By Stacy Allsbrook-Huisman
Kindergarten is a magical year. Eager little ones will adorn an oversized backpack with a matching lunch box and head to school for the first time. Ready to learn, ready to be independent, ready to grow. But not all children are ready to take the leap of freedom or pace of learning – not all parents are ready either.
How do you know if your military-connected child is ready for kindergarten?
What is Kindergarten Readiness?
Kindergarten is the beginning of a child’s formal education and will help shape the way he or she relates to school and peers for the rest of their life. It’s important to set a child up for success by ensuring they are ready for the schedule and pace of a classroom. Gone are the days of relaxed learning we experienced as kids. Today’s classrooms have high expectations, new and unique ways to teach, and benchmarks to meet. Ensuring a child is ready for the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive skills needed to absorb, participate and function is crucial for this first step into education.
How to tell if a child is ready?
Age is not a great indicator for determining if a child is ready to begin kindergarten. Kindergarteners need a few skills before they are ready to thrive in a classroom.
Michelle Avery is a 20-year kindergarten teacher for the Beavercreek City School District near Dayton, Ohio. Beavercreek schools have a high military population due to great school ratings and their close vicinity to Wright-Patterson AFB. She loves teaching kindergarten because her students are young, wide-eyed and full of questions about the world. Every thing is new to these students and their questions help her see things from different perspective. Because she is like so many other kindergarten invested teachers, she knows when a child is truly thriving in school and when a child struggling in the classroom. Michelle looks for important indicators for kindergarten readiness.
“In my opinion the most important indicators of kindergarten readiness are rooted in social emotional development. In particular, children should be able to be away from their parents for an extended period, engage cooperatively with peers and be able to problem solve. Self-regulation is also an important indicator of kindergarten readiness. Children should be able to attend and stay engaged in learning tasks. They should also demonstrate appropriate social behaviors. When these skills are present children flourish in kindergarten,” says Michelle.
Some schools may require children to take teacher administered readiness test to determine if they are ready. The test is usually based on abilities relative to other children their age.
If a parent is unsure their child is ready for kindergarten, it’s best to contact the school for advice. The school will always have the best interest of the child in mind and may be able to help evaluate a child for additional services or exceptional needs.
What if they are not ready for Kindergarten?
Kindergarten teachers and school staff can help determine if a child is struggling or needs another year to develop. Whether through testing or a series of meetings, an education profession can help decide if a child is ready for the classroom.
“I have spoken with parents and recommended that they wait before sending their child to kindergarten if the child has difficulty following directions, controlling impulses, focusing on short activities and appropriately expressing their wants and needs. Often the child just needs a little more time to grow and develop.” Says Michelle.
“There have been very few instances where I recommend retaining a child in kindergarten. If the child is significantly behind grade level expectations in multiple areas and it has been determined that the deficits are not related to a possible disability, I would speak to the parents and recommend another year of kindergarten. In addition to this I would speak with a parent and recommend another year of kindergarten if their child is having difficulty adapting to the demands of kindergarten.”
School administration and guidance counselors will recommend working with the teacher if a parent has concerns. Communication is key. Parent Teacher Conferences are an important tool for parents if a child is struggling in kindergarten. It’s essential for a parent to listen more, talk less during a conference. Learning about a child through the eyes of another is unique chance to discover new things about your child.
Should I delay kindergarten?
If a child isn’t ready for school, delaying enrollment might be the best option. Delaying could give a child extra time to mature and grow so a classroom becomes a place of joy and not frustration. However, if delaying a child’s entrance based on anything other readiness skills, the decision might be setting a child up for failure later on.
According the Mayo Clinic, “Some parents choose to delay a child’s entrance into kindergarten, believing that a child can gain an advantage in academics, athletics or social settings by being older than average for his or her grade. This is also common among boys who have birthdays near the cutoff date — with parents believing their child needs more time to mature.
However, research suggests that children who are old enough for kindergarten but postpone enrollment for one year don’t perform any better than children who enter at the usual age — particularly if the child remains in an environment where readiness wasn’t being fostered. In addition, other studies show that a child who is old for his or her grade is at higher risk of behavior problems during adolescence.”
Military families, moving and kindergarten
Kindergarten is a happy milestone for all families. But for military families, transition or deployments may bring unwanted or unexpected emotional stress to young child. Michelle believes many issues can be resolved by working with the teacher or school staff before even school begins.
“For any family that has a kindergarten-age child starting school it is a major transition fraught with anxiety. I work in a school with a very large military population. For military families who have a child starting kindergarten they may also be dealing with a recent move to a new city and home.
I would advise any family who is anxious or unsure to reach out to the teacher or school. I am at school for at least 2-3 weeks before the new school year starts preparing my classroom. During this time I invite new move-ins or families to drop by for a visit. This is a great time to answer questions and get to know each other.”
Kindergarten age state-by-state
Age requirements for kindergarten vary from state to state. For most states, five years old is the common age state requires children to be in education. Because military families move frequently, it is important to know what the age requirement is for the state the child will be attending kindergarten. For example, Arizona has set the age 6 as minimum age free education must be offered while Florida offers free education at age 4. See state age requirements for education at https://nces.ed.gov/programs/statereform/tab5_1.asp
Because education requirements can vary in each state and military families live a high mobility lifestyle, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children (MIC3) has included kindergarten enrollment as part of it’s compact with all 50 states. The compact states that a student shall be allowed to continue enrollment at grade level, including attending kindergarten in the receiving state if the previously enrolled in an accredited kindergarten in the sending state even if the child not meet the age requirement of the receiving state of school district. Find out more about MIC3 and the compact at www.mic3.net
Preparing for kindergarten
Preparing early for big changes ahead can help smooth the transition for little ones. Below are few simple tips to help prepare a child for their first big day of kindergarten.
Routines: Consistent bedtime routines have proven to help young children perform better in school. A recent study in the UK surveyed 11,000 seven year-olds and found those with inconsistent bed times performed lower in math and reading. The study also suggested behavior problems were linked with poor bedtime habits. A good bedtime routine is the solid foundation to success at school.
Reading at home: Reading strengthens children’s social, emotional, and character development. According to a recently published study in the New York Times, reading to very young children is linked to decreased levels of aggression, hyperactivity, and attention difficulties. Children who are read to have better vocabulary and will be able express and describe how they feel instead of tantrums out of frustration, which is a win-win for teachers and parents.
Socialize: Before kindergarten starts, be sure to expose little ones to other children during play or outings, especially children they are unfamiliar with. Whether it’s at the park, at a play date or in a kids’ class at the gym – exposing young children to new peer groups will help them problem solve, develop empathy and friendship skills. These are great skills to have before kids enter the classroom.
Expose them: Look for opportunities to explore new learning adventures such as museums, art classes, dance and science programs. There is nothing better than seeing world of new through a child’s eyes.
Once they’ve started kindergarten
Homework: Kindergarten maybe the first time a child will experience homework. No matter how silly or mundane the homework may be, respect the homework. Teachers assign homework as a tool to reinforce daily lessons and begin building good habits and accountability. Help the child stay on track by reinforcing the importance of completing homework.
Eating right: Feed the brain with healthy meals and snacks. Start with a good solid breakfast at home. Lunches should be healthy too, but be sure not to pack things kids won’t eat to avoid food waste and wasted money. Most schools allow parents to eat lunch with their student, so schedule a lunch once a week to check up on eating habits away from home.
Sleeping: Most doctors agree that kindergartners need at least 10-12 hours a sleep night. Napping should be phased out during kindergarten years with a focus on going to bed early versus naps and less sleep at night. Establish good bedtime routines before school begins to help the transition.
No pressure, just play: Resist the urge to push the newly minted kindergarten too fast academically. Kindergarten is the great equalizer; kids enter the classroom from many diverse backgrounds. Some children already know how to read while others are just now being exposed to the alphabet. There could be language differences or a child may have spent the last few years in a daycare environment. Let the teacher move through the lessons without demanding more. Kindergarten is about learning classroom rules, sharing, socializing, friendships, scissor skills, imagination and play. Let them be kindergartners, it’s truly a magical year.
Being on time: Start off the year right with a solid morning routine that allows plenty of time for eating breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth and getting to school. Rushing out the door stresses everyone out, but little ones take on that stress when they enter the classroom. Every family has rough mornings, but the goal is to have more calm mornings than rushed ones. Start the day off on the right foot by considering packing lunches the night before, pick out clothes before bedtime and backpacks are ready to go for the next day before dinner.
Kindergarten Readiness Checklist
Every state or school district offers a kindergarten readiness checklist for parents. As rule of thumb, these skills from www.familyeducation.com are considered common for readiness acceptance. Check the list for skills mastered, and then recheck once a month for new skills developed. If a child has mastered most or the entire list, kindergarten is in their future.
- Listen to stories without interrupting
- Recognize rhyming sounds
- Pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks
- Understand actions have both causes and effects
- Show understanding of general times of day
- Cut with scissors
- Trace basic shapes
- Begin to share with others
- Start to follow rules
- Be able to recognize authority
- Manage bathroom needs
- Button shirts, pants, coats, and zip up zippers
- Begin to control oneself
- Separate from parents without being upset
- Speak understandably
- Talk in complete sentences of five to six words
- Look at pictures and then tell stories
- Identify rhyming words
- Identify the beginning sound of some words
- Identify some alphabet letters
- Recognize some common sight words like “stop”
- Sort similar objects by color, size, and shape
- Recognize groups of one, two, three, four, and five objects
- Count to ten
- Bounce a ball