grow in the interim before entering school with the skills necessary for success.

Finally, use available resources in making your decision. If you have concerns, talk to the pediatrician, the preschool teacher or an informed day-care worker who knows your child well. Ask for an appointment with one of the kindergarten teachers at the school your child will attend. Some schools offer a pre-enrollment evaluation to assist parents and educators in determining the readiness of the child. Everyone wants children to become successful students who feel good about themselves and who like school. Carefully considering your child's kindergarten readiness and making the best decision you can leads to that success. Follow up with a commitment to do your part in maintaining her success. This includes making sure she completes and returns her homework and other assigned home activities. It also means showing an interest in what happens at school. Attend parent conferences and volunteer in the classroom to maintain contact with the school. Your involvement in the education process indicates to your child that school is important. And success is a team effort among child, parent and school personnel.

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