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Our Blog: April 8, 2011

Kindergarten Readiness: How to Know

By Dr. Heather

My third child turned five in January. We set up his “Kindergarten Readiness” testing appointment recently, aiming to have him join his big sister and brother at their school this fall. He bravely marched into the classroom for his testing, reaching up to hold the teacher’s hand. I choked back tears. Off to school, already?! I so clearly remember cradling him as an infant, in the hospital soon after he was born. This was the sweet, easy baby who made it possible to consider having a fourth child.  I was almost hoping the teacher would find some surprise reason for not accepting him this fall. When she flashed me the “thumbs up” sign after his testing, I was proud. But I also had a little pit in the bottom of my stomach. It’s all going too fast!

All over the country, parents are going through the same process. For many, like those with “early born” kids, the decision is easy. For others who have “late-borns” (like our fourth child — an October baby), or for those who’s kids struggle with one or more aspects of readiness, it’s a tough call. There’s no “magic” test for readiness, and no single developmental area that means your child is 100% ready. Much of it is a judgment call.

Here is my basic Kindergarten Readiness Checklist of the areas I consider essential to success in the Fall:

  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to speak understandably
  • The ability to listen and follow instructions
  • The desire to be independent
  • Playing well with others (most of the time)
  • Willingness to separate from parents

I suggest the following 3-step process in making your decision:

  1. Have a basic “Kindergarten Readiness” test administered at your intended school. There are many such tests, and most of them cover the same areas.
  2. Discuss the results — plus the above readiness checklist — with the important adults in your child’s life, including prospective teachers. Your pediatrician might be able to help if you’re struggling to decide.
  3. Revisit your decision over the summer if you’re still uncertain. A child who’s not ready in the spring might quickly become ready in the summer.

In some parts of the country, the practice of “Redshirting” — holding an otherwise ready child back from starting kindergarten in order to provide him with a competitive “edge” — is gaining in popularity. My advice: consider YOUR child’s readiness, and make the decision independent of the “trends” in your neighborhood. The pressure to “go along with the Joneses” may be strong. But stand your ground — you know your child best.

Whether your kiddo starts kindergarten this year or next is irrelevant compared to the fantastic developments that he’s gone through in the past 4 or 5 years. Remember that tiny newborn bundle they handed you that day 4 or 5 years ago? Look at your baby now! Good work, Mom and Dad!

About the Author

Dr. Heather Wittenberg

Dr. Wittenberg is a psychologist specializing in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers — and parents. She offers no-hype, practical parenting advice on her blog BabyShrink — rooted in science, and road tested in her own home as the mother of four young children. She has helped thousands of parents over the years and knows that the most common problems with young children — sleep, feeding, potty training and behavior — can be the most difficult ones to solve.