For most children, kindergarten is the start of formal classroom education. Even for children who have been in a preschool or child care setting, the transition is big. You might wonder — is your child ready?
Kindergarten readiness, or school readiness, is a term used by schools, policymakers and child development researchers. Definitions of readiness vary, and what readiness means may differ in individual schools.
Find out how kindergarten readiness is generally defined today and how you can help your child be prepared to start school.
What is school readiness?
School readiness isn't easy to define. Typical development can vary significantly among children around the ages of 4 and 5. And a child's development in one skill doesn't necessarily translate into development in others.
However, there are milestones in childhood development that can help make the transition to the kindergarten classroom more successful. Children are likely to have some readiness in:
- Demonstrating a curiosity or interest in learning new things
- Being able to explore new things through their senses
- Taking turns and cooperating with peers
- Speaking with and listening to peers and adults
- Following instructions
- Communicating how they're feeling
- Empathizing with other children
- Controlling impulses
- Paying attention
- Limiting disruptive behaviors
These skills develop over time, depending on the individual child's abilities and experiences. As a result, school readiness might best be understood not as a single goal but as a process — providing early childhood experiences and an environment that prepares them to learn.
Many U.S. schools use testing before or during the first few months of kindergarten. Testing might be done to:
- Make decisions about curriculum or individualized instruction
- Refer students with possible developmental delays or learning disabilities for further testing
- Advise parents whose children are younger than the required age for enrollment
- Recommend delays in enrollment
While most children begin kindergarten at age 5, states and local school districts have different requirements for age of required enrollment and the cutoff date for the youngest students. Families sometimes consider delaying enrollment for a child who has a birthday near the cutoff date or because they think the child needs more time to mature.
Research suggests that delaying doesn't result in notable differences in academic skills within the first couple of years of school. Also, allowing more time may not necessarily result in more readiness without interventions to address developmental concerns.
Research has also shown that children who are older than their classmates may have increased risk of social or behavioral challenges during adolescence.
What is the parent's role in school readiness?
The parent's role in preparing a child for school is to create a healthy, safe, supportive, and engaging environment throughout early childhood. This includes several strategies.
Promoting good health
Good physical health is important for learning and participating in school. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet, gets plenty of physical activity, follows a regular sleep schedule and gets his or her recommended vaccinations.
Keeping wellness visits
Wellness visits allow your child's doctor to examine your child and monitor his or her growth, overall health and vision and hearing. The doctor will also check on your child's motor, speech and social development. If there are concerns about developmental delays, the doctor can refer you to state or local programs for early intervention.
Reading to preschool children can help your child develop literacy. Benefits of reading aloud that promote school readiness include:
- Understanding that printed words have meaning
- Recognizing similar sounds, such as rhymes
- Learning letter and sound associations
- Increasing overall vocabulary
- Understanding that stories have a beginning, middle and end
- Developing social and emotional skills
- Learning numbers, shapes and colors
Providing your child an opportunity to play and playing with your child is important for healthy child development. Benefits of play that promote school readiness include:
- Improving physical health
- Developing creativity and imagination
- Developing social and emotional skills
- Developing friendships
- Learning to share and solve problems with other children
- Learning to overcome challenges and be resilient
- Exploring worries or fears in imaginative play
Finding learning opportunities
Formal and informal opportunities for early childhood learning experiences in your community can promote your child's school readiness. Check out:
- Preschool or Head Start programs
- Museums or zoos
- City park or community programs
- Neighborhood play groups
- Story time at libraries or bookstores
Preparing for first day
To help your child prepare for the transition to kindergarten, start developing a daily routine a few weeks before school starts. Have your child wake up, eat and go to bed at the same times each day. Talk about your child's new school and listen to any concerns your child expresses. If possible, visit the school. Reading books together about starting school can also help your child know what to expect.