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 have waited another year to give them a better start. 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 for when your child should begin kindergarten. In fact, while parents are often concerned about their child’s academic standing, it is really their social and emotional skills that make them ready for school. These skills include getting along with others, sharing, and being able to follow instructions – all of which are far more important than if your child knows their letters or colors before they start kindergarten.

Reading to your child from early infancy also strengthens family relationships and builds language, literacy and social-emotional skills that make them even more ready to start kindergarten.

There is no data to suggest that waiting a year for your child to age results in a better overall school performance. My advice is to consider enrolling your child in kindergarten if they are able to perform most of the following activities:

  • Use of language: a child entering kindergarten should be able to ask a question, tell a story, and express a need and follow a three-step set of directions, such as go to your room, get your sneakers, and turn off the light. They should be able to express themselves but not talk constantly.
  • Motor skills: 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, and hold a pencil.
  • Brain development: they should know simple comparisons, such as which is bigger or smaller and recognize that there is a difference between similar sounding words like hat and sat.
  • Social skills: they need to be comfortable in a group and be able to stay on task for at least 10 minutes, hopefully 15. They should not need a nap. They should be able to dress themselves and go to the bathroom unassisted. 

If your child meets these challenges and meets the minimal age requirement for your school district, then they are ready for the great adventure we call kindergarten. If not, you might want to wait a year and talk it over with the school and/or your child’s health care professional, who can do some further developmental testing to determine when to start your child in school.  

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, 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.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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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