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Is my child ready for the transition to kindergarten?

ParentSavvy has received several questions regarding the transition to Kindergarten: 

Q. My child is small for his age. He will be 5 in July. He's been in daycare for 2 years and socializes with all ages of children. Is he too young for Kindergarten?

Q. My child has expressed anxiety about going to kindergarten. She has been at the same home-based daycare since she was an infant and is very attached to her daycare provider. Is there anything I can do to ease her fear with going to kindergarten?

Q. My son is almost 5 and has been home with me since birth (no daycare). He already can count, write and identify letters and read a bit. I wonder if he will be too advanced for kindergarten, or if I should have him test out and go to 1st grade. How should I figure out what is best for him?

Rebecca Swartz | Expert

Rebecca Swartz

One thing these questions all have in common is that parents are trying to figure out if their children will be comfortable in a Kindergarten classroom, and how to help their child settle in successfully and thrive. In a child’s early years, a few months can make a huge difference developmentally. While it is natural to compare a child to his peers, it is important to refocus on understanding each child’s unique developmental profile.

The first step I recommend to parents is to get in touch with their local school district or Educational Service Unit to find out about Kindergarten Screening opportunities. Five year old children are big kids compared to those tiny infants we remember cradling in our arms, but they are still quite young. There is a lot of variability among children this age with regard to social, emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development. By taking your child for a Kindergarten Screening, you will be able to take a big picture look at all of the different skills and abilities that your child will need to be successful in Kindergarten, and talk to her new school about strategies to make the transition easier for their unique developmental profile.

What is a Kindergarten Screening?

A Kindergarten Screening is like a check-up in the pediatrician’s office, with more of a focus on the social, emotional, cognitive, language, and motor skills your child needs to be successful in school. In a Kindergarten Screening, you will answer a questionnaire about your child’s developmental milestones. Your child may be asked to play some fun games, talk with a Kindergarten teacher, or demonstrate their physical abilities by skipping, hopping, or walking on a balance beam. You will have an opportunity to talk with the Kindergarten teachers and school district staff about whether your child is ready to make the big leap to elementary school.

The screening tool that school districts use provides a helpful guide for looking at your child holistically, so you can work together to make the decision about whether your child is ready to transition to Kindergarten, needs more time in a preschool classroom, or would fit in best with a group of first grade children.

Relationally Ready for Kindergarten?

Finding the right fit for your child involves more than whether your child knows letters and numbers. Working and playing with peers is a huge part of the learning that happens in Kindergarten and provides a foundation for children as they progress through their schooling.

The Screening can provide another bonus for children who are worried about the new school building, new friends, and new teachers. Going to a kindergarten round up event or a visit to the Kindergarten classroom your child will enter can help her become more familiar with the place and people. This can alleviate her anxiety about the transition.

Children build on the foundation of their earlier relationships to build new friendships and attachments to their teachers in Kindergarten. You and your child care provider can talk about going to Kindergarten as an exciting new adventure and send a positive message to your child about this next step. Sharing stories of other friends that have made the transition to Kindergarten can help your child realize that this a natural next step in growing up.

There are also many great stories about getting ready for Kindergarten that might be fun to read. Some stories I enjoy are Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate, My Kindergarten and Yoko by Rosemary Wells, and Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London. Visit your local library and ask the librarians for their favorite recommendations, too.

Good luck with the leap to Kindergarten!

Read more answers by Rebecca Swartz