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Ready or Not, Here I Come? Gauging Your Child's Kindergarten Readiness

Your child may be turning five before your school's deadline, but chronological age should not be the sole determinant of whether he is ready for Kindergarten. It's a huge leap from preschool, day care or the home setting to Kindergarten, with its longer, more structured day, larger class or group size and focus shift from play to academics.

If your child exhibits developmental delays, you may be wondering if he or she is ready for Kindergarten. Might he or she benefit more from an additional year of play-focused growth and maturity before facing the more difficult social and academic requirements of school?

There is no single criterion that indicates readiness for Kindergarten in any child. You must look at both your child's current capabilities, and at the school he will be attending. Many of the skills regarded as typical for children entering Kindergarten are in areas that challenge kids with learning differences greatly. Each school has its own expectations and requirements but general indicators of Kindergarten readiness are used as guidelines. Keep in mind that few children will meet all these indicators. Try to determine the degree to which your child fits this profile, and discuss with teachers and administrators of any school you are considering.

  • Is able to speak clearly or communicate needs in an alternative fashion.
  • Is able and willing to follow instructions.
  • Listens actively - if you read him a short picture book story, can he follow along, then retell it in his own words?
  • Interacts amicably with other children and with adults: waits his turn, shares, doesn’t hit, bite, etc.
  • Is able to participate in group activities.
  • Is able to put on outer garments without assistance.
  • Is able to use the restroom without assistance.
  • Is able to manage lunch items (juice boxes, baggies, lunchboxes) without assistance.
  • Is able to blow nose without assistance.
  • Handles pencil/markers, scissors.
  • Is able to count to 10.
  • Is familiar with the alphabet.
  • Likes to learn new things, shows some curiosity about her world.
  • Some schools also expect a certain level of knowledge of colors, shapes, body parts.
  • Can recognize and respect authority.
  • Can spend extended time away from parents.

Evaluate all areas of your child's development. He may be ready cognitively but not emotionally. Or, she may have good motor skills but poor language/communication or social skills. Educators tend to place more weight on cognitive development than on physical or social development in evaluating Kindergarten readiness.

Observe the Kindergarten in the school your child will attend. Note how typical kindergarteners behave and the types of activities included in the day. Can you picture your child being successful in this setting? Other factors to consider include the size of the class and whether the teacher has adult support. Are there assistants or volunteers in the class? Are they trained in early childhood education? What accommodations are made for the different paces at which children learn?

Consider whether the program seems developmental or academic in nature. Many schools have pushed what used to be first-grade curriculum down to Kindergarten. Forcing reading or arithmetic on a child who is not ready will not produce success.

Some educators feel that, as a parent, you should look for a Kindergarten that is ready for your child, rather than whether your child is ready for Kindergarten. Still, you can do much to help your child's entry to Kindergarten go as smoothly as possible. Look at the skill set recommended above and use these at-home activities to build those skills.

  • Read alphabet books. Teach him to recognize upper and lowercase letters.
  • Teach him to recognize numerals. Read number books and look for numbers in your travels around town. Practice self-help skills such as managing a coat, washing hands, blowing nose. If he has trouble with fasteners such as zippers, buttons or shoelaces, give him only school clothing that has none of these.
  • Teach him left from right.
  • Discuss spatial opposite terms: up and down, forward and backward, over and under, in and out.
  • Discuss temporal terms: before/after, yesterday/tomorrow, last year/next year.
  • Read wordless books. Encourage him to make up stories about what he thinks is happening in the pictures and what will happen next.
  • Help him memorize his home phone number and address.
  • Teach him basic colors and basic shapes. Apply the knowledge to objects in the home and in your travels around town.
  • Take the time to speak to him clearly and with limited jargon and slang, and remind him to do the same when he speaks to you.
  • Do simple cutting, gluing, writing and coloring activities, and incorporate these skills into everyday tasks, such as giftwrapping.
  • Incorporate gross motor activities into your family's days: walking, running, shooting hoops, playing catch, skipping, swimming, dancing.
  • Tell your child what you and/or his other parent do for a living. Point out people’s occupations in your travels around town.
  • Expose him to as broad a range of experiences as he can comfortably handle.

If you do decide to delay your child's entry to Kindergarten for a year, experts are nearly unanimous in recommending that you do not keep him home, but enroll him in a structured program such as a part-time or full-time Pre-Kindergarten or Junior Kindergarten for that year. Developing independence and peer interaction skills should be the focus.

Three-time ForeWord Book of the Year finalist, Ellen is the author of four award-winning books on teaching and raising children with autism and a contributor to numerous publications and websites around the world. To explore Ellen’s work, visit Adapted from 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s, 2nd edition (2010), Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk.

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