Kindergarten Readiness

Preschool Age Children

A five year old getting ready for school.
A five year old getting ready for school. Photo by Wendy Shiao

Your child's birthday is just a few days before your school district's September cut-off. Your friends tell you that you should hold him back another year so that he isn't the youngest kid in the class. They did that and their kids are now doing well, but you aren't sure what to do.

Is your preschooler getting ready to start kindergarten?

Four-and five-year-olds often develop at different speeds, so it can sometimes be hard to know which kids are ready for school.

While some five-year-olds are already reading, others can't even count to 10 yet.

Understanding what is expected of a child entering kindergarten can help you prepare your child for school and make sure he is ready.

Signs of Kindergarten Readiness

According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, traditional signs of readiness to start kindergarten include being able to:

  • communicate about things he needs and wants
  • share and take turns
  • be curious and enthusiastic about trying new activities
  • pay attention and sit still
  • use a pencil and paint brushes
  • count as high as 20
  • recognize the letters of the alphabet

Other traditional signs of readiness are that a child can follow one to three step instructions, behave well in the classroom, and can get along well with peers.

It is important to note that in the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) Kindergarten Teacher Survey on Student Readiness, teachers reported that the most important signs of school readiness are being able to communicate needs and wants and being curious and enthusiastic about trying new activities.

Counting and recognizing letters and even sitting still were reported to be less important signs.

Paying Attention and Sitting Still

Being able to pay attention and sit still are thought to be important signs of kindergarten readiness, however. How long is a five-year-old supposed to be able to sit still an pay attention?

Attention spans vary at this age but, when used as a readiness skill for starting kindergarten, kids should be able to sit still and pay attention for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Keep in mind that sitting still playing video games or watching TV doesn't count.

Is your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Unfortunately, parents are sometimes left to struggle with the decision about whether or not to send their children to kindergarten. Although you would think that it is a simple decision, with every child starting school once they reached a certain age, some parents decide to hold their kids back another year if they have a "late" birthday (one that is close to their school district's cut-off date). These children, if they did start kindergarten on time, end up being the youngest in the class and may be less mature than their classmates.

It is important to note that there is not much research to support holding back or "redshirting" these kids. In fact, several studies compiled by Leslie Barden Smith, in her article on Kindergarten Readiness, have shown that "age is not a predictor of academic success" and that there "may be long-term negative consequences for students who experience delayed entry into kindergarten." While kindergarten teachers commonly report that younger kids struggle their first year, research has also shown that "by third grade, there is no measurable academic advantage to delayed entry" and that "children who entered school relatively young did not appear to be disadvantaged academically in the long-run."

The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, when discussing delaying entry into kindergarten and kindergarten "readiness classes," states that:

"...not only is there a preponderance of evidence that there is no academic benefit from retention in its many forms, but there also appear to be threats to the social-emotional development of the child subjected to such practices."

Also, keep in mind that while a child who is held back a year to start kindergarten may seem to do better and have an easier time, he may also not feel challenged enough and could get bored with school.

ADHD vs. Immaturity

Immaturity is a common reason that parents decide to delay starting their child in kindergarten by a year. This is especially true for hyperactive and inattentive boys, whose parents hope they will mature in the next year. Unfortunately, some of these children are hyper not because they are immature, but because they have ADHD.

Before simply labeling your child as immature and holding him out of kindergarten, especially if there is a family history of ADHD, you should likely have him evaluated for ADHD or a learning disability. Otherwise, your child may still have the same problems with hyperactivity and inattention when he finally does start kindergarten the next year.

Getting Help in Kindergarten

In addition to ADHD, children who don't seem ready for kindergarten may have other problems for which they can get help while they are in school. These include learning disabilities and dyslexia. Other kindergartners may just need a little extra tutoring or social skills training.

If you don't think that your child is ready for kindergarten, talk to the preschool and kindergarten teachers, school counselors, the principal, and your pediatrician for advice. An evaluation by a child psychologist can also be a good idea. Make sure that they are offering advice based on the latest research and not just anecdotal evidence or there own personal feelings, though.

Most importantly, when thinking about whether or not to start your child in kindergarten, remember that you are thinking about his long-term success in school and not just his short-term performance in kindergarten.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences. Readiness For Kindergarten: Parent And Teacher Beliefs. Publication number: NCES 93-257.

Education Resources Information Center. Kindergarten Readiness: Using Age or Skills in Assessing a Child's Readiness. Smith, Leslie Barden.

Still Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement. A position statement developed by the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education.

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