Not sure if your child is ready to start kindergarten? Find out why holding him back another year could do more harm than good.
It seems like a simple matter. When a child is age 5 by a certain date, he or she starts kindergarten. What’s the debate?
Yet some parents struggle over whether their child is ready to start school. They feel that holding their child back another year may give him an edge if he is small for his age or immature. And the child’s birthday may be right at the cutoff date that seems so arbitrary.
No one wants to send to school a child who is going to do poorly or not fit in. But The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) maintains that many children are held back from school needlessly – and to their detriment.
Testing for readiness
Tests are available to screen children for school readiness. These assessment tools can compare a child’s emotional, social, cognitive and physical development to others their age. Many private and some public schools offer these tests to incoming children.
But readiness for school is not so easy to quantify. What’s considered “normal development” varies a lot in 4- to 6-year-olds. A girl may be reading already, but lag behind socially. Or a boy who excels in physical activities may have language delays. All children have strengths and weaknesses.
The AAP states that relying strictly on assessment tests to determine kindergarten readiness is a mistake. Doing so can exclude children who could benefit the most from an earlier start in school. Being in the school setting might be just what a child needs to build the lacking skills.
What does it take to ace kindergarten?
In general, “school-ready kids” can get along with others and communicate well. They are able to share and take turns. They are curious and excited about new activities. They have some self-control and can listen to instructions.
Most children entering school can count to ten, recognize their name in print and use scissors properly. They can classify objects according to shape, color or size.
But here’s the thing: What your child knows and can do coming into school are not the keys to success. The most critical factor is how well he or she can adapt to the school setting.
Also keep in mind that very few 5-year-olds pass muster in all areas of development. In a Missouri school district study, 46 percent of 191 kindergarten teachers said that half or more kids in their class had trouble following directions.
Holding a child back is not usually an advantage
Delaying a child’s school entrance does not offer any advantage in most cases. By third grade, children who were immature typically catch up to their peers both socially and academically.
If your child does not seem to meet certain readiness standards, that’s a signal for you to help. Rather than hold your child back, help prepare him or her for what will be expected in school. This could mean exposing a child to more group settings or practicing the alphabet.
School readiness is not just a function of giving a child more time to mature. If a child has attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, delaying kindergarten is not going to make things any better. Or a child with language problems may benefit more from a visit to a speech therapist than being held back from school.
That’s not to say that all children should enter kindergarten at age 5. If a parent thinks there is a problem, though, it’s best to discuss it with a pediatrician, preschool or kindergarten teacher, school counselor or child psychologist. Sometimes a school may be able to provide special training or therapy, or adapt classroom activities for a child with special needs.