Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?
Kindergarten can be an exciting time for you and your child because it sets the stage for his entire school career. You will look on in wonder as he grows into a more capable, confident, and enthusiastic learner.
But sending your child off to kindergarten can be rough. As the day approaches, you will probably experience a mix of feelings ranging from relief to fear. And your anxiety will be rooted in some specific questions that nag you.
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions.
How Can I Tell if My Kindergartner’s Body Is Ready?
Five-year-olds come in all shapes and sizes. Some students are “off the chart” for size and physical dexterity. Others face severe challenges. There are, however, certain traits you may see in a typical five-year-old:
- He manages his own bathroom needs.
- He has increased poise, coordination, and stamina.
- He can hop, skip, and jump.
- He favors one hand over the other.
- He begins to lose baby teeth and get secondary teeth.
- He is learning to tie his shoes, button his buttons, and zip his zipper.
- He climbs stairs using alternating feet.
- He can throw and may be able to catch a ball.
What Kind of Physical Activities or Sports Are Best for Five-Year-Olds?
Most children love to try different sports and activities at this age. The secret is to help your child view them as fun. Any five-year-old who jumps, plays outdoors, and does other things that help develop large muscles is getting the exercise he needs.
All learning starts with play. You can best prepare your child for kindergarten by providing play experiences that challenge him and that he enjoys. Also, set a good example — remember to play yourself!
Should My Child Have a Physical Before He Starts School?
Entry into kindergarten usually requires a checkup. Be sure to tell your child’s doctor:
- about his physical and learning accomplishments
- whether he is healthy year-round or (like many children his age) gets a lot of colds, sore throats, stomachaches, and ear infections.
At a well-child checkup, the doctor most likely will:
- examine your child’s eyes, ears, and other sensory organs
- check urine, blood, and blood pressure
- watch your child walk and bend to check for motor or skeletal problems
- measure height and weight so he can assess your child’s growth in comparison to his peers
A yearly dental checkup is also in order, both to teach good home care and to detect early dental problems. You may want to find a children’s dentist, who has had extra training in child behavior and dental health.
Remember: If your child has ever had a medical problem, or has one now, it is important that you contact the school. A child who is on medication may exhibit unusual behavior in the classroom that the teacher needs to understand.
How Much Sleep Does a Kindergartner Need?
After a busy day in kindergarten, your five-year-old may find it easier to fall asleep at night than he has in the past. However, getting up in the morning may be more difficult. Night waking is rare among five-year-olds, perhaps because children this age do not typically take naps. If you establish a routine and stick to it — bath followed by a story, for example — bedtime usually goes well. In fact, it may be his favorite time of day.
Begin to adjust your child’s bedtime and nap schedule several weeks before school starts. That way, he will not have too many changes in routine to contend with at the same time.
Kindergarten Readiness: Your Child’s Emotions
Here are some things you can do to prepare your child for kindergarten.
Can he handle being separated from me?
Your child will likely have an easier transition to kindergarten if he is comfortable away from you for several hours at a time. Some children can handle the separation easily, while others may be overly clingy or tearful as the first day of school approaches. Here are several ways you can help your child deal with his anxieties:
- Notice how he typically reacts to new and different situations. Encourage him to put his feelings into words. He may be reassured with such statements as “I know you miss me when you’re at school. I miss you, too, and when you come home, we’ll have a snack and read a story.”
- Know yourself and your own family pattern. Are you a worrier? Do you tend to overreact and overprotect? If so, this could give him the subtle message that he can’t really be independent.
- Practice before school starts. For example, leave him with a baby-sitter or with a friend for a play date. Gradually increase the amount of time you are away from him.
- Tour the classroom together and meet his teacher and principal in the days before school starts. Call ahead to make sure they are available to visit with you.
- On the “big day,” make your good-bye firm when the teacher indicates that it is time for you to leave. If you linger, he may feel that he can’t handle this new experience without you. Give him a big hug and kiss, and tell him how proud you are of him.
How Can I Help Him Manage His Own Behavior?
Learning self-discipline requires a childhood filled with patience, love and limits provided by adults consistently and repeatedly. Your child is more likely to be successful in kindergarten if he knows how to follow certain rules, obeys authority figures, treats objects and people with care, and understands that it is never okay to hurt anyone on the inside or the outside.
His self-management skills will continue to grow throughout the year; for example, he will improve his ability to express his emotions in an appropriate way, listen to a story without interrupting, and stay calm even when he is frustrated or disappointed.
Good behavior provides more opportunities for learning. You can help your child understand that he must obey certain rules and respect authority figures by modeling the behavior you wish to see from him. Do not allow him to boss you or talk disrespectfully to you. This is important if he is to understand, accept, and respect authority figures at school.
Becoming Independent and Self-Confident
Children generally learn best when they are allowed to do things themselves, so the gift of confidence is one of the most valuable things we can give them. Notice the efforts your child is making. Remarks such as “I like the way you picked up your toys without being told” or “You did a good job dressing yourself” go a long way toward helping him feel capable.
Dressing himself — buttoning his coat, zipping his pants, etc. — is one area where your child should feel extra confident. He may also be learning to tie his shoes, but until he masters this skill, look for shoes with hook-and-loop closures.
Many children this age do need guidance in choosing clothing that is appropriate for certain situations. You may want to divide his closet into different sections for school clothes, play clothes, and special occasion clothes. Or, color code his drawers for easy recognition and let him pick anything he wants from the designated drawer.
Practicing Good Manners
A well-mannered child tends to get the most from school. He is also likely to have more friends. Here’s how you can promote good manners:
- Be a good role model. When your child hears you saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” he will pick up on your good manners.
- Require basic table manners, such as remaining at the table until everyone is finished and asking politely for things to be passed.
- Point out good examples. If you see another child who has done something nice, remark that it was a polite thing to do. Prompt your child to respond politely if he doesn’t do it on his own.
- To help the habit “stick,” always commend your child when he has used good manners.
Accepting Others Regardless of Their Differences
Help your child understand that people in the world represent a variety of shapes, sizes, abilities, races, and beliefs. Acceptance means understanding the variety — how we are alike and how we are different—and treating all people in a kind and fair manner. It is a learned behavior that becomes a common practice when he observes the important people in his life treating others with respect.
Other Signs of Emotional Readiness
Children learn social skills best by modeling, repetition, and practice. “Catch” your child being good by complimenting him when he responds appropriately in a given situation. And remember that his teacher will help him develop many traits, such as:
- coping with changes in routine
- sticking with an activity until it is complete
- anticipating the next activity with enthusiasm
- demonstrating increased responsibility
- communicating what he does and does not understand and asking for help
- talking with other children and interacting with them when they play
- taking turns and sharing
- imitating adult roles in pretend play
- recognizing that other people besides himself have needs
- caring for his own belongings and respecting the property of others.
Kindergarten Readiness: Your Child’s Fears
Here are some things you can do to prepare your child to get the most from kindergarten.
What If My Child Expresses Fears About Going to School?
Most kindergarten teachers plan special activities involving parents and children for the first week of school. Try to attend these events. They offer the perfect opportunity for your child to feel comfortable in his new setting, meet his classmates, and get to know his teacher.
Some children are excited and make the transition to kindergarten with amazing ease. Others are uneasy: “Will I make friends? Will I get lost?” If your child expresses fears, listen to him, and then state back to him what you believe he is feeling. This will let him know that you understand, and that he can trust you with his feelings. Try to boost his confidence by remaining positive yourself. Continue to talk about his apprehensions as they arise.
Something else you can do to alleviate his fears is to read books about kindergarten together. Here are some suggestions (not available from Focus on the Family):
- Kindergarten Kids by Ellen B. Senisi
- Learning Is Fun with Mrs. Perez by Alice K. Flanagan
- Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- Sparky and Eddie: The First Day of School by Tony Johnston
- When You Go to Kindergarten by James Howe
- First Grade Can Wait by Lorraine Aseltine
- Annabelle Swift, Kindergartner by Amy Schwartz
These books are geared toward parents (also not available from Focus on the Family):
- Kindergarten: It Isn’t What It Used to Be by Susan K. Golant and Mitch Golant
- Kindergarten: Ready or Not?: A Parent’s Guide by Sean A. Walmsley and Bonnie Brown Walmsley
- The Kindergarten Survival Handbook: The Before School Checklist and a Guide for Parents by Allana Cummings Elovson
- Megaskills: Building Children’s Achievement for the Information Age by Dorothy Rich
- How To Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten by Florence Karnofsky and Trudy Weiss
- Off to School: A Parent’s-Eye View of the Kindergarten Year by Irene Hannigan
- Your Child in School: Kindergarten Through Second Grade by Tom and Harriet Sobol
- Kindergarten by Marjorie Ramsey
Is My Child Really Ready for Kindergarten?
Assessing your child’s readiness for kindergarten can be tricky. Let’s face it: It is difficult to be objective about your own child. You may want to ask the opinion of other adults who have spent time with him. Ultimately, however, the decision rests with you.
One of the best ways to decide whether your child is ready is to think about his strengths and weaknesses. The following list contains behaviors that are potential barriers to learning. If you “see” your child on this list, however, don’t despair! Each child is an individual, so the profile of one child will be very different from another — even within the same family. Your child’s teacher has the background to diagnose such behaviors and the training to help each child learn and grow.
- immature speech patterns
- difficulty separating from his mother
- many behavior ups and downs
- constant state of motion
- short attention span
- easily distracted
- limited success with fine motor skills (cutting, coloring, etc.)
- in need of constant supervision on playground equipment, or forgets safety rules
- disruptive or destructive
- would rather argue than compromise
- needs rest but resists settling down
- struggles with changes in routine
- often fails to finish tasks
- works better one-on-one than he does alone or in a group setting
- has trouble following simple instructions
- shows silly, boisterous humor that is out of step with other children his age
- has poor bladder control that is especially evident under stress
- tends to forget or lose items and belongings
Whether to send your child to kindergarten now or wait until next year is not an easy decision, especially if he exhibits many of the behaviors listed above. To help you make the best possible decision, talk to his preschool teacher, caregiver or pediatrician. Consult beforehand with his new teacher and discuss his social and emotional maturity, unique personality, needs, strengths, and areas of concern as well as the school’s programs, expectations, and services. Consider how you, your child, and the school will all work together.
Even though it is not your child’s decision to make, get a sense of how he feels about starting school. A child who throws a tantrum at the thought of school may well need an additional year rich in interaction with others before starting kindergarten.
Think of the big picture: If you have nagging doubts about your child’s ability to handle kindergarten, it may well be best to give him the gift of an additional year. During that time, make sure he has lots of play dates, story hours at the public library, an additional year in (or first exposure to) preschool, and plenty of opportunities to interact with a variety of children in a variety of situations.
Readiness for Kindergarten: Your Child’s Mind
It may surprise you to know that your child will learn to read, write, and compute as well as to cut, skip, and share.
How Can I Help My Child Grow Intellectually?
There are so many enjoyable ways you can support your kindergartner as he acquires these new skills! You are, after all, his most important teacher.
Here are some suggestions:
- Challenge him to find different ways that numbers are used at home. These could include telephone books, measuring cups, calendars, clocks, house numbers, and scales.
- Explore shapes together. Learn about circles, squares, cylinders, and rectangles by opening boxes and by examining dishes, baking tins, and the contours of the cupboard itself for shapes.
- Make a conscious effort to listen to your child, and help him learn to listen, too.
- Take a listening walk together. Point out quiet or loud sounds. Help him determine where the sounds came from. On the way home, see how many different sounds the two of you can remember.
First and foremost, however, read to and with your child and have him read to you. Reading is the essential foundation upon which all other skills are built.
By the time children complete kindergarten, they should know the parts of a book and their functions. They should begin to distinguish various forms and purposes of print, from personal letters and signs to storybooks.
Children come to kindergarten with a variety of experiences, and the teacher accepts each child at his unique stage of development and helps him develop the essential building blocks of literacy so he will be successful in first grade.
How Can I Help My Child Become a Reader?
There are so many enjoyable activities you can do together to help “grow” his literacy skills:
- Help him notice that words on a page are read from left to right and top to bottom. Show him that words are separated by spaces and that the end of a line is not always the end of a thought.
- Help him understand that anything spoken can be written. For example, have him think of a title for a picture he drew, and write it for him.
- Help him see that books are important to his life. Let him choose books on subjects that interest him. Encourage him to retell or dramatize stories or parts of stories, and take part in the action yourself.
- Help him develop the knowledge and vocabulary he will need to become a successful reader. Take him to interesting places and watch his reaction. Give him a chance to describe what he has seen. This should lead to a lively discussion about food and farming and give you an opportunity to introduce new words such as “tractor” and “plow.”
- Make reading an interactive process. Have him ask his own questions about the story and answer the ones you ask. Encourage him to follow the story with movement and mime. Draw his attention to forms of print such as punctuation, the space around words, and placement of the title.
- When you finish a book, have him tell you what happened first, in the middle, and last. Ask how he felt about the story, and why.
- Discuss the pictures in books and ask him to predict what will happen next.
- Help him observe how much you love language by putting expression and passion in your voice. Want to hear an example? The next time you take your child to the library for story hour, notice how animated the librarian is as she reads.
- Help him to become a good listener. Try 30 seconds of silence. Then have him tell you what he hears. A car down the street? A bird chirping? His baby sister crying?
- Help him develop his vocabulary by asking such questions as “What is another word that means the same as this word?” and then using that word in the conversations you have with him.
Celebrate his progress!
Kindergarten Readiness: Reading
Here are some enjoyable activities you can do with your child to help “grow” his literacy skills.
Are Certain Kinds of Books Better Than Others?
Exposure to many different kinds of books will increase your child’s language skills. For example:
- A good place to start is with picture books, Mother Goose, nursery rhymes, and books about familiar objects and experiences.
- Even after he has outgrown picture books, he will still enjoy hearing a good story read well. Find a book that is just a little beyond his own capabilities.
- Select books about concepts, such as shapes, and read slowly so he can absorb the material. Check his understanding by asking him to explain what he has learned.
- Find books about real-life people, places, and events to expand and deepen his knowledge. Study the pictures together to see how they illustrate the facts.
- Read books that tap his emotions. Ask him how he feels about the emotional parts and which characters he can identify with. Share your emotions about the story as well.
- Laugh together at humor and nonsense books.
- Compare the artwork you find in a variety of books. Encourage him to create his own illustrations for his favorite books.
What Is the Best Setting for Reading?
The best time for reading to and with your child, or for having him read to you, is when he is rested and content. A quiet environment will keep distractions to a minimum. Have him sit close to you so he can see the book. If he is wiggly, try reading to him while he is in the bathtub. Remember that he may want to hear a favorite book over and over again. He will begin to memorize the story, and that’s a stepping stone in the process of learning to read.
Remember, too, that he may well want to “read” to you, even before he can technically do so. Encourage this behavior, because telling the story while pointing to the pictures is an important pre-reading skill.
Avid readers acquire their love of reading at home, from their parents. No teacher can pass along a passion for books the way a loving parent can. Children remember cozy bedtime stories, sharing books with friends and siblings, and the freedom and encouragement to read lots of different kinds of books.
Is Learning How to Write Connected with Learning How to Read?
It certainly is! Even before they enter kindergarten, most children take the first steps toward experimenting with print. Here’s how you can support your child’s earliest attempts at writing:
- Scribbling is an early form of writing for little ones. Your child may be able to tell you a great story from his scribbles. Ask him!
- If you see him attempting to copy words he sees around him — a label or a book title, for example — ask him to tell you what they mean. Once again, he may have a great story to tell you.
- The next step most children take is to draw letter-like forms — a precursor to alphabet letters. He may try to take a word apart and break it into pieces in his attempt to sound it out. The more you read with your child, the sooner he will be able to make the connection between the words he is learning and what they look like in print.
When your child seems ready for more complex tasks, encourage him to print his name beginning with a capital letter and using lowercase letters for the rest. Help him to learn his address and phone number, his birthday, the days of the week, and months of the year. These skills represent major steps in learning language. Remember that praise for even small improvements in any of these areas reinforces his willingness to try harder.
This checklist will help determine how well your child progresses in acquiring kindergarten skills.
Checklist of Kindergarten Milestones
In kindergarten, your child will learn many of the basic skills needed to read, write, and do math. He’ll also learn to get along with others and to follow rules.
The German word kindergarten means “a child’s garden,””and this first year of formal school will be filled with opportunities to plant seeds of learning for your child.
What kindergarten teachers hope to see on the first day of school are children who are healthy, mature, capable, and eager to learn. In reality, however, they welcome all children into their classrooms regardless of what they can or cannot do. Their mission is to help all students grow in physical, social, behavioral, and language skills so they are prepared for the challenges of first grade.
There’s no perfect formula that determines when children are truly ready for kindergarten. But you can use this checklist to see how well your child progresses in acquiring these skills throughout the year.
Don’t worry if your child seems to have only a handful of these skills the first time you read the lists. Check the skills he has mastered, then review the lists every month to see what additional skills he can accomplish easily. Young children learn so fast! He may struggle with a skill this month but have it mastered the next. You will be amazed to see how many items you can check by the end of the year!
Physical Development and Motor Skills
By the end of the kindergarten year, does your child:
- manage his own bathroom needs?
- dress himself (coat, socks, shoes)?
- cut two-inch circles with scissors?
- trace basic shapes with some control?
- identify picture likenesses and differences?
- identify basic colors?
- recognize groups of one, two, three, four, and five objects?
- count to 10?
- sort similar objects by color, size, and shape?
- notice the difference between textures?
- use a fork properly?
- print his name in capital letters?
- play bounce-and-catch with a big ball?
- hop forward on one foot and backward with both feet?
- change direction when running?
- walk down stairs using alternate feet?
- initiate his own leisure-time activities?
Social and Behavioral Skills
By the end of the kindergarten year, does your child:
- listen to stories without interrupting?
- pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks?
- do tasks the first time asked?
- follow two or three oral directions?
- finish one activity before starting another?
- understand that actions have both causes and effects?
- take turns and share with others?
- enjoy interacting with four to five children without continual supervision?
- know how to follow rules?
- recognize authority figures?
- respect other people’s property?
- show an interest in the outside world, beyond home and school?
- enjoy pretend play, imitating adult roles?
- work independently?
- spend time apart from you without being upset?
By the end of the kindergarten year, does your child:
- speak understandably?
- talk in complete sentences of five to six words?
- use compound sentences?
- use contractions?
- look at pictures and then tell stories?
- relate a familiar story without picture clues?
- explore a variety of roles through creative play?
- recognize rhyming sounds?
- show understanding of general times of day?
- tell the days of the week in order?
- identify the beginning sound of some words?
- sing the alphabet song and know some letters?
- recognize some common sight words such as “stop”?
- know his address and phone number?
- tell a simple joke?
- tell a simple story in sequence?
- ask the meaning of new words?
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional information on kindergarten-age children
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