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January 2011

Ready or Not . . . for Kindergarten?

Guidelines & Considerations

By Pamela Tedeschi

Kindergarten has changed immensely since I attended in Montgomery County many eons ago. I remember half-day classes with snack, recess and naptimes. Even during the first six weeks of first and second grades, students were released early so we would not get tired. When my own sons went to Montgomery County kindergartens, they attended half-day sessions, but there was less time for play, no naptime and increased academic lessons. My younger son's kindergarten experience included more reading and writing than my older son's experience just three years earlier. Now, most of the public and independent schools in the area have full-day kindergarten. Many years ago, a student had to be 5 before December 31 to enter kindergarten. Now in Maryland, students have to be 5 by September 1, and in the District and Virginia, students have to be 5 before September 30. Most independent schools follow the September 1 cutoff date. There are more academic demands put on kindergartners today than there were in the past, so they need to be chronologically older. Children have not changed; they still develop at the same rate, but our expectations of what they should be able to do by the end of kindergarten have changed.

A Challenging Curriculum

The curriculum is more challenging now. Many students are reading by the end of kindergarten. According to the Prince George's County website, kindergarten students spend 135 minutes a day reading and doing language arts activities. They also spend 45 minutes for science and 75 minutes for math daily. Is your child ready for this type of curriculum? In Virginia, if you have a child who will be 5 by September 30 and decide not to send her to school, you must inform the school district in writing. Maryland schools have early entry into kindergarten if a child will be 5 between September 2 and October 31. Parents submit a form, and then an evaluator from the school system will assess your child to determine if she is ready to enter kindergarten early. If your child is accepted to be an early kindergartner, she is on probation until October 31. If the teacher feels it is not working, the child will be asked to leave and return the next year. Parents need to realize that their child who enters kindergarten early will always be younger than the other children in her grade. Parents applying their children with summer birthdays to independent schools sometimes give their children the gift of time; they decide to send their children to kindergarten at age 6. How can you tell if your child is ready for kindergarten?


There are many good sources of information available. If your child is in a preschool program, talk to her teacher. The teacher watches your child in a group setting, knows how your child compares with her peers and can offer helpful feedback. Visiting a kindergarten class is another source of information. Can you imagine your child participating successfully in the activities you observe? Most public schools will set up an appointment for you to speak with the guidance counselor or a kindergarten teacher about the program. At independent schools you can speak about your child with the director of admission.

There are several areas you should consider when deciding if your child is ready for kindergarten: physical development, motor skills, self-help skills, social emotional skills, attention span, speech and language development, ability to think logically and early academic skills. Most children are not equally adept in all of the areas, but if your child seems to be lagging in several of these areas, you should consider preK instead of kindergarten.

The area of physical development includes physical growth as well as both large- and small-motor skills.

  • Is your child still taking a long nap?
  • Does she move with balance and control? Can she run, jump, climb stairs and skip?
  • Can she balance on one foot? Can she catch and throw a ball in the air or on a bounce? These are the large-motor skills that suggest your child is ready for kindergarten.

Small-motor skills include being able to use pencils, crayons and child scissors correctly. Your child should be able to trace and copy a triangle and a square and stay between parallel lines when drawing a straight line.

  • By kindergarten she should be able to write her name.

Other kindergarten-ready fine-motor skills include stringing beads and fitting puzzle pieces into their slots. Parents of children lagging behind their peers in the area of motor skills should consider an occupational therapist (OT) evaluation.

Age-appropriate small-motor skills are part of many self-help skills.

  • Can your child button, fold and zip?
  • Can she tie her own shoes and get herself dressed?
  • Is she able to comb her hair and brush her teeth?
  • Can she put toys away in the proper cubby, shelf or box when playtime is over?

The social-emotional area includes being able to follow an adult's directions. Your kindergarten-ready child should be able to initiate and play cooperatively with a variety of other children.

  • Can your child share and take turns?
  • Can she regulate her emotions and be able to solve conflicts with words instead of using physical actions?
  • Can she enter the classroom without separation anxiety?

Kindergarten children need to be able sit at circle time for 10 minutes and participate in a discussion or listen to a story. Children who are ready for kindergarten feel secure enough to try new activities and don't become overly frustrated if they are having a little difficulty with a task. They should be able to stay focused on an age-appropriate task and see it through to completion. Kindergartners can follow simple routines and classroom rules and transition with ease from one activity to another.

Language development includes both expressive (ability to speak) and receptive (ability to listen and understand) skills.

  • Does your child speak clearly in complete sentences?
  • Can she articulate her ideas effectively?
  • Does she have an age-appropriate vocabulary?
  • Is she able to listen to three directions and follow them in sequence?
  • Can she listen to a short story and answer both factual and inferential questions correctly?
  • Can she retell a short story or event in a logical sequence?
  • Does she use the correct tense when speaking about the past, present and future?
  • If you say a word, can she tell you a rhyming word?

If you are concerned about these areas, you may want your child to be evaluated by a speech pathologist.

Early academic skills and knowledge include being able to name most of the letters of the alphabet and knowing the beginning sounds they make.

  • Can your child write most of the letters of the alphabet?
  • Does she hold a book correctly?
  • Is she able to retell a story by looking at the pictures?
  • Can she identify shapes and colors?
  • Can she count to 30, recognize the numbers from 1-20 and use one-to-one correspondence when counting a group of objects?
  • Can she sort a number of objects based on an attribute, like size or shape?

A kindergarten-ready child can look at patterns of beads, blocks or pictures, complete the pattern and explain her thinking. Your child should know her address, phone number and birthday. Kindergarten-ready children can name, recognize and describe the jobs of some community workers (police, firefighters, librarians, etc).

If your child seems to be developing appropriately in most areas, kindergarten is the right choice. If your child can do many of the skills in the different areas, but not all of them, remember there are several more months before kindergarten starts, and your child will continue to grow and learn. However, if your child is showing several delays, you should consider waiting another year. I often meet parents of middle-school children ruing that they pushed their child into kindergarten. They realize that being one of the youngest children in the class is difficult academically and/or socially. I have never heard a parent regret that her daughter is one of the oldest in a class.

We asked our Facebook fans, "What is/was your biggest concern about sending your child to kindergarten?"

"My biggest concern was that my kids wouldn't be able to handle going a full day. It's a big adjustment going from half-day to full-day, but I am happy that they adjusted quite well!
– Tegan Mitchell Coffman

"I am most concerned about my son getting enough active and imaginative play. He is so much happier, focused and calmer when he gets ample time to play. I worry that without enough free time, he will have trouble learning and teachers will resent his extra energy."
– Kirsten Fournier

"My biggest concern is whether or not to put my twin girls in the same class...separate or keep them together?"
– Lisa Hein

"His level of preparedness for a full extended day of school and the loss of the individual attention an early education center provided."
– Nadia Casseus Torney

"My biggest concern about sending my daughter to kindergarten is how her personality may change from being around so many new personalities. She's such a sweet and empathetic little soul, I don't want her to lose that. Here's hoping!"
– Erika Hild

"My biggest concern is wondering if my little guy will be able to control himself (not talking, sitting still) for the whole day!"
– Liz Jones

"I am a daycare director, and I've been spoiled to have by boys right down the hall. So my biggest fear was how my 5-year-old would be in school not knowing any of the other kids. Would he make friends quickly, or would he be shy? But when he told me how much fun kindergarten was and how much he liked his teacher, it made it a little easier. I still can't believe that my first baby is off to big boy school. No matter what, it will always be difficult to let go and to start something new. Next year, when my second child goes, I will probably only cry 1 hour instead of 4."
– Rosemarie Sterling-Rosario

"My daughter is now in 1st grade. I was, and I am still, very concerned about children who have learning disabilities. My daughter has ADD. A lot of teachers just do not know enough about how to handle or work with children; all they want you to do is medicate. I just wish the schools would be more proactive and communicate better. I have made effort upon effort with her school. Its frustrating to feel they drop the ball with communication. Sorry for the rant."
– Sherri Myers Luckhardt

"When my son started preschool, I was excited. It was a small, private Christian school just minutes away from home. All of these factors helped soothe my attachment issues.When he made the switch to kindergarten, I felt a slight sense of panic. There was the whole 'riding-the-bus-all-alone' fear, the 'what-if-other-kids-are-mean' fear and the 'will-he-get-the-attention-he-needs' fear. I lucked out! He loved riding the bus, he made tons of friends and his teacher praised his progress.

[Parents] assume our child(ren) will experience the same feelings we do. It's best to let go. If and when something occurs that confirms one of your fears, deal with it then. Don't put too much pressure on going to kindergarten. It's life and it happens."
– Keonte' L Smith

Pam Tedeschi has been an educational consultant for more than a decade and has helped parents determine the best grade and school placement to maximize their child's potential. For more information, visit