The Learning Curve: Kindergarten Readiness

kindergarten class, kindergarten readiness

Heading to kindergarten is a major milestone and important transition for a little learner. It is an exciting time of exploration and discovery. With kindergarten comes greater responsibilities, and a more complex, faster-paced curriculum than pre-school offered (See here for an example of a typical day in a kindergarten classroom.) It’s a big step, and not one to be taken lightly.

How Do You Know If Your Child Is Ready for Kindergarten?

Experts say there is no single determinant – several important factors must be considered when addressing kindergarten readiness. Physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development all play a role in the “readiness factor” for any pre-schooler anticipating kindergarten. That said, four and five year olds are very different from each other. They meet particular milestones each year – one year often makes a big difference, developmentally.

While you may think your child is “fast learner,” “socially inquisitive” or “very active,” which are common reasons parents rush into kindergarten, they are merely pieces of the puzzle.  Any one area of development that may be superseding the others is not reason enough to register at the “big” school.

At What Age Do Kids Start Kindergarten?

Even if you think your future Nobel laureate is ready for kindergarten, you have to abide by a state mandated kindergarten cut-off date, which, in New York State, is November 30th. (See here for each state’s kindergarten cut-off date). If you child has turned five by the summer prior to the start of kindergarten, you’ll need use other determinants to make your decision. However, if your child will not be five when September 1st rolls around (later, in some states like New York), then the decision is, in essence, already made: your child must wait a year.

When a child’s birthday falls very closely before or after a kindergarten cut-off date, questions such as: “Will my child be the youngest in the class?” Or, “How will playing with older children affect my child’s self esteem?” come to the forefront. While your Baby Einstein may reach learning objectives with as much ease and enjoyment as the “older students” in class, socially he or she may not interact with the same sophistication.

Allowing your child to grow socially at his own pace may set him up for greater success in kindergarten, as much of the day is play-based learning and small group activities. Self-awareness and age-appropriate expressive language are just as, if not more important, than the skills necessary for any particular task, and they take time to develop. If he or she is already an active and engaged learner, that enthusiasm for learning will be there next year too! Don’t rush into kindergarten merely for the academic stimulation. There are many ways to supplement pre-school learning at home in the meantime. (See here for a great website of preschool learning games that can supplement in-school instruction.

So, all things considered, is it time to start thinking seriously about kindergarten for your little one? Here are some helpful things you can do in hopes of gaining more clarity as you navigate this big decision:

1. Talk to your child’s Pre-K/day care teachers

2. Talk to family members

3. Visit a prospective kindergarten class

You know your child best. Aside from state-by-state “cut off” dates, no one can make a more thoughtful decision regarding your child’s education than you. Observing his/her enthusiasm towards learning and ability to express needs and concerns are probably the biggest indicators in the decision-making process. However, there are several specific questions to consider as well. If you can answer “yes” or “most times” to the following questions, that may indicate your mini-scholar is ready for the Big K!  (NOTE: These guidelines are specific to children who have not required early intervention. Children who have received educational services will go by a modified list of “readiness guidelines”)

Kindergarten Readiness Checklist

1. Does he/she listen to instructions?

2. Can he/she put on his/her coat unassisted?

3. Can he/she use the bathroom unassisted?

4. Does he/she know the ABCs, 123s, colors, shapes, rhyming?

5. Is he/she interested in books?

6. Can he/she hold a pencil, crayon, paint brush; use scissors?

7. Does he/she interact well with children? Teachers?

8. Does he/she have the ability to recognize patterns, and sort by similarity?

9. Can he/she explain feelings, concerns, ideas well?

10. Does he/she share?

11. Does he/she have a general enthusiasm for learning?

Thoughtfully answering these questions is a positive first step towards making the decision about kindergarten. Talking to your child is another very important step in the process; she may offer insight into her own interest (or lack thereof) in kindergarten. Children are instinctual beings; they know what they like and don’t like; they know what feels safe, and what feels foreign. Never underestimate your child’s ability to express his or her own needs and wants!

Last thought: Stay in conversation! Talk to your child, and talk to your child’s pre-school teachers or day care providers – when parents, children, and teachers are on the same page, the child benefits tremendously. This reciprocity is a lesson well learned!

If you’d like to read more about kindergarten readiness, the following list offers tremendous insight. While there are innumerous books and online articles dedicated to the subject, I think these are particularly thoughtful and illuminating:






6. Kindergarten Readiness by Nancy L. Cappelloni

7. The Kindergarten Readiness Guide by Jaclyn Anne Bower

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Diana Kehoe is an experienced general education and special education teacher. She began her teaching career in special education in NYC, and currently teaches in Westchester County, NY. She is mom to Sophia Victoria, born in April 2012. While she loves teaching… she REALLY loves being a mom! The Learning Curve is her take on topics regarding education and parenthood from the perspective of a “teacher/working mom.”

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