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Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

Despite the common cut-off date for birthdays, age is not necessarily the best way to determine if a child is ready for kindergarten. But schools have neither the time nor the staff to evaluate every age-qualified child for things like maturity and academic readiness.

Moreover, no one is a better judge of preparedness than a child’s parent. You know your child’s social skills, understanding of concepts, learning skills and level of independence. So ask yourself some of the following questions to determine if your child is ready to take the plunge into kindergarten.

1. Does he recognize letters and numbers? Knowing the alphabet song isn’t the same thing as knowing their letters. Kids heading to kindergarten should (ideally) understand what sounds letters make, and that words are made of letters. They should also know the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters.

2. Does she understand concepts?  While it’s helpful to head into kindergarten knowing colors, shapes and numbers, comparative concepts and opposites can help children better understand and communicate what they’re thinking. Work on simple, visible comparisons like “smaller,” “taller and “below” as well as tangible opposites like wet and dry, or soft and hard.  This is also a good age to talk about the basics of bullying (what it is and what to do if you experience or see it), safety (stranger danger), manners (respect for self and others) and general differences between people (cultural, physical, abilities, etc.). Try to incorporate one of these discussions into an existing or occurring situation, rather than sitting down the week before school to go over everything. Seeing someone of another ethnicity at the store might present an opportunity to discuss differences on the ride home.

3. Can she dress herself? Have her lay out several outfits for the first week of school and post photos of each in her room so she can get dressed without help – or hassle. Work on buttons, snaps and zippers, which will also play a role in using the bathroom independently at school.

4. Does he know how to share and take turns? This may be a bigger issue for only children or those who never attended daycare or preschool. As many kindergarten teachers will attest, in some ways it’s more important that children entering kindergarten have social skills than academic proficiency. That’s because academics can be taught, but maturity and social skills have to be developed.

5. Does she know the correct pencil grip? “Unlearning” an improper pencil grip is very difficult, and a poor grip can adversely affect a child’s handwriting.

6. Can he focus and sit still for at least 15 minutes? Attention is a learning skill that can be strengthened. At home, you can increase focus by reading stories, working on crafts, taking music lessons and eating dinner together.

7. Can she use basic classroom tools? Children need to refine their motor skills in order to work on handwriting. One way to work on this at home is to teach them how to use things like scissors, a pencil sharpener and a hole puncher.

8. Does he go to the bathroom without help? Children entering kindergarten should be toilet trained. But as one teacher reminds parents, “Urinals can be surprising for boys who have never seen one, so parents should talk to their sons in advance.”

9. Can she follow simple directions? Kindergarteners will need to hang up their own coats, get in line, put items in their backpacks, etc. Make sure your child can follow two- or three-step directions without needing them repeated.

10. Are his learning skills strong? Despite what you may have been told, reading skills are built on phonemic awareness (sound blending and segmenting), not letter recognition. In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities. One easy way to work on sound analysis skills is to practice rhyming. Rhyming forces the dissection of sounds.

Playing games that strengthen other cognitive skills will help too. Together, memory, attention, visual processing, logic and reasoning, and processing speed make up the foundation of a child’s ability to learn anything – reading, writing, math, history, science or languages. You can play memory games with regular playing cards (matching pairs of numbers), look for games that strengthen auditory processing and processing speed (like “Simon”), or put your child in a brain training program to strengthen their cognitive skills while they’re very young.