Understanding and use of language: Kindergartners should speak in complete sentences using five to six words, appropriate sentence structure, and age-appropriate articulation skills.
Social-emotional development and readiness: A child ready for kindergarten should separate easily from her caregiver; recognize authority; share with others; and follow rules.
Some schools have created screening programs, a time for the kindergarten teachers to get a general sense of who is entering the school and what their particular needs may be. Screenings help the teachers identify children with undetected needs who may require additional services; they can then balance kindergarten classes with different personality types and energy levels. During screenings, children generally meet other incoming kindergartners, draw a picture, play with blocks, and listen to a story. They have a chance to see an actual classroom and some of the activities that go on in them. Other staff (such as a speech therapist, occupational therapist, or psychologist) may use this time to observe or work directly with the children.
So this brings us to the big question. What can I do to help my child get ready?
• Prepare. Buy the supplies recommended by the school, using this as an opportunity to create excitement for your child. Spend time talking about school, but don't belabor it. Read stories about children starting kindergarten. Relate your own personal memories.
• Play with your child. Help him to develop the play skills that can't necessarily be taught, such as sharing and turn taking. Do this with children you know and with new children from your child's class. Play games — sing the alphabet song, go on letter hunts, count everything in sight, practice sorting.
• Visit your child's school. Meet the teacher, see her classroom, lunchroom and bathrooms, play on the playground.
• Strive for age-appropriate independence. Teach your child to put on his own coat and shoes. Shop for clothing that is easy for your child to manage alone.
Does it matter where you’ve sent your child to preschool? Some preschools focus more on academic readiness than others. However, Michelle Forzaglia, a kindergarten teacher in Rye Brook, notes that differences created by schooling balance out fairly quickly. Initially, children may come into school with a different knowledge base, but very quickly, the children who are ready begin to soak up the academic opportunities offered. Those who are not quite ready will need more time. For these children, it won't matter where they went to preschool. Some schools focus more on social preparedness. Kindergarten has greater expectations in this area, so having had previous opportunities to gain these skills will help your child adjust more quickly. But if your child's program did not focus on these areas, many of these skills can be learned outside school.
Participating in general structured programs provides children with opportunities for obtaining and practicing important social skills they will later need in school. Depending on the type of class, children may work on attention, fine motor, gross motor, or language skills. Just through general play, children are learning about their world and practicing their social and language skills. On the playground, they improve gross motor skills. Drawing on the sidewalk or at the kitchen table exercises fine motor and creativity. Building with blocks addresses all these areas, plus spatial relations and eye-hand coordination.
Finally, don't forget about your feelings as a parent in the midst of this process. Some parents take pride in their child's accomplishments and this very obvious and important step in their growth. Others, while not negating the positive, may feel sad. This is a big step for your child. She is no longer a baby, a toddler, or even a preschooler, and she may let you know this and expect new, more grownup treatment. How do you feel about this? Don't hide from your feelings; acknowledge them to yourself and your friends and you'll be surprised how many people feel similarly. If you look around, you probably aren't the only parent who’s following the school bus!
Lauren Rose, L.C.S.W.-R., is a social worker with a practice focusing on counseling of children and families in Rye, NY. She has two daughters, entering the first and fifth grades, and twin boys beginning preschool. She can be reached at (914) 937-3566.
Lauren Rose’s A to Zs of Kindergarten Readiness
A Attention span: able to attend to adult-directed activities
B Buttons: count them, sort them, and learn to button them on your own
C Cuts: with scissors, Counts to 10
D Draws: simple shapes
E Eats: in the lunchroom
F Follows: directions
G Grouping: able to sort items by shape, size and color
H Habits: establish good bedtime and mealtime routines
I Independence: inspires confidence
J Jobs: able to follow through on simple tasks
K Kicking: able to kick a ball without losing balance, does not kick peers
L Listens: to a short story without interrupting
M Macaroni: pictures, necklaces, etc.
N Name: able to recognize own name in writing
O Open: to new experiences
P Plays well: independently and with other children
Q Quiet: understands the difference between indoor and outdoor voices
R Recognizes: rhymes
S Separates easily: from parent or caregiver, shares with others
T Time: understands the general concept of time of the day
U Understands: and is able to follow simple rules and directions
V Vocal: able to verbalize his wants and needs
W Writes: understands words are representations
X Extra love and attention: may be needed in the beginning
Y Yellow: knows her colors
Z Zipping: able to zip his own jacket