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Ready or Not, Here I Come: When to Start Kindergarten


If you aren't sure whether your child has the social maturity needed to cope with kindergarten, consult your child's preschool teacher. She or he may have a better idea of how your child functions in a group setting. You might also find it helpful to consult the school or your pediatrician.

School districts around the country vary in their age requirements for starting kindergarten. Most suggest that children begin kindergarten in the first autumn after their fifth birthday. Yet your child's age alone is not as important a consideration as her age relative to her other classmates. Because children at this age are still maturing so rapidly, the youngest kid in the class is seldom as socially or emotionally mature as the older kids.

If your child turns five in the late spring or summer, she may have more difficulty adjusting to the changes of kindergarten than someone who will turn six in the late fall or winter. If your child then responds to this difficulty with negative behavior and poor social responses, her classmates may shun her and her self-esteem will plummet.

If you suspect that your child is a "young five" (in terms of maturity, not necessarily age), then you may decide it's best to hold her back a year. If you believe that regardless of her age relative to her classmates, your child has the social maturity to deal with kindergarten, then by all means enroll her.

Still not sure? You may want to take your child's social, cognitive, and motor skills into account. The following table provides a checklist in each of these three areas. Though your child certainly need not have mastered all of these skills by the time she enters kindergarten, she should have developed at least some of them. You might want to consider waiting a year unless you answer yes to at least a couple of questions in each area.

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Motor Skills

    Can your child jump? Hop? Skip?

    Can your child handle snaps, buttons, and zippers?

    Can your child tie her own shoes?

    Can your child use the toilet by herself?

    Can—and does—your child wash her own hands?

Social Skills

    Does your child help do simple tasks, jobs, or chores around the house?

    Can your child participate in group activities?

    Will your child (at least sometimes) share with others?

    Does your child have one or two close friends?

    Does your child make friends easily?

    Can your child express her needs clearly to adults other than you?

    Can your child control her own behavior much of the time?

    Can your child function in a social setting without constant supervision?

Cognitive Skills

    Does your child know the names of at least eight colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and white) and five shapes (circle, oval, triangle, rectangle, and square)?

    Can your child distinguish among different sounds? Can she recognize similar sounds?

    Does your child know some simple songs by heart? Can she join in when you teach her a new song?

    Can your child listen and follow a story line and then retell it in her own words?

    Can your child follow instructions when she's learning a new game or you're introducing a new activity?

In evaluating whether your child is ready for school, remember to take into account all three areas covered in the table above. If your child is very bright, for instance, you may feel tempted to push her into kindergarten early to spare her from the risk of academic boredom. Yet you should also consider her social and physical maturity before making your decision. If your child is not ready socially or unable to keep up physically, then no matter how advanced her cognitive skills are, starting kindergarten early is probably not a good idea.

More on: Preschool


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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