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Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten?

Few questions can perplex parents more than trying to decide whether or not their child is ready to start school. In fact, there is no magic rule. Many emotional, social, and cognitive factors need to be considered. It's normal for children in kindergarten to be stronger in some areas than others.

Language: Educators say a child's ability to express her ideas and needs clearly is one of the most important indicators of kindergarten readiness.

Physical Development: A kindergarten student needs to have developed fairly good large muscle control (which comes from everyday exercise--running, jumping, and climbing) and fine motor control (needed for using a pencil).

Independence: A kindergartner should be able to use the bathroom without help, to leave her parents without becoming upset, to follow simple instructions, and to work on her own for short periods of time.

Social Development: A kindergartner should generally get along and be able to work cooperatively with other children. She should have a reasonable amount of self-control.

Intellectual Development: A good sense of curiosity and interest in learning, educators maintain, is much more important in kindergarten than specific reading or writing skills.

Personality: Parents sometimes think that if a child is very shy or unassertive, she'll be better off starting kindergarten a year later. Educators say it depends on the child. If a child seems younger and less independent than other children her age, her shyness may change over the course of an additional year. But if shyness and a lack of assertiveness are part of a child's inherent temperament, waiting a year won't make much difference. She will probably adjust fine to school.

Is The School Ready For Your Child?

Schools have different definitions of kindergarten readiness. It's very important to have a good match between a school's expectations and your child's abilities. Schools may emphasize different aspects of readiness, depending on how their kindergarten classroom is structured.

Some kindergartens are set up with the desks in a row. The children spend most of their time listening to a teacher, working quietly on work sheets, and memorizing and practicing letters and numbers. In this type of school kindergartners will need to be very good listeners who can sit quietly and work independently.

In kindergartens that are more loosely structured, students are encouraged to move between different learning centres, to talk with other children, and to learn through play. A somewhat restless child who has not totally mastered following directions could flourish in such a classroom.

Trust Your Instincts

If you're worried about your child's readiness, talk with your pediatrician, your child's current preschool teacher, his future teachers, and school administrators. Children who are behind in a few readiness areas can be helped to catch up, or may do so on their own. But many parents who wait to send their child to school are glad they did. Ultimately, you know your child best.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education