Kindergarten - Ready or Not?
Posted: April 12, 2013
Every time I conduct a program for parents of soon-to-be kindergarteners, I can count on at least one parent saying, “I think I want to wait another year to make sure my child is really ready for kindergarten. What should I do?” This question is not easily answered because readiness for school is quite complex, and the decision to “redshirt” a kindergartener is a very personal one specific to each child and family.
Some families opt to wait until their child is 5 ½ or 6 to enter kindergarten. Sometimes the decision is based upon a parent’s concern that their child is developmentally behind his/her peers. Compared to other children, he or she may have fewer academic skills in place or have a harder time controlling emotions or separating from parents. In this case, another year of pre-school may benefit the child, assuming that he or she will be participating in a high-quality early learning program at least some of the time. On the other hand, if a child’s “unreadiness” is due to a physical problem or developmental delay, waiting to enter formal school could postpone getting the child connected with resources or services. The earlier that learning, behavioral or physical issues can be addressed, the greater are the chances for helping the child overcome the problem and be better prepared for school.
In other cases, families are pretty sure that their child is on target for kindergarten, but they want to wait another year anyhow so that their child has an advantage over his or her peers. Perhaps having one more year to grow or practice certain skills will provide him or her with better opportunities for sports or becoming valedictorian at graduation. And they would rather their child be one of the oldest in their class rather than the younger ones so they can reach significant milestones ahead of their friends such as driving a car, getting a job, etc. In general, research shows that there is no significant advantage to this, and in some cases, being older is shown to lead to negative outcomes.
After pouring over studies related to delaying the start of kindergarten, I found two conclusions that researchers have come to regarding redshirting children before kindergarten: more research is needed; and it really depends on the child and his/her situation. There are arguments for both sides, and what makes the outcomes of this practice so difficult to assess is the fact that every child is subject to so many different variables in his/her life. How does family structure, birth order, socioeconomic status, physical characteristics and life events figure into the short-term and long-range impacts of starting school later?
So, how do I respond to the parent in the Kindergarten Readiness program who poses this question? I explain that kindergarten teachers will tell you that they want children to come to school with a zest for learning by being curious, inquisitive and eager. They need to be able to control their impulses and emotions so that learning can take place for all the children in the room. Academic skills are important and vary by school district, but a child should demonstrate interest in books, writing and numbers.
Here are some things that parents of children about to enter kindergarten can do:
- Observe your child- not just at home but in a variety of settings. Notice the patterns or consistency of behaviors.
- Talk with your child’s preschool teacher, Sunday school teacher or other adults involved in his/her life. Get their input.
- Take note of what your child does well and what things challenge him or her.
- Talk with the school or kindergarten teacher about your observations.
- If in the end you decide to wait another year to send your child to school, it is important that he or she spend the next year in an environment that supports optimal development such as a high-quality preschool program.
- If there are concerns about the child’s development, consultation with your pediatrician or local intermediate unit is highly recommended.
School readiness is not something that just happens. It requires that adults set the stage and orchestrate the performance.