Kindergarten is such an exciting transition for both children and parents. Your little one is heading off into the big world and beginning their school life. But how can you be sure that they are ready and prepared for this next step?
Don't worry if you haven't given Kindergarten readiness much thought up until now, parenting is a full-time job and before you know it your child has hit another milestone and grown another inch.
You still have time to learn all about the developmental markers the teacher will be observing during their first Kindergarten meeting and the key readiness skills that your child will need to practice and master before school starts.
A Kindergarten readiness test measures a child's school readiness against an extensive list of skills and abilities. These tests differ from state to state and are not required by every school board. It's often a chance for your child to visit their new school and meet their teacher and classmates. They'll be asked questions and may have to perform tasks so that the teacher can assess their skills across a broad range of categories, which include:
Kindergarten readiness checklists don't only assess academic milestones, they also apply to social development. This usually includes the expectation that your child will be fully toilet trained but also relates to their ability to dress themselves, open and close lunch and snack boxes, and wash their hands.
Parents often take over some of these jobs to speed kids along in the morning but it's important to encourage some autonomy at this stage. Teachers can offer assistance, but they really can't personally attend to all these needs for a large class of children.
The classroom is where your child will make new friendships and practice their social skills. It's really helpful however if they come into school already understanding the basics of interacting with others. This includes sharing, having a conversation, being polite, following directions, and being able to talk about their own feelings.
Being easily understood is incredibly important in a busy Kindergarten classroom. Your child needs to be able to use clear sentences, ask and answer questions, and recognize their own name. Encouraging an early love of books and reading will also support language learning and development.
Children entering Kindergarten should be able to count small groups, name the colors, order items and recognize patterns.
Try to integrate these skills into everyday life at home. Have your little one count the utensils when they help to set the table or order their teddy bears from smallest to largest.
Able-bodied children should be able to run, change direction, stop, stretch and crouch with ease. They should also be able to throw and catch a ball, hop, skip, walk backward, and walk up and down stairs.
These movements which use large muscles are known as gross motor skills. Children should also be practicing their fine motor skills which include being able to hold a pencil, pick up small objects using a pincer grip, use safety scissors, and complete simple puzzles.
Parents often presume that school is the place where children will learn everything they need to know. As a former early year's teacher of 13 years, I know what a difference a little Kindergarten prep can make.
If children have already begun to tackle the basics like practicing writing their name, counting to 10, and sounding out their letters, the teacher can increase both the pace of instruction and the breadth of education they offer.
Beyond academic aptitude, there is also a range of social and developmental skills that kids should work on before arriving in the classroom on the first day of school, as Michelle Mason, Director of the Kindergarten school at Wheaton College, MA, explains:
"Some of the skills that are helpful for children to have before they enter kindergarten include being able to separate from a parent or caregiver, [showing] signs of curiosity in learning new things and being able to relate to and interact with peers."
I would add from my experience that it's so helpful if children have also been taught basic self-care skills before term starts. These include being able to wipe their own nose, put on and take off their shoes and coat, and open and zip up their backpack without assistance. These small jobs, when multiplied by a large class, can monopolize a teacher's time and energy.
Although these skills constitute a basic readiness for the demands of Kindergarten, the list is not exhaustive, and parents shouldn't panic if their child hasn't mastered them all before school starts.
Dr. Elanna Yalow, Chief Academic Officer at KinderCare reminds parents that every child is different and develops at their own pace.
"No one child will have the same profile of skills as another child, but both children may be equally ready for kindergarten. Readiness is very individual to each child and cannot be easily measured."
She also points out that many of these skills can be delayed or are dependent on a child's socioeconomic status. "School readiness is impacted by the resources a child has access to in their family and community at large, including early childhood education, health care, and access to consistent housing and nutrition."
All of these skills are ongoing and improve as children grow and develop. Offer plenty of opportunities at home for your child to flourish across a range of skill bases and not only will they be getting ready for Kindergarten, but they will also be developing essential life skills to help them to soar!