Kindergarten: Ready or Not?

Written by Jane Brooks

Kids mature at vastly different rates — not all are ready to start school at the same age. Here's help in choosing the red or green light for your child.

My son was nearly 4 years old and three months into his nursery-school semester when it became clear something was wrong. At one time our "sunshine kid," he had turned into a somber preschooler.

We moved him back to the "3s" group. At the end of his first day in the younger class, he climbed into the car singing and chattering about his day — something he hadn't done in months. Obviously, he was now in the right place.

Your child is ready for kindergarten when he or she:
Shows an interested in learning
Can handle simple tasks independently — brushing teeth, getting dressed, choosing book from library
Follows some single and multi-step directions
Is able to focus on a task for 10-15 minutes e.g., sit and listen to story
Plays cooperatively, not just parallel play

The decision to delay your child's start in school can be vexing. Although most school districts have birthday cut-off dates for entering students, there is a wide age spread in any classroom. Many parents worry that their "young" 5-year-olds will be at a disadvantage.

Some children simply aren't ready for the rigors of today's more academic kindergarten - given that gone are the days of just milk and cookies and playtime. Yet research on school entry has been somewhat contradictory and confusing.

"So often, kids are held back for the wrong reason," says Nancy Waterston, a veteran kindergarten teacher in Fairfax County, Va. "Holding back a boy just because research shows boys are more immature than girls doesn't make sense. You really have to judge each child individually."

Lara Shainis, a recently retired teacher for gifted and talented third- and fourth-graders, says that when a child is both young and immature, delaying school entrance can yield gains.

"There's an advantage to being the oldest in a class rather than the youngest," she says. Unfortunately, economics sometimes forces parents to push their children into school before they are ready — childcare is simply too costly for many families.

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Thinking about holding your child back? Consider other issues down the pike: If your child is close to the cut-off when he starts school, he may be smaller than the other kids. How will that affect him later in sports?

Hold your daughter back and she may be more developed physically than the other girls in her class. On thekindergarten and preschool choices other hand, that extra year to mature may get your child into a gifted program.

If you aren't sure whether your child is ready for kindergarten, talk to her preschool teacher, who can assess your child's strengths and weaknesses. And trust your gut, like I did.

Not to brag, but that son of mine, the one who repeated the 3s class, is about to begin college at one of the nation's top universities — completely toilet trained.

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