What is kindergarten readiness? No single factor determines whether a child is ready
to start school. Here's how to tell if your child is mature enough physically, socially,
What are cutoff dates and how do I know if my child has met the
Cutoff dates are deadlines schools use to determine who can enter the next kindergarten
class. Your child must reach the age of 5 by the cutoff date, which is usually September
1 or December 1 in most school districts, though some states have cutoffs as early
as June or no deadline at all. Many schools still use these dates to determine who
is ready for school, but research shows that your child's chronological age isn't
the best way to decide whether he has what it takes to be a successful kindergartner.
Kindergarten "readiness" is the real issue. In recent years, early childhood educators
have begun to focus on a child's physical, social, and cognitive development rather
What is kindergarten readiness?
Experts say no single or simple factor determines whether a child is ready for kindergarten.
Instead, a child's development needs to be evaluated on several fronts. His ability
to think logically, speak clearly, and interact well with other children and adults
are all critically important to success in school. A child's physical development
also needs to be considered.
In reality, very few children are equally competent in all these areas. Many children
who are advanced mentally may lag behind emotionally, while children who are extremely
adept physically may be slower in terms of language development.
But most early childhood educators agree that a child's brain development is the
most important gauge of readiness for kindergarten. In other words, your child may
be small for his age, and lagging behind other kids socially and physically, but
if his language, thinking, and perceptual skills are in place, then he'll probably
do well in kindergarten.
How can I tell if my child is ready?
If he's in preschool, talk to the teacher. She probably has a good sense of his
development and how he compares with other children who would be at his grade level.
If your child is not in preschool or you just want another opinion, check with your
pediatrician. She will know about your child's physical development and can offer
helpful feedback as to whether your child is ready.
You can also talk with family members and friends who know your child well. Pay
particular attention to the comments of teachers, or those who have experience working
with children in schools, whether as a staff person or a volunteer.
Visiting a kindergarten class in the school in which you plan to enroll your child
can also give you invaluable information. As you stand in the back of the room,
pay attention to how the other children are behaving, how they play with each other,
and what kinds of skills they have. Can you picture your child sitting in one of
those chairs and joining in an activity?
Ultimately, though, you know your child best. Think about what he's like when he
plays with others, and when he's alone in his room. Then ask yourself the following:
1. Can my child listen to instructions and then follow them? Children need these
skills to function in class, to keep up with the teacher and with their peers.
2. Is he able to put on his coat and go to the bathroom by himself? Children need
to be somewhat self-sufficient by school age.
3. Can he recite the alphabet and count? Most kindergarten teachers assume that
children have at least a rudimentary familiarity with the ABCs and numbers though
these subjects will be covered as part of the kindergarten curriculum.
4. Can he hold a pencil? Cut with scissors? He will need these fine motor skills
to begin working on writing the alphabet and to keep up with classroom projects.
5. Does he show an interest in books? Does he try to "read" a book by telling a
story based on the pictures? This is a sign that his language development is on
a par with other kindergartners and that he's ready to start learning how to read.
6. Is he curious and receptive to learning new things? If a child's curiosity is
stronger than his fear of the unfamiliar, he will do well in school.
7. Does he get along well with other kids? Does he share and know how to take turns?
He'll be interacting with other children all day, so your child's social skills
are particularly important for success in school.
8. Can he work together with others as part of a group? The ability to put his needs
second, to compromise and join in a consensus with other children, is also part
of emotional competence.
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions and "sometimes" to the rest, your
child is ready for kindergarten. If not, your child might well benefit from another
year of preschool, or from one of the transitional or pre-K classes now being offered
by many private schools.
Will my child have to take a screening test?
It depends on your school district. Many public and most private schools use assessment
tests to determine kindergarten readiness. Usually, these screenings take place
sometime after the first of the year. Your child will be asked questions to test
his cognitive abilities, such as naming colors and shapes or telling a story. He'll
also be asked to perform certain tasks like drawing shapes, sorting objects, or
hopping in a straight line. If your school does not screen children, then you can
arrange to have your child evaluated privately. Ask your pediatrician for a referral
to a child psychologist.
Once the screening is complete, you can ask to see the results. If you wish, you
can discuss them with the head of your child's preschool or the principal of the
elementary school your child will be attending to see if these professionals recommend
that your child begin kindergarten next year.