Since we’re all going to live to be 100, making the middle age of adulthood decidedly in your 60s [that’s my story and I’m sticking to it] I think it makes some sense that we are stretching out childhood and youth a bit.  Not all milestones have caught up, but one that has is Kindergarten.

Children are entering Kindergarten these days older and ready to learn.  Many have been in pre-school or daycare, have been to church Kindergarten or been to Transitional Kindergarten, and are already 6 y-o that first day of “real” school. Some have not, and are still quite ready for the K experience. How to know?

We spoke with Lower School Head Kay Montross at Providence Day School to gain a better understanding of how a parent can gauge whether their child is ready for Kindergarten.  “Kindergarten is where formal education truly begins to prepare children for a future we can only imagine,” explained Mrs. Montross in our interview. It’s not a process you want to rush.

While there isn’t a magic number, the general chronological age for starting Kindergarten is now 5+ to 6 years old, with 6 being typical.

What should you do? If you have a pre-school age child, know that this is one question everyone asks themselves.  Is my child ready at 5 or 5+? Should we wait? Should we do TK?
How will this affect his college applications? (lol jk) (not really).

Everyone has an opinion on this.  You’re probably getting an earful from grandparents, neighbors, SILs, playgroup moms etc.. The most important people to get advice from are not friends and family, they are those with the most experience in this and those who know your child best – daycare providers, pre-school teachers, and the admissions staff at the schools to which you are applying. If you haven’t already discussed, do so.  Readiness differs with every child, and their counsel will be critical to add to your own evaluation.

Different parents have different reasons for wanting to hold their child back or get their child into school early, but like everything else in childhood development (…potty training anyone?…) it happens most easily for most kids when they are “ready.”

There is no a-ha moment, but there are 3 areas to look at when evaluating if your child is Kindergarten ready:

#1 social and emotional development

#2 physical development

#3 cognitive development

Please note the order, as it is specific.  Academic readiness is #3 for a reason.  The teachers and the school can teach your child the academics, but it is much harder for them to develop your child’s social, emotional and physical readiness.

Your child’s development age is not necessarily their chonological age. Some signs that your child is socially and emotionally ready for Kindergarten are:

  • separates easily from you/parents
  • handles new settings well & with confidence
  • able to play well with others
  • engages in creative play and make believe
  • not attached to electronics or devices
  • can sit, listen and re-tell a story
  • able to express needs and feelings
  • has some problem-solving skills, can reason way out of things

You can look at simple things like: is your child able to get up and get ready to leave the house for an activity in the morning, or are they fighting the process? Can they get dressed on their own, brush teeth, finish a healthy breakfast? Are they able to go to the restroom and handle it on their own? Do they demand your undivided attention throughout their day or are they able to entertain themselves without the electronic babysitter?

If your child is struggling with things like this, you will definitely want to discuss at some length with the experts.  A child who is playing catch up to the rest of the class on the social skills is often the child who ends up playing catch up on the academics.

#2 physical development

This may or may not have much to do with your child’s actual physical size.  The keys here are the gross and fine motor skills that are needed to navigate Kindergarten. There are physical PRE READING skills children need to have to function well in Kindergarten and to enable best learning at the K-level.

Often these only happen with physical maturity, and can’t be rushed. But both gross and fine motor skills can be aided by specific things we do as parents to help prepare our children for kindergarten. A school can help promote social and physical development; however, a certain level of development is helpful to success in a Kindergarten program. In other words, the more you can help your child develop the social, emotional and physical elements before entering school, the greater likelihood that school will be a healthy, happy setting for your child.

Gross motor skills that show kindergarten readiness:

  • can your child run, skip, hop, jump, climb?
  • go up and down the slide by him/herself?
  • navigate the neighborhood playground without you at their side?
  • sit up straight, balance themselves.
  • follow in line, walk in line, stay in place?
  • control their extremities

Fine Motor Skills are:

  • cut with scissors
  • hold a pencil or crayon
  • use tweezers to pick things up
  • play with clay, make shapes
  • scrunch or tear paper, make shapes
  • string beads
  • work a puzzle
  • hand to eye and eye to action like throw a ball & kick a ball

It’s important to know that some of our safety measures have added to the challenges of physical development of early childhood. Sleeping on the back, while safer to prevent SIDS, has reduced the amount of pushing up children do with their core/ front muscles/ arms. Our 5 point seatbelt restraints limit the amount of self-balancing the child must do to accommodate the motion of the car/stroller etc.  Screen Time in general has reduced free play / physical time.

Some of the best pre-K teaching you as a parent can do is to focus on physical play & physical development, free play and creative play….and leave the intensive academics to the teachers. Which gets us to:

#3 The cognitive piece

We’re looking at this 3rd for a reason. If children are ready socially, emotionally and physically, this piece will fall easily in place with the professionals in charge.  Here are some cognitive signs your child is ready to start Kindergarten:

  • can they communicate their needs and express their thoughts and feelings?
  • can they follow simple directions
  • are they able to listen, focus outwardly, speak up when asked?
  • can they use their thinking skills to solve small problems?
  • can they be responsible for their own space? pick up / put away?
  • are they able to manage daily responsibilities? feed pet? brush teeth? dress each am?

Whether or not your child can read is much less an issue than whether they have cognition of language and communication. Parents often focus on reading as the critical life-step into Kindergarten. While YOUR reading WITH your child is crucial to their development, specific word and letter recognition is less so. Picture books are fine. You want your child to be able to listen to and tell a story, whether that is with words or pictures.

So, lots to consider.

The good news is that there are plenty of folks who have been doing the kindergarten admissions process for a long time and for a lot of children. Everyone involved in the pre-school and the school admissions process wants your child to be a successful, happy student, and they’re there to help guide you in your decisions.

As Mrs. Montross put it, you are really looking for your kindergarten child to feel an important part of his school community and class “team.” A kindergarten-ready child knows that the team doesn’t function well when he or she is not playing their part, and they are excited about going to school every day to play their important role and contribute to their team.

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