Kindergarten ushers in the beginning of a child’s formal education — and for many parents, it also signals the true end of babyhood. It’s a big step for kids and a bittersweet one for parents, and you may be wondering if your child is prepared for this new adventure. How do you know if your child is ready for kindergarten?

The answer isn’t always clear. No single factor truly determines kindergarten readiness — academic preparedness doesn’t necessarily mean your child has reached important social, emotional or physical developmental milestones necessary for a successful start to his elementary school career. But it is possible to make an informed and confident decision about enrolling your child in kindergarten. Read on to find out how.

Kindergarten Cut-off Dates
Birth date is often the first step to determining a child’s kindergarten readiness. In many school districts in the U.S., children must turn 5 by late summer or early fall of the current academic year to be enrolled in kindergarten. While this guideline creates a simple, black and white choice for many families, parents with kids who have birthdays that hover around the deadline often face uncertainty about whether to move forward or hold off.

The ‘Redshirt’ Dilemma
Delaying kindergarten for a child who would be among the youngest in her class — a practice known as “redshirting” — has become more common in recent years. Parents often choose this route if they feel their child isn’t developmentally ready for kindergarten, but others believe that waiting a year (or more) to begin kindergarten gives children a leg up academically and socially, as well as in sports.

Research about long-term academic outcomes of children who wait to enter school is largely mixed with most differences evening out after a few years. Keep in mind that while hitting certain developmental milestones is critical for kindergarten, at age 5, teachers still expect a fair amount of variation in student behavior and ability. Even if your child falls on the younger end of the spectrum, if she’s developmentally ready or even on the cusp of being ready, research is finding that there often isn’t a strong case for redshirting.

Skills for Kindergarten Success
While kindergarteners do tend to display a range of social, emotional, physical and academic development — due to both differences in birth dates as well as the vast range of preschool and early childhood education programs — there are some telltale signs that your child is ready for the rigor of grade k.

  • Self-sufficiency and independence. By kindergarten, teachers expect kids to be able to go to the bathroom on their own, put on their coats and shoes, and eat meals with relatively little assistance.
  • Listening and patience. Children will need to listen to instructions, sit still for story time and other group activities, and follow directions. These skills allow kindergarteners to function in the classroom environment, keep up with the teacher, and maintain the same pace of learning as their peers.
  • Fine motor development. Writing with a pencil, cutting with safety scissors, drawing shapes, building with small blocks — these fine motor skills will be used frequently in kindergarten as your child learns to write and participates in classroom activities.
  • Curiosity and a desire to learn. A child who is ready for kindergarten should be excited about learning new things. A child should also begin to show an interest in reading by pretending to read books on his own and telling a story based on pictures. Children are not expected to read at age 5, but these behaviors signify that a child’s language development is on par for kindergarten.
  • Social skills. Many parents worry about a child’s social maturity when kindergarten rolls around because she’ll be spending time with children every day, and for some kids, all day. If your child generally gets along with other kids, knows how to take turns, and can work within a group, her social skills will be in line with other children in kindergarten.

Keep in mind, your child does not need to display all of these behaviors all of the time, but you should see many of these qualities present some of the time. If you’re concerned that your child isn’t meeting enough of these milestones, it’s possible that she could benefit from an additional year of preschool. Still not sure? Having your child evaluated by a professional may help you make a final decision.

Enlist a Professional
It’s easy for parents to feel anxious about the decision to send a child to kindergarten, and that anxiety can sometimes get in the way of making an objective decision. If this sounds like you, consider consulting a trusted professional.

If your child attends or attended preschool, contact the teacher to discuss his kindergarten readiness. The teacher will be able to provide you with feedback based on seeing your child grow, change and mature throughout the academic year and can speak directly to his development. Your family’s pediatrician can also provide helpful information about your child’s developmental progress. Finally, some school districts require kindergarten screenings, but even if your school district doesn’t, you can ask that your child be evaluated by the kindergarten teacher.

If you choose to wait to enroll your child in kindergarten, make sure you have a plan for the year. If your child needs more academic or social development, consider enrolling her in full-day preschool instead of a half-day program. Sign up for sports and other extracurricular activities that can help her build confidence and learn how to behave in a group setting. Whatever you decide, it’s important to pay attention to how your child is progressing in school and keep in contact with the teacher about any concerns. Being an engaged parent and advocating for your child will help him succeed in school — in kindergarten and beyond.

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