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Is your child ready for kindergarten?

mottblog - kindergarten readiness imageChildren who are 5-years-old on or before September 1, 2016, are eligible to enroll in kindergarten this fall in the state of Michigan. Is your child ready? Kindergarten readiness is a popular topic especially as it relates to children who do not turn 5 until the summer. While you probably get no shortage of “advice” from friends and family, there are some evidence-based guidelines that might help you decide.

Reading, Math, Social Skills 

The three areas we typically look at for kindergarten readiness are reading, math, and social skills. While there are general guidelines around these, it’s not as simple as testing a child. It’s about looking at the total picture.

  • Reading — At this young age, reading skills vary widely from the child who’s reading chapter books to the child who is learning letter sounds. The important thing to remember here is that anywhere on that scale is normal and acceptable. In general, we want kindergartners to understand that different letters make different sounds and that words can be broken down into different sounds. This doesn’t mean that your child can run through a stack of flash cards and make every letter sound. This is done verbally, not with the written letter. They also do not need to know every letter, it’s just the broad concept that letters have different sounds. The ability to understand that some words rhyme is also useful.
  • Math — In looking at math skills, we look at counting, size, shape, and patterns. Does your child recognize that one apple is one and two apples are two? It’s that counting concept that is important, not that he or she can count to 100. Children should also have an understanding of basic shapes. Understanding size is helpful as well. For example, recognizing that an elephant is bigger than a mouse. Your child should be able to recognize simple patterns, for example, the balls are red, yellow, red, yellow, red…what’s next? Again, though, these are general guidelines and just because a child may not grasp all of these does not mean that he or she is not ready for kindergarten.
  • Social skills — Social skills are much harder to evaluate. At this age, we are just looking for good social behavior. Does the child play nicely with others? Does the child engage with other children? Do you note any behavioral issues such as aggression or disruption? If you do notice social skills issues, these may actually be best addressed in the school setting where your child has many opportunities to develop social skills. When problems are more significant, schools have professional behavior support teams that can help target these issues. Your child’s pediatrician can also guide you on how to address these concerns at home.

Again, it cannot be emphasized enough…these are general guidelines. It’s not a checklist of whether your child can do everyone of these things. When making your decision, look at the total picture. Your child may be strong in the math skills, but not as strong in reading. That doesn’t mean he’s not ready for kindergarten. Remember, the range of what’s normal and acceptable in all of these areas is quite broad.

Final Thoughts

preparing child for kindergartenRemember, when making the decision about kindergarten, you are looking at everything about your child. You’re not ticking skills off a checklist. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to start your child in kindergarten, I suggest starting him or her.

If you do decide to delay your child’s start of kindergarten, understand what factors helped you make that decision. In many areas, an extra year of life will not change things dramatically, so you may wish to seek extra assistance during the year. If you are concerned about social issues, work with a professional to address those issues. If you suspect your child has a learning disability, have him evaluated and work to address any issues you may find.

Your child’s pediatrician can be a great partner to you in this area. Talk with your pediatrician about your concerns. He or she can recommend community resources that may be available and help you identify developmental milestones to work towards.

Above all, remember that kindergarten readiness is not a competition. The range of what is normal and acceptable is huge. The child who is reading chapter books or the child who is doing math in her head is definitely ready for kindergarten, but so is the child who is just learning letter sounds and counting. Unless there is an underlying issue, children tend to rise with the water.

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blake lancaster phd 2Blake Lancaster, PhD, is a Licensed Psychologist and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child Behavioral Health at the University of Michigan Health System. His clinical practice focuses on providing behavioral health services in primary care pediatric settings using the integrated behavioral health co-location model. This integrated approach allows for delivery of empirically-based treatments for a wide variety of behavioral health concerns that arise in primary care pediatric settings (e.g., sleep problems, toileting issues, ADHD problems, anxiety, depression and general behavior problems).

The following individuals contributed to this post:

  • Erin Seif, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Departments of Pediatrics & Psychology, The Ohio State University
  • Andrew Cook, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Pediatric Psychology, University of Michigan Health System
  • Teryn Bruni, M.A., Psychology Intern, Division of Pediatric Psychology, University of Michigan Health System

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University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.