Kindergarten children are in the "want to learn" mode. The desire to learn and understand is part of their built-in need to make sense of the world and to feel competent. Five and 6-year-olds, of course, have widely varying rates of development, with unique personalities, but they have a lot of things in common too. They are curious and hungry for mastery. They learn best by actively figuring things out for themselves, have a growing command of language, are increasingly in control of their own behavior, and use their large and small muscles with greater skill than they used to.
Kindergarten-age children believe that grownups know best and are motivated to please us (kindly guidance from adults is the most effective form of discipline with young children). They also can be noisy, silly, and sensitive. It is very easy to "motivate" children in this age range. They are enthusiastic learners--eager to learn about themselves, about others, about the world. Good kindergarten teachers know all this and more about the age group they teach, and they create classrooms tuned to the special characteristics of kindergarten children.
If I have a choice of a full-day (about six hours) or half-day kindergarten (three hours or less), which should I pick for my child?
The answer depends largely on what the program is like. Kindergarteners can certainly handle six hours of appropriate, engaging experiences, with ample opportunities to rest and relax. Spending their afternoons as well as their mornings in such a program beats custodial child care or hours of watching TV at home. On the other hand, if a full-day kindergarten has lots of seatwork and regimentation, 5-and 6 year-olds are likely to be better off at home or in a care setting that provides opportunities for active play and learning suited to their age. So look at the quality and character of the program, not just the length of the day.
What's all this about kindergarten screening?
In some states or school districts, children are tested or screened in the spring before they would enter kindergarten, and the results are used to make placement decisions. Find out from the school in which you'll be enrolling your child what screening procedures are used and for what purposes. Keep in mind that with young children, tests alone are not reliable enough to use as the basis for entering kindergarten. The decision to hold a child out of or place a child into kindergarten should always be based on information from a variety of sources, including parents' knowledge of the child, the kindergarten or preschool teachers' observations, samples of the child's work, and reports from any specialist who's been working with him.
What about the idea of holding my child out for a year so he'll be more ready for kindergarten?
This is the big question for many families. And, of course, the answer depends on a number of things. In an ideal world, kindergartens would shape their programs to fit the variety of children old enough to attend. As parents we wouldn't have to worry about when to send our children to kindergarten. And schools could concentrate on providing experiences appropriate for all who enroll rather than screening to see which children are ready and setting up special arrangements (such as transitional kindergarten classes) for the rest. But there are pressures on kindergarten teachers to get children to a certain point by the end of the year. They can do so more easily when the younger and less mature children are simply eliminated from the class. That's the built-in pressure in many schools, so as parents consider the best timing for their own children, they need to find out several things:
*Do the school's officials and teachers welcome all 5-year-olds or do they discourage/screen out younger or "less ready" children from entering on time?
*Do lots of parents in the school "redshirt", or hold out, their children so they'll have an edge in school? If they do and your child would thus be considerably younger than the class as a whole, this is important to take into account in your thinking.
*What is it like in the particular kindergarten classroom(s) where your child will be?
Checking out these things will help as you consider when, and perhaps where, your child will begin kindergarten.
Ease Those Starting School Jitters
Enthusiasm is contagious. If you convey confidence and anticipation, your child is more likely to be comfortable with beginning kindergarten. Survey new territory. Visit the school with your child before the first official day and try to arrange a meeting with the new teacher. Find a familiar face. Plan a one-on-one playdate or outing with another child from the class or program before school begins. Create continuity. Start a daily routine a few weeks before school begins and involve your child in the process of packing his lunch or choosing his clothes. Prepare yourself. Pay attention to how your child reacts to separation so you'll know what to expect on that first day of school. Help the child to ease in. If the teacher encourages parents to spend some time in the classroom the first day, you can look around with your child--maybe even talk to gerbil. But remember to back off and let her get involved with other kids and adults. Always say good-bye. Be loving but firm as you leave, and never make a child feel foolish about being upset to see you go.
All information on this page was taken from the brochure "What parents should know about school readiness--Ready to Go" from the National Association for the Education of Young Children 1509 16th Street, NW Washington, DC 20036-1426 phone number 800-424-2460.