Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?With “back to school” season right around the corner, parents of 5-year- olds often ask me whether their child is really ready to enter kindergarten or if they should wait another year to give them a better start.  Well, let me take on that assignment and provide a few pointers on who is ready for this learning milestone.

First of all, there is no uniform time or standard by which a child should be considered ready for kindergarten.  In fact, while parents are often concerned about their child’s academic standing, it is really their social and emotional skills that are critical when it comes to kindergarten readiness.  Getting along with others, sharing, and being able to follow instructions are often far more important than if your child knows the alphabet or colors before they start.

That being said, there is also no strong data to suggest that waiting a year for your child to be socially and emotionally ready results in a better overall school performance.

Here are a few of the skills your child should demonstrate to be ready for kindergarten:

  • From a language standpoint, a child entering kindergarten should be able to ask a question, know their name, address and phone number, tell a story, express a need and follow a 3-step set of directions such as “go to your room, get your sneakers, and turn off the light.”
  • From a motor standpoint, most children should be able to stand on one foot for 5-7 seconds, use scissors to cut a line on a piece of paper, use zippers and buttons, and hold a pencil.
  • Cognitively, a child should know simple comparison words such as which toy is bigger or smaller, and recognize that there is a difference between similar sounding words like “hat” and “sat.”
  • Socially a child needs to be comfortable in a group, play well with others, and be able to stay on task for at least 10 minutes, and hopefully 15.
  • He or she should not need a nap, should be able to leave home and parents for school without becoming overly upset, should be dressing themselves, and be able to go to the bathroom unassisted.

If your child meets these challenges, and is 5 years of age or meets the minimal age requirement for your school district if it is not 5 then they are ready for the great adventure we call kindergarten.  If not, you might want to wait a year, but please talk it over with the school and/or your child’s doctor.

Hopefully, tips like this will allow you to go to the head of the class when it comes to making sure your child is ready to start kindergarten.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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