Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?

If your child's birthday happens to fall during the latter half of the year, you may be one of the many parents wrestling with the question of readiness for starting kindergarten. Across the nation, cutoff dates for starting kindergarten vary substantially. Some states have coordinated the date with the start of the school year (September). In others the cutoff date is the end of December, and still others use July 1 as a cutoff. Even within a state, school districts can vary so that children may be eligible to start kindergarten in school district A but would have an additional year if they live across the street in school district B. The closer your child's birthday to the cutoff date established by your school district, the more concerned you may be about making the right decision.

The two most common reasons for considering delaying a child's entrance into kindergarten focus on a general level of immaturity and an overall delay in development. It is important to realize that a lack of maturity in comparison with age peers does not mean your child is not ready for kindergarten. Chil­dren mature at different rates and in different areas. If social immaturity is the issue, interactions with peers who are more mature may be exactly what your child needs. Holding back your child and providing interactions with children who are one year younger may defeat the purpose. If you see your child as immature in a specific area, how will her other abilities be challenged? A child who is socially immature but average to above average in cognitive skills and language development needs to be in an environment that provides activities that challenge these other skill areas.

Overall delays in development may be a valid reason for considering delayed entrance into kindergarten. If your child is delayed in language, cognitive, physical, and social develop­ment and has a late birthday, spending another year in an appropriately stimulating prekindergarten program may be beneficial to her self-esteem. However, it is extremely difficult at this age level to determine whether delays are truly developmental (suggesting that these skills will eventually catch up) or the forerunners of a specific learning disability. The decision to delay entrance into kindergarten is often a judgment call you should make only after carefully considering all the options and discussing them with the people who are involved with your child.

If your child has been involved in a preschool program, the first person to contact is her preschool teacher. The obser­vations of the person who has worked with your child (along with numerous other four to five year olds) provide valuable information about classroom performance, social interactions, and overall readiness for kindergarten.

In addition to talking with your child's present classroom teacher, contact with personnel in your school district is essen­tial. Does the school district have a philosophy on delayed entrance into kindergarten? How flexible is the curriculum to adapt to differences among typical children? Are any additional services available (speech therapy or contact with special education teachers, for example) if your child should need them? What is the percentage of children in kindergarten who are identified as having difficulty in specific areas? What is the focus of the kindergarten curriculum? Some schools work from the assumption that all children have had preschool experience and therefore provide an academically oriented curriculum. Other schools view kindergarten as a child's first exposure to formal education and design a curriculum geared toward socialization skills and basic school readiness skills (separating from Mom or Dad, completing tabletop activities, and working within a group). These questions can be answered by speaking with the principal or, if possible, a current kindergarten teacher.

If you suspect developmental delays early, the first step is to contact your pediatrician to rule out problems with vision or hearing. A formal evaluation by a psychologist and/or speech and language therapist experienced with young children can also provide information that will be helpful in making a deci­sion. If, after formalized testing, areas of deficit are identified, consideration should be given to support services in kindergar­ten. These services may include placement in a special education kindergarten class, which has a smaller number of chil­dren, and a special education teacher who is trained to teach to a child's learning style.

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