How can I help my child get ready for kindergarten

As our children approach 4 years of age, many of us begin to ask ourselves questions about our children and their readiness for kindergarten. Many parents struggle with the answers to these questions because they may hear conflicting advice from family, friends, and professionals. These questions usually fall into several categories:

What does my child need to be "ready" for kindergarten?
Kindergarten has changed from when we were in school. Kindergarten previously lasted for two to three hours a day and focused primarily on the development of social skills. Today, many kindergartens last a full day (approximately 6 hours), have a major focus on reading and writing skills, and require significant amounts of seat work. This has implications for what skills our children need to have acquired prior to starting kindergarten.

What can I do to help my child be ready for kindergarten?
Children need to enjoy learning and reading to be successful in school. The two best activities we can do with our children include:

What characteristics do I need to look for in my child's day care center or preschool to make sure my child will be exposed to what he or she needs?
There are two critical concepts for how a child learns:
  1. Children learn best when they are developmentally ready, which is NOT necessarily predicted by a child's chronological age, and
  2. Children learn best in enjoyable environments that provide positive feedback.
So, look for an environment that:

Why is it important to choose a high quality program?
High quality early education supports healthy development and early learning for preschoolers, providing children with a foundation for school readiness and academic success. Early learning experiences outside the home also allow children to build trusting relationships with adults other than their parents, and with other children their own age. The preschool parents choose for their child to attend can have a strong impact on the child's future academic success. Recent research suggests that children who attend preschool are more likely to do well in school, perform better on tests, and have greater success getting into college. Generally, children who attend high quality preschool programs:

What are the signs of a high quality program?

How do I choose a preschool program?
If you have decided that your child is ready for preschool, there are many different types of programs to choose from, and several questions you should ask. Here is a list of tips to help you find the right preschool for your child.
  1. Other parents are a valuable resource, so talk to several parents that you encounter: in the neighborhood, at parks, or in playgroups. Keep a list of the schools that those parents mention. If things work out, your child may already have a buddy at his new school, and you may be able to form a carpool with other parents.
  2. Many preschools have their own websites that contain lots of helpful information - take some time to log on to the Internet and explore all the schools in your community.
  3. Make appointments with several different schools to visit and take a tour. Take note of the whole environment, and see if the classrooms, bathrooms, and play areas are clean. Ask about their safety, security policies, and teacher credentials. Carefully observe how the teachers interact with the students, and how children interact with one another. Keep in mind that the quality of your child's educational experience will depend most of all on the people working with him or her. If the teachers are warm and nurturing, then your child is likely to thrive under their care.
  4. Inquire about tuition fees, which often range from $100 to $600 a month or more. Most schools also require a deposit to place your child on their waiting list.
  5. Ask any and all questions that are important to you. Click here for a list of questions to ask when visiting a potential preschool.
  6. When you have narrowed your choices down to one school, take your child and go back one more time. Ask to sit in and observe a session, and see if the teacher encourages your child to participate, and if your child feels relatively comfortable in this new setting.
  7. Lastly, go with your intuition. Pick the school where you feel most confident and secure about your child's education.
Click here to view the resources used to provide this guide to choosing a preschool.

What type of program should I choose?
As you may have heard, there are several different types of preschool programs for you to select from. As you explore various schools, ask yourself which program would work best for your child, your family, and you. Your child's personality will play an important part in your decision, because the school you choose should fit with his temperament and interests. You should also consider your comfort with each school's style of instruction, philosophy of nurturing children, and the steps it takes to achieve its goals. To view each of these different programs, click the links below.

If my child has a fall birthday, what should I do?
Remember that readiness to learn is not related to a child's chronological age. This means that parents need to consider: You and your child's teacher are the best judges of your child's developmental level. Some schools also do developmental testing as part of their admissions process. It may be helpful to know that some boys are about 6 months delayed in terms of their social-emotional development and their small muscle motor skills compared with girls.

Regarding birthday requirements, many private and religious schools have birthday deadlines that occur during the summer before school starts or in the early fall. In many parts of the country, children attending public schools must be 5 years old by September 1 of the entering year. Most public schools in California still use December 2nd as the cut-off for Kindergarten although many private and parochial schools use a summer date. Your school district may have different rules about birthday requirements and it is always a good idea to ask at your local school.

Lastly, consider carefully the demands that will be placed on your child. As kindergarten becomes more academic, children are required to do more fine motor and seat work. In addition, many kindergartens are moving from a half-day schedule to a full day schedule. It may be worth considering giving your child the gift of time if he is not ready for these demands. You are the best person to make this decision since you know your child's skills. Other helpful people include your child's preschool teacher, your child's physician, and personnel at the kindergarten your child will be attending.

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