CMS accepts children to preK who are age 4 by August 31 and to Kindergarten who are 5 by August 31. You can read more about the CMS enrollment process here ~ and there’s still time to enroll for the 2019-2020 school year.

So, is your child ready for kindergarten?

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

What should you do? Every parent asks themselves this ~ Is my child ready at 5 or 5+? Should we wait? What is he/she is right on the cusp, i.e. just turned 5 in late August? Should we do preK or go straight to Kindergarten? How will this affect the college applications? (#kiddingsortof).

You’re probably getting an earful from grandparents, neighbors, playgroup moms etc.. The most important people to get advice from are not friends and family, but 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 school. Readiness differs with every child.

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.”

Dr. Michele Mannering, PhD, licensed psychologist ( 704-497-9683 [email protected] ) who specializes in assessment answered two of our key questions:

Does your child need to be able to read before kindergarten?

 In thinking about kindergarten readiness, the emphasis should be on if a child is ready to learn, not what they have already learned.  A child who reads chapter books before kindergarten is not necessarily more ready than the child who only knows a few letters.   Reading is a complex skill; there is more to the skill than simply reciting words from a page.  The requisite skills for reading: sight words, phonemic awareness and comprehension, are naturally covered as part of the kindergarten and first grade curriculum. 

Should you put your child in kindergarten if they are right at the cutoff?

Parents need to consider about all aspects of the child when thinking about enrolling versus waiting based on the birthday cutoff.  The cutoff dates for kindergarten entry vary from state to state and in essence are arbitrary.  There is no set universal answer on the question of starting or waiting.  All of the child’s skills: social, motor, cognitive and self help need to be aligned.  This is a better barometer as opposed to age cutoffs. 

Based on our research and interviews with schools’ admissions staff, we’ve learned that while there is no a-ha moment, 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.

photo credit | Lucelia Ribeiro
photo via Lucélia Ribeiro on

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 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
  • handle “hand to eye” and “eye to action” like throw a ball & kick a ball

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. 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. It’s a big step for the first child in particular, but one all parents wrestle with for each child in the family, and the answer will be different for different children. Try not to compare your child with others; it’s a good habit to get good at early on. Trust the counsel of the school administration and testing experts on this, but most of all trust your mom-gut. You’ve got this.

If your child is ready, you can still enroll him or her in CMS pre-k or kindergarten. CMS accepts children to preK who are age 4 by August 31 and to Kindergarten who are 5 by August 31. You can read more about the CMS enrollment process here ~ and there’s still time to enroll for the 2019-2020 school year.