Transitional Kindergarten: Is It Right for Your Child?

For Fall babies parents have to make a tough choice: delay their entry to school until the following year or put them in a class with much older children. Transitional Kindergarten programs offer another solution.

toddler hands holding pencil
Photo: Boontoom Sae-Kor/Shutterstock

Being a Kindergarten teacher is challenging. I should know, it was my career path for 13 years. In many schools, the age range of Kindergarten students is between four and six years old. This obviously presents a logistical problem for teachers planning work that spans a variety of different maturity and ability levels.

Although a year or so might not sound like much, in the life of a five-year-old it represents a 20 percent difference in their life experience and development.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) programs are growing in popularity and offer the youngest learners a chance to adapt to all the demands of school life. Parents of Fall babies may worry that their child isn't developmentally ready for the transition to Kindergarten, especially if the other kids in the class will be considerably older. Could Transitional Kindergarten be the solution?

Here's what you need to know.

What is Transitional Kindergarten?

Transitional Kindergarten age programs offer younger children born between September 2nd and December 2nd the chance to develop school readiness skills such as getting on with others and co-operation, which are best practiced in the social setting of a classroom.

For those young learners, it allows them to mature and develop academically at a more manageable pace before entering the Kindergarten stage. As Dr. Elanna Yalow, Chief Academic Officer at KinderCare explains. "TK bridges gaps between pre K and kindergarten to help ensure that children are developmentally ready across all domains important for school entry, not just the traditional school readiness skills."

That means that there is an intentional focus on social and emotional development and giving children the opportunity to develop organically through play and exploration. However, when we compare transitional kindergarten vs preschool it's clear that it is not a daycare program and offers a distinct transitional kindergarten curriculum.

"TK typically extends learning beyond pre K, with more project-based learning and opportunities for children to explore topics of particular interest to them," Dr. Elanna Yalow says.

What Are the Benefits of Transitional Kindergarten?

Research shows that high-quality early childhood education leads to better academic outcomes in the long term. TK combined with a further year of Kindergarten gives small children the opportunity to develop and learn over a longer period before entering grade school.

Dr. Elanna Yalow says that Kindercare's own data from a 2018 TerraNova assessment shows that "Kindergartners who have participated in our Pre-K and/or TK programs have better early literacy and math skills compared to their peers who have not had earlier exposure to high-quality learning experiences."

Mary Anderson, Early Childhood Education Program Director and Children's College Coordinator at Bryant and Stratton College says that TK offers children a chance to practice their social and interpersonal skills.

"Kindergarten used to be where a child learned to take turns, share, and interact with other children in a positive manner, now it's much more academic. TK is what Kindergarten used to be. Children in transitional kindergarten are getting a jump start on the social aspects of being in school," she says.

California, which introduced the Kindergarten Readiness Act in 2010, offers statewide TK to all children who turn five after the amended cut off date of September 1st. Data from The American Institutes for Research already shows positive outcomes since the program was launched in the 2012-2013 school year.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Transitional Kindergarten?

Rules vary by school board and state and depending on your child's birth date they may not be able to attend TK or could be forced to move to Grade 1 after the year is complete, instead of continuing into a Kindergarten class.

Some parents might worry that if enrolled in TK their children are being held back a year. Not so, says Michelle Person, an elementary school principal in Cleveland, OH, a children's author, and a Kindergarten expert. "There is no downside to TK. As humans, we learn and grow on a continuum. TK allows kids to flow through that continuum naturally and at their own pace. If they need more, they get more. If they need less, they move on. Simple," she says.

Parents may also be concerned that TK adds a year on to their child's overall education. However, as the benefits include greater retention, higher grades, and lower rates of high school drop out, that extra year could well be worth it.

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