You may think just because your child is turning five years old, it’s time to pack up the backpack and send him or her off to kindergarten. But as the old saying goes, age is just a number, and there are many more factors that determine whether your child is ready for lower school. We talked to Providence Day School‘s Associate Director of Admissions Kristi Boston, who has more than 20 years of experience in child development (as both a counselor and a mom).
Here’s what she told us about how to determine whether your child is ready for lower school:
- Know your child. Years ago, it was common for people to automatically send their five-year-olds to kindergarten no matter what. But nowadays, there are many other options for parents — especially in Charlotte with our proliferation of public, private and independent schools as well as organizations like the YMCA. There’s something for everyone, from transitional kindergarten to kindergarten preparatory classes. Also before you decide whether to send your child to school, you’ll need to consider all aspects of his or her personality. Can she say her ABCs forward and backward but still can’t sit in a chair for longer than 10 minutes? She may need another year to mature. It might feel tough to keep your child in TK for another year when your neighbor’s child who’s only a few months older is heading off to school this year, but remember that your child’s future success is the top priority. “As a parent, you’re your child’s number one advocate, and you know them best,” Kristi said.
- Know the program. Get to know potential programs by going to open houses, setting up tours and talking to other moms who have children enrolled there. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about their expectations for students. Again, we’re fortunate to live in a place where we have so many school options: public, independent, magnet, Montessori — there’s definitely something out there that will work for your child. Were you looking at a program that doesn’t have a scheduled nap time but your kid falls apart without his afternoon snooze? Keep that in mind. Kristi also said not to be afraid to switch programs if your child starts somewhere and isn’t thriving.
- Know that growth isn’t on a continuum. Sometimes with kids and learning it feels like they’re taking one step forward and two steps back. Kristi says you can (and should) encourage certain skills like reading and writing, but each child will develop at their own pace. And be sure to use your resources: Ask your pediatrician any and all questions you have about your child’s development, and talk to your child’s preschool or daycare teachers about whether they think your child is ready.
Kristi said many schools don’t have a hard-and-fast baseline for kindergarten readiness (i.e. your child should know the alphabet and be able to count to 20 before you even register). However, they do often look for a few developmental readiness tiers. Here are a few things to look for and how to help your child improve:
- Physical readiness: Kids who are definitely ready for kindergarten have a good grasp of gross and fine motor skills like being able to balance, sit still, hold a pencil and switch an object from hand to hand.
How to improve: For gross motor skill improvement, Kristi suggests taking your child to the playground, swimming pool or a mommy-and-me yoga class. To improve fine motor skills, encourage them to play with Legos or sort coins and beads. Drawing is an important precursor to writing, but if your child doesn’t like drawing, encourage him or her to play with clay.
- Intellectual readiness: Again, many programs don’t have a baseline for academics (but yours might, so make sure you check), but good indicators of kindergarten readiness are developmentally appropriate speech, being able to answer two-part questions (“Where did you go today and what did you do there?”) and being able to finish assigned work.
How to improve: Kristi suggests working on short-term memory by giving children multiple tasks such as: go upstairs, brush your teeth and put on pajamas. You can also improve your child’s speech and vocabulary by reading and talking with him or her. Your pediatrician and child’s teachers/caregivers will also have a good idea of your child’s intellectual readiness.
- Emotional readiness: Does your child scream and cry every day in the drop-off line? He may not be ready for kindergarten just yet. Or it might be just what he needs. Talk to your pediatrician and child’s preschool/daycare teachers for more insight.
How to improve: Tell your child exactly what to expect at drop-off and, later, at kindergarten. Kids understand much more than we often think they do, and can be fearful of the unknown. Kristi also suggests taking advantage of summer day camps, church groups and other programs that will allow them to experience having fun away from mom. When you decide it’s time for them to go to school, ease the transition by going to every open house and meet-the-teacher event offered.
- Social readiness: Does your child still need a nap every day to function? Does he get along with other kids? Saying yes to one or both of these doesn’t mean he is or isn’t ready for lower school, but they’re both important to consider.
How to improve: Expose your child to other kids as much as possible with playdates, etc. You can also increase empathy and socialization by getting a pet. As for the nap, remember the development (non-) continuum we discussed earlier … your child will drop it when he/she is ready. And school may be just the cure.
Some parting notes from Kristi:
- Even if your child is intellectually ready (she’s been writing her name for a year!), she may still not be ready for kindergarten. Trust your mom-gut and remember it’s better to start school at age six than get held back in a later grade when she’s already made friends.
- Siblings develop at different rates, so just because you sent Bobby’s older sister to school when she turned five, it doesn’t mean Bobby will be ready. And there’s no law saying your kids have to go to the same school. If you know one needs private or independent school while the other is flourishing in public, do what’s best for your child (even if it means two carpool lines).
- Once your child is in school, let her develop at her own pace. She will learn to read — just keep working on it. Her first-grade teacher won’t know who learned to read (or jump rope, or ride a bike) first.
Providence Day School Open Houses
October 25: 6:30 p.m. Transitional Kindergarten – Grade 5
November 6: 2:00 p.m. Transitional Kindergarten – Grade 12
Providence Day School
5800 Sardis Road, Charlotte NC 28270
Email: [email protected]
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